Review: 'Oklahoma' with the Prince William Little Theatre

Christian Jost

A short time ago I had the pleasure to seeing the Prince William Little Theatre’s production of Oklahoma. Sadly, the day after the performance I attended, I became very ill and had to delay my review for a time. I want to thank PWLT for their patience and understanding, caring for my health above all. Nevertheless, I promised PWLT a review and I shall give them, despite the run of the show being concluded.

As many know, Oklahoma was created by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1943. This show follows several different relationships just inside the Oklahoma Territory. Most notable the show follows the relationship between Curly and Laurey, as they desire a relationship despite a seemingly dangerous man, Jud Fry, also having an interest in Laurey. There is also the relationship between Will Parker, a young country boy, and his love Ado Annie, who also has other suitors around town. Major conflict spurns from the competition between Jud and Curly for Laurey’s affection.

I’ll be the first to say that I usually try to avoid old Broadway as the shows and performances often seem dishonest and cheesy. However, I actually thoroughly enjoyed this show. It was entertaining and the direction added enough depth to really keep the audience engaged, despite some slows sections of the score. Aaron Verchot-Ware took on the role of Curly and did a fantastic job. The role of Laurey was played by Abbie Desrosiers, who had perfect chemistry with Aaron, making the audience really care for her struggles and conflicts throughout the show. Many people can sing Rodgers and Hammerstein, but few truly embody their old school style, Desrosiers is definitely the latter. His vocals were lovely and he truly seemed engaged in the story, despite a low energy matinee crown. Nick MacFarlane had enough energy for the whole cast, never delivering a dull moment. Whether singing, dancing, or just sauntering around on stage, he gave all he had to the role of Will parker. Ariel Friendly also gave a very entertaining performance as Ado Annie, delivering some of the biggest laughs of the day. I would have to say that the star of this production would be Jay Tilley as Jud Fry, delivering the best song and scenes of the show. He really was able to add so many layers and levels of depth to a character that could easily just be directed as “the bad guy”. “Lonely Room” really brought the house down and was easily the best part of the show.

This production was directed by Susy Moorstein, who really spent time developing these characters, which usually appear flat and static. Music from the band is always lovely with the PWLT, this time was no exception. Congrats to Veronica Sharpe on that. Choreography, delivered by Melanie Marie McGuin, was also subtle yet affective in advancing the show.

Once again, thanks to PWLT for their understanding of my situation and congrats to all on a fantastic run. All involved should be proud.

Photo creds - Mark Moorstein

Review: Loudoun Centre Theatre’s 'Footloose'

Christian Jost

This past weekend I had the privilege of being invited to review the closing weekend for Loudoun Centre Theatre’s production of Footloose; which, as many of you know, is an adaptation of the beloved 80’s teen movie of the same name. The show was adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. Original music came from Tom Snow and lyrics from Dean Pitchford. Footloose follows the story of Ren McCormack as he transitions from city life in Chicago to small town life in Bomont. Conflict arises when Ren realizes that Bomont has very strict laws against teenage activities, specifically dancing. These laws were created and are upheld by the town’s Reverend, who lost his son in a tragic accident years prior. The Reverend’s attempts to keep the town’s youth safe backfire and it pushes his own daughter Ariel farther and farther away.

I, for one, was very pleased with LCT’s production. I felt the cast delivered and were able to shine, with the help of very creative staging in a smaller space. Frankie Williams (Ren) and Roan McLean (Ariel) lead the show with strong presence and professional level talent. Williams took a much more quirky approach to the character, making him well received by the audience. While Mclean played a perfect Ariel, giving heartache, sass, humor, anger, and lust, whenever called for. Both also had impressive dance moves, but Williams was second to none in that department. While at times the music was overpowering, the duo managed to be heard over the track without losing the pitch attempting to enhance volume. Someone who had no trouble being heard though was Ashley Williams, who shined as Ariel’s friend Rusty. If you want to prove to an audience that your production means business, you have A. Williams sing the first note, which LCT, thankfully, did. She blew the audience away from start to finish. Other solid performances included Seraphine Terryberry and Alyssa Vanlandingham, who played Ariel’s friends Urleen and Wendy Jo, respectfully. Further standout performers included Ryan Washington as Reverend Moore, Giovanni Brassanini as Willard, and Junita Williams, who got had a well deserved moment to shine during “Still Rockin” as Cowgirl Bobbie. Though the ensemble in this piece was small, it was not without its share of talent; most notably performances by Emma Crawford, Lily Washington, and James Sheppard.

As with all my reviews, I must point out the star of the show, which in this case is very interesting. The star of this show was, undeniable, the harmonies of Williams, Terryberry, and Vanlandingham. The three all had great vocals separately but together they were unstoppable and received applause during almost all their numbers during the harmonies.  

Jessica Siswick and Jeffrey Taylor took on many projects in this piece, including set design, lighting design, and direction. I commend the two on all their work, especially the wonderful set/scenic design. Having a permanent set for a show with so many locations would usually be a poor decision. However, they utilized the space upwards, knowing there were too many restrictions horizontally. The only rough note on the tech side of things was the first act lighting design, often having characters in darkness/shadow during scenes. However, the issues seemed to resolve themselves by act two where all characters were visible.

There were two things I wanted to talk about directionally in this review. One was the decision to go against traditional type and have Ren be played by an African-American actor, in Williams. I adored this decision and felt it added a whole new layer of depth to the show, introducing a racial tension, along with generational tension. Many of the lines regarding Ren are taken in a very different direction with a black actor in the role. Constant references to “City life”, “Street”, “Trouble making” and others during this production took on a whole new meaning, as they can have a racial prejudice to them especially when said by an almost all white town. In my opinion, this lifted the show of Footloose to another lever and I encourage other attempting to mount the show in the future to consider attempting the same casting choice.

The second thing I wanted to say that I commend these directors for showing another side of LCT, which is usually known for conservative, completely family friendly entertainment. Not to say this show was “inappropriate” but it does touch on some more adult themes of rebellion, lust, domestic violence, and death. Many things I expected to be taken out of this production were kept and that deserves immense amounts of respect.

In conclusion, this show was a very enjoyable, impressive, and talent filled experience. It included a fantastic helmed by Williams and McLean, Great direction by Siswick and Taylor, fun choreography by Jean Anne Michie (Assisted by Crawford).

Review: 'Bat Boy' at the Prince William Little Theatre

Christian Jost

  • Washington D.C. Critic

When I sat down for the opening night of Bat Boy with the PWLT I had absolutely no idea what to expect. This is the first show I reviewed where I knew nearly nothing about it before the lights went up, all I knew was that it was by one of the guys behind Heathers and about a boy who was bat like. That being said, this show thoroughly entertained me due to its energetic cast, fun music, and commendable directing.

Bat Boy follows the discovery and life of the “Bat Boy”, as he is found in a cave and dragged back to a small West Virginian town. Once in town the wife of a town doctor takes a motherly liking to the boy and begins to educate and civilize him, despite the town’s wishes. As the musical goes on we see the Bat Boy aka Edgar become infatuated with wanting to go out into the world and be just like everyone else. The audience and the characters soon see, however, how that won’t be able to happen. This show has a large emotional range to it, going from humorous to heartfelt in seconds, requiring extreme focus from the cast. Bat Boy has music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and premiered Off-Broadway in 2001, before closing that same year. Unlike O’Keefe’s other works, which usually have a similar score throughout, this one had a wide range of musical genres; changing from pop to rock to Broadway to gospel and even rap. You could definitely tell this was one of O’Keefe’s earlier works, as it wasn’t quite as polished and refined as his other musicals. Nevertheless, the cast should be proud of what they were able to do with the source material they were given. 

The titular role was played by Eric Verchot-Ware who did a remarkable job transitioning from an animalistic boy to a refined British gentleman. He also gave a lot of believability to his aggressive moments, as well as the lighthearted ones. Danica Shook and Shawn Cox portrayed the Parkers beautifully. They had the strongest voices and both acted their internal/external conflicts to perfection. Ariel Friendly also gave a fun performance as the Parker’s daughter, Shelley. The Ensemble in this production really shined, giving the audience the most entertaining moments while on stage. Some real standouts of the ensemble were Sarah Elizabeth Edwards, Andrew Morin, Becca Harney, and Rachel Parmelee. This is an odd occurrence, as my “star of the show” pick doesn’t go to any of leads but to Aaron Verchot-Ware. Don’t get me wrong, the leads were fabulous, but no one left it all on stage quite like Aaron as he played Reverend Billy Hightower and others. His song “A Joyful Noise” was the highlight of the show, no question. 

I’ve seen many a show with a live band but this show was different. This band was just outstanding, I can’t quite explain why but I couldn’t help but believe I was listening to something truly special whenever they were playing. I got to give credit to Sarah Jane Scott, the music director, for that. This show also had a lot of fun, quirky directorial choices in it, especially the excessive use of blood. I also never felt like any actor wasn’t totally committed. Great job to Lanny Warkentien for that. There was also nice, simple choreography by Melanie Marie Gibson that pulled a lot of scenes together.

This show has three more performances at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas Va. I highly recommend going to support this group and this cast. They are all having fun and that makes the audience have fun. Tickets and info can be found here http://www.pwlt.org/ 

 

Review: The Castaways Repertory Theatre’s 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

Christian Jost

  • Washington D.C. Critic

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama once is an outstanding achievement for anyone but it wasn’t enough for Playwright Tennessee Williams.  After winning for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 he continued to produce ground-breaking, successful work. In 1955 he won again for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which is often debated as his best work. The Castaways Repertory Theatre tried their hand at the classic play and did remarkably well, giving the audience a beautiful set, great acting and purposeful directing. This show follows a dramatic evening for a family in the Mississippi Delta, we see the family question one another’s lives, honesty, intentions and lifestyles as new and old events surface. The show begins with the troubled couple of Brick (Played by Matt Scarborough) and his wife Maggie played by (Deidre McCollum), as they discuss their own lives as well as their families. Most of the conversation focuses around Big Daddy (Jay Tilley) and what his illness will do to the family. Big Daddy, naturally, has a Big Momma (Catherine Lyon) who believes she runs the family contrary to what Big Daddy believes. Brick’s brother Gooper (Peter Ponzini) and his wife Mae (Becky Farris) also vital roles as they have their own ideas about the direction of the family. This combination of characters leads to laughter, heartbreak and everything in between. 

Matt Scarborough made a fantastic Brick, giving us long periods of subtlety and indifference that led to explosive moments of emotions. Brick must also spend the whole show in a leg cast while using a crutch and Scarborough seemed very natural with that physicality throughout the show, never being to “over the top”. Deidre McCollum also gave a wonderful performance as Maggie, showing the largest range of emotions throughout the show. She was always in the moment, as if these lines were being said for the first time. She gave us equal amounts of sincerity, light-heartedness, and desire when the character called for it. Jay Tilly stood out the most in the particular production, playing the most complex character. Big Daddy is an iconic role for a reason, it’s hard to play. This role needs to be equal parts boisterous and aggressive, making the audience like him one moment and dislike him the next. Jay Tilly did that and more, he provided wonderful energy at low times in the script, keeping the audience engaged and invested. Becky Farris, Peter Ponzini, and Catherine Lyon all gave commendable performances as well. The highest praise I feel a cast can get is the word “Believable” and this cast was exactly that. No one stuck out as an actor playing a character; I just saw the characters themselves.

It’s no secret that Tennessee Williams is slightly outdated and can at times drag but the direction of this show kept the actors constantly involved and moving, which made it much more lively for the audience. This production was directed by Erin DeCaprio with assistance from Stella Sklar. Just when you thought the energy/script was lagging there would be something to revive it, whether it was Brick constantly getting a drink or having housekeepers come in and out, there was always something happening. Costumes were also very well done in this production, seeming to be very authentic. Granted, I’m not an expert in 1950’s Mississippi attire but nothing seemed out of place, it all felt natural. Kudos to Valeria Pareja for that.  The set was very efficient, especially for the small space. It really set up the fact that this family had money and had no shame spending it.

This show is up in Woodbridge, Va. for two more weekends. I recommend it to anyone who is a Williams fan, Theatre fan or anyone who wants to broaden their horizons. Take a look at what Theatre was before Hamilton or Almost Maine. Shows like this are important and I only hope more Theaters will focus on presenting culture like this on stage, not just guaranteed money makers. More information about this show and The Castaways Repertory Theatre can be found here: http://www.castawaystheatre.org/. Tickets can also be found on Goldstar for a limited time!

 

Review: 'Come From Away' at Ford’s Theater

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Washington D.C. Critic

Let’s get three things straight right off the bat: This is not a 9/11 musical, this is a musical about what happens when a small town is doubled in size and must a find a way to support people from all over the globe until they can fly back home. This is one of the best new shows I’ve seen. The world is ready for this.

Come From Away, created by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, follows the town of Gander in the most northern tip of the continent as the town must rally to accommodate thousands and thousands of “Come From Away’s” that were forced to land there on September 11th .  The show includes real events and stories from the town and the actual passengers. This show is funny. It’s not funny because of anything having to do with 9/11; it’s funny because of the unique characters and conflict/ differences between these extremely northern, Canadian townsfolk and the outside foreigners. 12 actors play just around 100 characters, with small clothing or prop changes marking the difference between them all.

The show starts the morning of September 11th as we see the town of Gander receive word of the horrific events in NYC/DC and the news that 38 planes are being grounded in their small town. The show then transitions back and forth between the people of the town preparing and the people on the planes, who weren’t allowed off the planes for as long as 28 hours as every jet was being treated as a bomb threat. Once the passengers leave the planes there is a mass panic of “what will happen now” and “how long will we be here”. Throughout the show we slowly see the passengers and the locals create a connection, but nobody can escape the anxiousness of what’s happening/ what happened. We hear stories from locals and passengers alike about what the town was like, what they did in the town, how kind the people were in the town, etc. Eventually the passengers leave Newfoundland and realize a piece of them will always be in Gander but also realize the world will never be the same now.

I could write a paragraph about every actor being excellent and unbelievably real but then people would stop reading and there’s much more to be said. I won’t give each cast member their own paragraph but I will give them all one large paragraph so strap in. Let’s begin with Rodney Hicks whose main character was Bob, a new Yorker, Rodney gave one of the best performances of the night as a funny man who is not used to the abrupt kindness of these northerners. Mr. King got the most laughs of the night but also got some of the most dramatic moments of the show, once he got back to NYC and realized “Something’s Missing”. Tony Nominee Chad Kimball also gave a standout performance as an openly gay man and a gander citizen trying to help. He got to be a real mouthpiece for what was happening on stage, giving several great monologues delivered directly to the audience. Geno Carr was the best character actor on stage; his main role was the Gander Sherriff who is all over the show, helping everyone he can with an excellent Canadian/Newfoundland accent. Q. Smith gave a heart wrenching and unbelievably real performance as a mother just longing to hear from her soon who was firefighter in NYC. Caesar Samayoa’s best role was Ali, a Muslim from Egypt who just wants to help but is turned down due to fear. He portrayed the most political part of the show with such subtlety and yet such frustration that the audience couldn’t help but think “let that man help!” Astrid Van Wieren, Sharon Wheatley, Kendra Kassebaum, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Lee MacDougall, and Joel Hatch all gave outstanding performances as well, switching flawlessly between characters. Every one of them did an excellent job and the show wouldn’t have been as good without them. Now, if you follow my reviews you’ll know I pick a “star of the show” and this review is no different.

Even surrounded by such amazing talent and incredible performances, one actor stood out. Jenn Colella was a powerhouse on stage, having two main characters throughout the show. One being a younger Newfoundlander who makes sure everyone gets what they need, the other a strong pilot who is desperate to know when her crew and passengers can go home. Her moments were the best on stage and the audience knew it. She had the most devastating song in the whole piece, which is saying something. Don’t be surprised if this actress wins some serious hardware this theatre awards season.

The music and Dialogue by Sankoff and Hein was absolutely superb, giving us laughs and tears constantly throughout. The direction couldn’t have been any stronger; Tony Nominee Christopher Ashley outdid himself with this piece. There was some of the best movement throughout this piece that I’ve seen, not dancing per say, but strong movement that added immensely to the story. Great job to Tony Nominee Kelly Devine on that. Tony award winning Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt made a fantastic set. It’s all in one location and yet it’s everywhere. It’s set in a bar as people use the props from the bar to create every other setting needed for the piece, very well done indeed. The true Technical achievement in this show came from Tony Winner Howell Binkley (Hamilton) on lighting design. The lights were incredibly powerful and soft all at once, creating the mood for each scene flawlessly. Throw in Tony Nominees Gareth Owen for sound design and August Eriksmoen for Orchestrations and you’ve got a technical behemoth of a show. The band was also on stage throughout the show and even interacted with the actors during the bar scenes. Ian Eisendrath, Ben Power, Caitlin Warbelow, Alec Berlin, Nate Lueck, Mike Pearce, James Yoshizawa and Larry Lelli handled the folk/rock score outstandingly, not missing a beat.

I can’t really stress how important this show is to everyone. It’s important to have a show that discusses 9/11 without being filled with political bad mouthing and personal gain. It’s important to let people mourn over this event, even 15 years later. It’s important that our youth never forgets about this tragedy. Consider this, there are high school students now who weren’t alive during 9/11. Soon there will be teachers who can’t speak to it and then we’ll have parents who weren’t alive at all and eventually it will slip into the cracks of history, becoming just another flash card we study to ace the test. This preserves it for us all. If Lin-Manuel Miranda taught us anything it’s that we will flock to history if the melody is catchy and the story is good. Come From Away will do the same thing. Come From Away will not let any of us forget. Come From Away can succeed.

Come From Away is up at Ford’s Theatre till October 16th (http://www.fords.org/). Then it will head to Canada then it is scheduled to start on Broadway in March. Please, see this show. It will change you, it will stay with you for a very long time. It must be seen.

The last thing I’ll say about the show is this: I saw the show with my mother and we were both emotional wrecks, along with the rest of the audience. Once the show was over and the audience leapt to their feet, the women sitting next to my mother gave her a hug. They hadn’t ever spoken before that night and will probably never speak again. However in that moment they hugged each other. That’s what Come From Away does. It doesn’t offend, it doesn’t mock, it doesn’t condemn. It fills you with love. Love that is much needed these days.

 

Review: "Heathers" with the Red Branch Theatre Company

Christian Jost

OnStage Washington DC Critic 

Some movie to musical adaptations are obvious, the film’s plot and characters lend themselves to the musical stage. School of Rock, Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots, and others all had fun characters and an overall happy vibe that then translated to the stage later on. Now if I had told you that the 1988 Daniel Water’s film about a young popular high school girl who goes on an “accidental” killing spree with her psychotic boyfriendwhich ends in an attempt to blow up the entire schoolwould become a hit musical, you’d probably say “that sounds horrible”. Well you’d be wrong. Somehow, Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy managed to create a masterpiece out of Water’s film that keeps the same “dark-comedy” vibe, while adding some much needed depth and observance to these characters.

Heathers follows the lives of the students at Westerburg High School as they go through the typical school events, kind of. The School is run by the “Heathers”, three girls named Heather who float on air above everyone else. One day the Heathers agree to allow Veronica Sawyer to join their group, where she quickly realizes this glamorous life isn’t easy to maintain. Conflict arises when Veronica meets JD, a damaged, young heartthrob with homicidal tendencies. Not before long several students have “committed suicide” but Veronica and the audience knows the truth. The show actually has a very deep outlook on pain, internal conflict, and society as a whole. I love Heathers, so I was hoping for a great show and The Red Branch Theatre Company delivered! I left the show feeling very satisfied and I would definitely see it again. The main things that made this show a success were the actors, the diversity, the fearless direction, and the lights.

Taking the helm of this production was Vivian Cook, playing Veronica. Cook had an extremely believable performance, I believed her as the high school nerd and I believed her as the “queen bee”. Cook showed off great tenderness and vulnerability throughout this production, she showed fear, confliction, doubt, love, and acceptance throughout this show and her vocals were spot-on while doing it. The Heathers were all also standouts in this production, played by Tiara Whaley (Chandler), Megan Bunn (Duke), and Geocel Batista (McNamara). They all played their parts well and the audience loved to hate them, which is the goal of the Heathers. Early in the production, Bunn seemed a little uncomfortable with the choreography and the staging but as the show went on and she took on a more leading role in the story, she got much better, becoming the most memorable of the three. Tendo Nsubuga andTaylor Witt also gave great performances as Ram and Kurt, the school’s stereotypical, dumb Jocks. They provided excellent comedic relief throughout the night, and got the biggest laughs of the production, hands down. I respect anyone who can take on a role like Martha Dunnstock and Amy Williamson surly delivered. Being in a role where your appearance is the brunt of the other character’s jokes and cruelty is not easy, believe me, and she did great throughout the show. The true star of the show, in this case wasHasani Allen as JD.Allen left it all on the stage, focusing more on the damaged side of the character rather than the psychotic side. He the audience in tears multiple times throughout and made us really question the ethics of his character. How wrong or right is JD? 

As I’ve stated in reviews prior, I love seeing diversity on stage more than anything. This production definitely gave it to me, it had diversity in every aspect. It had racial diversity, it had body diversity and it had age diversity. It’s always a refreshing thing to see the more adult characters being played by actual adults. The most impressive bit of diversity to me was the leading couple of the show was an interracial couple. Now, I’m sure the people reading this may think “There have always been interracial couples, why is that a big deal?” and they’d be right, interracial couples are a normal, everyday thing. However, as someone who has been in over 20 productions and seen countless others, I’ve never been in/seen a production with an interracial couple where the script didn’t specifically call for it. Many casting directors don’t put different races together in romantic roles, they typically match race with race and call it diversity. It was unbelievably refreshing to see it all play out on stage, knowing that love isn’t race exclusive and that more shows need to have couples like this.

If you know anything about Heathers, movie or musical, then you know it’s inappropriate for younger audiences. It covers many adult themes and has wild acts of violence. All that being said, it is an important piece of art that shouldn’t be censored and Director Amelia Acosta Powell did not censor a thing. All the inappropriate jokes were played to affect and all the themes were shown in full light and the sensual scenes were realistic. It’s a refreshing change to see a show that didn’t tone down its content, trying not to upset anyone. So often jokes or scenes are taken out of productions because the director doesn’t want to be offensive, Powell, thankfully was not one of those directors. Everything was in that should be in and if it made you uncomfortable then so be it. It was absolutely fearless direction and it resulted in a great show. I hope she is setting the tone for productions to come, not being an exception. She also directed a truly great ensemble, with standouts Allie O’Donnell, Lindsay Hopkins, and James Tarrant.

Tech was great for this show but the lights specifically were the hero. They set the tone of the scenes, they helped give us that rocking 80’s vibe and they gave us a sense of setting in such a small performance space. The Lighting Designer, Lynn Joslin really did great work. The sound didn’t have any hiccups per say but the music track was over powering the actors throughout the majority of the show, making it a bit distracting. Costumes were excellent, due to Cierra Coan. The Choreography was used in moderation and very affective when used, kudos to Brandon Glass for that. The Vocals were flawless as far as I could tell, thanks to Music Director John Henderson.

This show was, without a doubt, a huge success. It’s fun, heartbreaking, inquisitive and just plain entertaining. It was absolutely worth the overnight trip! I highly recommend it to all theatre lovers but specifically the young adults who love rock musicals. This show is up at the Red Branch Theatre Company’s performance space in Columbia MD for two more weekends. Tickets can be found here: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=61063. There are also discounted “Rush Tickets” available on the app “TodayTix”. Do yourself a favor and see Heathers! I guarantee Big Fun!

Review: Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Washington D.C. Critic

I’ve always had a soft spot for Little Shop of Horrors. It was the first musical I ever saw live and it solidified my dreams of wanting to be a performer. That being said, I try to see it whenever I can, especially when an institution with a reputation like SSMT mounts a production. Little Shop was first introduced to the world with a 1960 “dark comedy” film that was eventually transformed into a stage musical by Alan Menken (Music) and Howard Ashman (Book and Lyrics). It was first mounted in 1982 and reached main stream fame with its 1986 movie adaptation. This production was directed by Robin Higginbotham, with musical direction by John Clanton. This show follows Seymour Krelborn as he begins to find success in his poor community, all thanks to a new breed of plant life he’s discovered. However, things take a turn when his plant reviles it can talk and make all of Seymour’s dreams come true, including winning over the love of Seymour’s life, Audrey. However, like with most things, the plants favors come with a price.

 Picture Credit: C. King Photography

Picture Credit: C. King Photography

This cast consisted of only 8 actors. That’s it. Now I fully understand that this is “traditional”, in the sense that that is how it was done when the show was first put up but it’s hardly ever done that way anymore, and I feel for a good reason. The stage looks so empty when you only have 5 or 6 actors on stage for the large numbers like “Skid Row” and “Suppertime”. It felt like SSMT had spent their budget for actors on the other shows in their summer stock so they decided to do this show with as few people as possible, which is very unlike them. All that being said, with what little cast they had, they still had some good performances. Jeremy Scott Blaustein excelled as the show’s lead, giving us great vocals and a defined character. Lauren Wright also did remarkably well as Audrey, a role that requires serious commitment and focus. The “urchins” were played by Dorian McCorey (Chiffon), Jordan Leigh McCaskill (Crystal) and Adia J. Seckel (Ronnette). All though at times it appeared the group struggled vocally at some points in the show, Mrs. McCaskill never disappointed, acting as the leader of the 3, she definitely gave the strongest performance of the group. Jef Mueller and Russell Rinker both also gave solid performances as Mushnik and Orin/others respectively. 

The real star of this show was the set and lights. The set was beautiful, which is ironic sense it was depicting the worst of America. Every part of the set was used at some point and it just captured the tone of the show so well. I particularly enjoyed the strong uses of green to drive home the main theme of envy/greed in this show. Kudos to Michael “Jonz” Jones for the scenic design in this production. Lighting credit goes to William McConnell Bozman, whose designs really drew the audience in. Plus everyone loved the lightning bolts shaped like plant roots!

 Picture Credit: C. King Photography

Picture Credit: C. King Photography

My biggest issue with this show was the plant, Audrey II, both as a prop and as a character. Now I don’t believe that the plant always needs to be cast as it’s traditional race, but it needs to have that soulful jazzy voice and , in this case, Dan Morton didn’t have it. If you’ve ever seen Little Shop before then you know how important the plant is and this Audrey II felt very wooden, as if he was reading from a script. I also had an issue with how fake the plant looked, now I understand it must, obviously, look a little fake due to its nature but it was so clearly a puppet that it took the audience out of the moment. I think that was a big directing issue with the whole show, it couldn’t decide whether it took itself seriously or not. I appreciate that this show can be slightly cliché at times but the message in it is still important and it felt SSMT comically brushed over the messages to get laughs. Don’t get me wrong, this show had absolutely strong moments, it just didn’t deliver on other aspects. That can be said of all shows. 

Little Shop of Horrors is up through the end of this weekend in Winchester Va. The cast is having fun throughout and the set alone is worth the price of a ticket! Tickets can be found here http://www.ssmtva.org/. 

Review: Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s 'The Pirates of Penzance'

Christian Jost

  • Onstage D.C./L.A. Critic

Gilbert and Sullivan. Without me having to say anymore you can already hear/see what we’re talking about today. We’re talking that masterful patter song style with sweeping instrumentals, and if you’re like most, you think The Pirates of Penzance. The Pirates of Penzance is classified as an Operetta, the style Gilbert and Sullivan excelled at. Operetta’s bridged the gap between the classical Opera style we know so well and the musicals we watch/listen to everyday. Operettas were some of the first shows that told a story through both song and dialogue. This show, Pirates of Penzance, is generally regarded as a classic and a family favorite for all generations. It follows the tale of an indentured pirate, Frederic, as he is relieved of his pirate service and then vows to end the scourge of piracy. On his first day off the ship he encounters a Major General and all of his daughters, the fairest one being Mabel.

 Photo: "C. King Photography"

Photo: "C. King Photography"

Conflict appears when Frederic is informed by his old caretaker Ruth and his old captain, The Pirate King, that he may not be as free from his pirate service as he thinks. All the while being a laugh riot for the audience.

This show was excellent in many ways but perhaps its greatest achievement was how well it was able to capture the sense of parody and farce that Gilbert and Sullivan intended it to have. They added 4th wall breaks to entertain the audience, they gave us excellent comedic timing on the lines, they had great comedic direction when it came to physicality, they even had a sword fight with the conductor. It’s easy to lose a lot of the humor surrounding this show as it is written in a musical style that is considered old fashion these days, but we mustn’t forget this show was written to be funny and to poke fun at society, class systems, and of course, other musicals. The company and crew understood that perfectly and delivered it so well and convincingly that if felt like the show could have been written yesterday. I didn’t want it to end!

There were standout performances all around this show. Elizabeth Albert (Ruth) gave such a great and comedic portrayal of an older women begging for Frederic’s affection. Frankie Thams gave a phenomenal performance as Frederic, singing and acting the part perfectly. The role of Mable calls for serious vocal talent and Katie Davis had enough to spare! She sang beautifully and added a little feistiness into Mabel’s character that isn’t usually seen, making us like her character much more. Matthew R. Wilson gave a hilariously brilliant portrayal as the Major General, acting as a median between the audience and the action on stage. Dan Morton also showed his wonderful physical humor and talented dance moves as the Sergeant. It is indeed a glorious thing to be a Pirate King and Russell Rinker proved it. He was indeed the crowd favorite of the night and mine as well, showing wonderful humor and vocal skill to create the perfect character. This show also included a very professional ensemble, with standout leading ensemble performances by Sarah Summerwell, Madelyn Pyles and Josh Walker.

This production was wonderfully directed by Jeremy Scott Blaustein, with stylized choreography by Trey Coates-Mitchell. As stated above, they both captured the true spirit of humor in this show, having jokes that could have been right out of a David and Jerry Zucker movie. This show also featured a whimsical yet stunning set, with Scenic Design by Michael “Jonz” Jones. Under the musical direction of Karen Keating, the cast and orchestra seemed musically flawless. Gilbert and Sullivan may be the only thing harder to perform musically than Sondheim, and they all pulled it off!

I don’t say this often but this show is a MUST SEE. It’s up till the end of this weekend at Shenandoah University in Winchester Va. Tickets can be bought here http://www.ssmtva.org/ . Don’t miss out!

 

Review: 'Footloose' with the Mclean Community Players

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Washinton D.C./L.A. Critic

This past weekend was the opening for the Mclean Community Player’s production of Footloose; which, as many of you know, is an adaptation of the beloved 80’s teen movie of the same name. The show was adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. Original music came from Tom Snow and lyrics from Dean Pitchford. Footloose follows the story of Ren McCormack as he transitions from city life in Chicago to small town life in Bomont. Conflict arises when Ren realizes that Bomont has very strict laws against teenage activities, specifically dancing. These laws were created and are upheld by the town’s Reverend, who lost his son in a tragic accident years prior. The Reverend’s attempts to keep the town’s youth safe backfire, and it pushes his own daughter Ariel farther and farther away.

Ok, let’s move on to the topic at hand: The McLean Community Players production of Footloose, Directed and Choreographed by Shaun Patrick Moe. I'll admit that I had my reservations about seeing this show but I was excited to see what this cast would do with it. This production provided many solid performances, many from its supporting cast. Sara Talebian gave an excellent performance as Ariel’s best friend Rusty.  She gave a very honest portrayal of a confident small town girl trying to get the guy of her dreams and protect her friends. Sierra Hoffman and Tori Garcia also gave great performances as Ariel’s friends Wendy Jo and Urleen; they had great chemistry together and excelled comically and musically. Jon Simmons also stood out as Ren’s best friend Willard, he provided us with huge laughs and really won the affection of the audience. The best performance of the night was undoubtedly given by Nikkie Culbreth as Ariel. She sang beautifully, and her acting couldn’t be topped. She showed us humor, sensuality, rebellion, hatred, acceptance, and humanity in this flawless performance.  She was always in the moment, and as a result, completely stole the show. 

While Morgan DeHart had looked the part, and surely had his moments as Ren McCormack, something didn’t click.  As far as I could tell, it was inexperience that hindered DeHart. He seemed very uncomfortable and nervous on stage, speaking way too quickly and not very convincingly. That being said, it actually allowed for an interesting dynamic because Ariel became the lead character of the show, making us care about her story over all others; whether that is good or not is debatable, but it was indeed different perspective and an overall triumph for Culbreth. 

The choreography was also a triumph is this show, being just simple enough that everyone on stage could pull it off and difficult enough that the audience was impressed. The ensemble excelled at the choreography, and if they made any mistakes I sure couldn’t tell. The ensemble was what really kept this audience engaged, they all seemed to click together and made great character choices. Everything the ensemble did seemed fresh and new, like they were showing it to us for the first time. The strongest ensemble members were Franklin Williams, Michael Ferry, Megan Khaziran, and Clair Baker. The best ensemble performance and the best song in general was the classic “Holding Out for a Hero”. Of all the songs Dean Pitchford brought over from the movie, this one works the best in the Musical and this cast pulled it off flawlessly. 

The set design by Bill Brown also stood out; it managed to give us everything we needed to get lost in the scenes without having a completely cluttered stage.  Although at times some songs seemed too high for certain characters; they never let that stop them and sang their hearts outs. Praise to Music Director Lori Roddy for that and the other great music in the show. Matt Robotham also did an outstanding job on percussion for the show and that goes for the entire pit orchestra who all did great. Their were a couple sound issues but other than that the tech for this show seemed to run smoothly, kudos to the crew for that.

Despite a few of this production's setbacks, I can’t deny the fact that it is entertaining. The cast is truly having fun on stage and the audience can tell. We root for them. This show is up for two more weekends in McLean Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C.! Tickets and info can be found here.  

Review: Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s 'Sweeney Todd'

Christian Jost

  • OnStage D.C./New York Critic

Winchester VA - I for one, am a huge fan of the Sweeney Todd movie, if for no other reason than Johnny Depp’s performance alone. That being said, I had high expectations for SSMT’s production of Sweeney Todd, and they sure did deliver. The movie is good, but it doesn’t let the viewer see the full spectacle you experience when the show is done live right in front of you. Sweeney Todd was originally penned by Stephen Sondheim, with the book by Hugh Wheeler. The first production opened in 1979 and went on to win numerous Tony’s, including Best Musical. The show follows the life of Benjamin Barker as he returns to London after being wrongfully imprisoned and takes on a new persona, Sweeney Todd. He seeks restitution and eventually revenge, and, well, the rest is the play and he wouldn’t want us to give it away!

This production had some very good performances, including Christopher Sanders in the titular role. Sanders gave an impressive performance, although at times the acting felt a little over the top. Now, granted, in a show like this that is expected, but the performance seemed very “one level”, meaning he didn’t give us those real, human, moments that Sweeney Todd is supposed to have in order for the audience to accept his character: A broken man who has lost his way. That’s actually the one big note I had for the show in general; it all seemed very one dimensional, the lights were always at the same level, the set was always dark and solemn, the characters never seemed to have moments of humanity. This is a dark show, but it’s also a show where everyone feels like what they’re doing is justified and sensible.  I never really felt that. There were also standout performances from Christopher Prasse as Anthony, Gabriella Francis as Johanna, and Michael Forest as The Beadle. The true star of this production was Dolly Stevens as Mrs. Lovett. She gave the role every emotion it called for, whether it was humor, lust, greed, guilt, etc.  She gave all her energy to us and we then in return we gave it back to her. 

 Dolly Stevens and Christopher Sanders. Photo by C.King Photography.

Dolly Stevens and Christopher Sanders. Photo by C.King Photography.

The thing that made this production so entertaining was the ensemble. They were almost constantly on stage, watching, listening, moving set pieces, singing, etc. They were the most believable part of the show, always being in the moment. The ensemble in this musical serves as a Greek chorus of sorts, always reprising “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” with new information in it. It’s vital that the ensemble gets the audience’s attention and they definitely had mine throughout. I also always approve of a diverse ensemble, and although this one may have been as racially diverse as others I’ve seen, it was also diverse with body types. There were tall men, tall women, short men, short women, bigger men, children sized people, and many others. It looked like how a neighborhood would actually look, everyone being different. Some standout ensemble members were Sarah Summerwell, Madelyn Pyles, and Josh Walker.

Other impressive things about this production were the music, the costumes, and director’s choices. There’s no doubt that Sondheim is some of the hardest Broadway music to sing and play, and this cast and orchestra pulled it off flawlessly. I give credit to Thomas Albert, the Musical Director and Conductor for that. The costumes helmed by Jennifer Flitton Adams were also a remarkable part of this show.  Everything was beautiful, even the things that were supposed to resemble poverty were designed with detailed elegance. Director and Choreographer Edward Carignan also did some lovely things with this show, whether it was casting an older couple for the leads, synchronized movement for the ensemble, an interesting approach to the murder presented in the show, or a very clever opening, he did a good job all around. The set was also beautiful; I thank William Pierson for allowing me to view his work.

In conclusion, I do recommend this show because it is something different. Take a break from the Legally Blondes, the Rent’s, and the other modern rock musicals and go enjoy the genius of Sondheim. This show is up through the end of this weekend and I encourage everyone to visit Winchester, VA and experience this well crafter piece of art! Tickets available here:  http://www.ssmtva.org/box-office/ 
 

 

Review: 'Next to Normal' at the Keegan Theatre

Christian Jost 

  • OnStage Washington D.C. Critic

I’ll admit that I hadn’t ever really appreciated Next to Normal until I had to perform “Just Another Day” for a class project in high school and ever since then I’ve been obsessed with this show. The excellent music by Tom Kitt and the Lyrics/Book by Brian Yorkey are revolutionary in their style, honesty and realism. Next to Normal was one of the first to approach its subject matter, mental illness, in such a way that it educated people about something they couldn’t relate to unless it affected them personally. It also received acclaim from medical professionals about how realistic the illnesses are portrayed as well as how the doctors would go about treating them.

The show follows a middle class family, the Goodmans, as they deal with the mother of the house and her worsening bipolar disorder. Diana’s mental state takes a toll on her entire family, including her husband Dan, her daughter Natalie, and in a way her son Gabe. There are also appearances by Diana’s doctors and Natalie’s love interest, Henry.

 Chad Wheeler and Kari Ginsburg in ”Next to Normal” from The Keegan Theatre. (C. Stanley Photography)

Chad Wheeler and Kari Ginsburg in ”Next to Normal” from The Keegan Theatre. (C. Stanley Photography)

From the moment you walk into the Keegan Theater you feel like you’re part of a community of people who are all there to have fun, just like you. The Keegan, which as far as I can tell was built inside an old church, is a rather small space that allows beverages in the theater and uses a tablet as a box office and it’s a very unique and fun experience. The stage is rather small and very close to the audience, however for this show that was ideal. You got to see every little movement and facial expression from the cast and the intimacy pulls you right into the captivating story. Everyone in attendance talked with one another, was very respectful, and I believe they all had a great time. I kept wishing for a theatre to do Next to Normal in my area so I could witness it and then finally the Keegan mounted an excellent production and I had the pleasure to attend and be completely satisfied. This production was a success due to the cast, the tech, and the direction.

The cast for this production was perfect in every way. Although they all looked different than what I had come to expect from Broadway clips and other videos, I couldn’t imagine watching the show with any other cast after seeing this one. It’s hard to live up to Alice Ripley but Kari Ginsburg sure gave it her best. She excelled with the part of Diana, having the perfect voice and characterization throughout the whole show.

It’s very hard to convincingly play a character that the audience can both love and hate and she pulled it off remarkably well. Chad Wheeler gave an excellent performance as Dan; we see his character’s constant struggle and loss when it comes to his wife and daughter and though you start off not liking him very much, by the end you are heartbroken for him. I had the pleasure of seeing Matthew Hirsh play the role of Gabe on Friday night. Hirsh is the understudy for the role but I wouldn’t have known had I not seen the playbill. He was magnificent and if you know this show then you know how hard that role is to pull off and he did it brilliantly. Scott Ward Abernethy gave a very believable performance, playing Diana’s doctors. Christian Montgomery also played his role of Henry very well and was the one who made me tear up in the second act. Now, when you think Next to Normal you think of the mom as being the star of the show, having all the characters revolve around her.  

At the Keegan however that wasn’t the case. Caroline Dubberly’s portrayal of Natalie stole the show. She went above and beyond when executing this role and everything about her performance was nearly perfect. By the end of the show you walked away thinking Natalie was the lead of this show and justifiably so. The one big thing that impressed me about the cast as a whole was how “in the moment” they all were, it felt as if this was the first time they’d ever done the lines or the blocking and it made the production as a whole feel very real and believable. I hope to one day work with a cast as in sync as this cast was.

This production was co-directed by Colin Smith and Mark. A. Rhea, both doing an excellent job. One of the directing choices I loved was the decision to cast Dan and Diana young, you really felt for both of them by realizing they weren’t even really middle aged yet. That choice also helped set up the depressing similarities and mirroring of Diana and Natalie. The audience realized how close Natalie could be to having this exact same set of illnesses if she has the gene for them, which is more than likely. The music was flawless, both vocal and instrumental, kudos to Jake Null for that. Set/Scenic design, by Carol H. Baker and Matthew Keenan, was another success of this production. From doors that were cut in half, to stairs on the ceiling to a giant shattered glass archway, everything made the show come together.

 Caroline Dubberly in Keegan Theatre’s Next to Normal (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

Caroline Dubberly in Keegan Theatre’s Next to Normal (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

The lighting design for this show was also incredible, there was light were there needed to be light, color when color was justified and darkness when the characters needed it. Allan Sean Weeks really did a great job with that. Also there were amazing projections on the glass arch way throughout the whole show, done by G. Ryan Smith that were superb for setting the tones of certain scenes/songs. If I had one technical critique it would be that at times the pit was too loud, you couldn’t hear the seven people on stage belting their lungs out over just a few instruments. I know Next to Normal is a rock musical but it was still at times distracting. Other than those moments, Jake Null, Jaime Ibacache, Deborah Jacobson, Brad Emmett, Manny Arciniega, Alexandra Touzinsky, and Katie Chambers all did fantastic in the pit.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend seeing this show that has just been extended through July 16th. The theatre is unique, the cast is amazing, and the tech is executed perfectly. Also, being located in the heart of the Nation’s Capital, just off Dupont Circle, there are loads of fun things to do before or even after the production is over!

Review: “The Taming Of The Shrew” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company

Christian Jost

  • OnStage D.C./Los Angeles Critic

WASHINGTON DC - There’s nothing I love more than non-traditional Shakespeare and this production was exactly that. Non-traditional. This Production, directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, was set in mid-20th century Europe at its height of fashion.

This production also was a musical of sorts due to the fact the characters would often break out into contemporary musical numbers to advance characterization, including adding some aspects to characters that were not in Shakespeare’s original work.   But we’ll talk about that later. The Taming of the Shrew follows a father, Senor Baptista and his desire to find a husband for his eldest daughter, Katherina, so that he may then find a husband for his daughter Bianca. This seems like a harmless enough task if it weren’t for the fact that Katherina is infamous for being a foul-mouthed shrew who does not have any gentlemen callers. Bianca however, is loved by all and has many men fighting for affection, specifically local noblemen Hortensio and Gremio, and the newly arrived in town Lucentio. Hilarity ensues when various characters decide to go undercover to infiltrate Baptista’s house to seduce Bianca from the inside until a husband can be found for Kate.  Eventually Kate does find a husband in the mischievous Petruchio, leaving Bianca’s hand available for marriage. The rest is the show so I wouldn’t dare spoil it!

  photos by Scott Suchman

 photos by Scott Suchman

This show is traditional to Shakespeare in one sense: All the actors were male. They weren’t males being portrayed in “drag” however, they were just men playing females, and convincingly. So convincingly, I might add, that many people around me were shocked when they realized Bianca was played by a man (the very talented Oliver Thornton). The director’s reasoning behind this casting choice was very honest and sincere. It boiled down to this: The Taming of the Shrew is viewed as very sexist and misogynistic these days, and justifiably so. This director states that is would be “monstrous” to ask a women to perform Kate’s role and her last speech specifically, in today’s world. The all-male cast is a true look at identity in this work, not gender. It is also very interesting that the Public Theatre in NYC is mounting an all-female production of this show and I can only imagine that the reasoning is similar and the effect will be just as powerful. As Iskandar put it “maybe this play can only be produced this way now”. There are five main aspects of the show I would like to focus on that really made this play something spectacular.

Diversity

This show had just about every skin tone you could think of (the way a show should be). Starting with Katherina, played beautifully by 30 Rock’s Maulik Pancholy who is of Indian decent. Although Kate’s sister is white and Kate has a much darker complexion, I never once felt like they weren’t sisters.  I believed it all the way. Their father Baptista, played by Bernard White also had a darker complexion that fit the character and the setting. You also had Tony nominee André De Shields who played several parts throughout the show, including Vincentio who plays Lucentio’s father.  Like before, I 100% believed he was Lucentio’s father even though Vincentio was African-American and Lucentio was of Asian descent. Throw in several people with English accents like Peter Gadiot who played Petrucchio, who reminded me of Kit Harington from Game of Thrones, and you’ve got a brilliantly diverse cast of talented performers who played their roles both well and convincingly.

Costumes

The costumes for this show, helmed by Loren Shaw, were simply fantastic. As I stated earlier, the show was set in 1950’s Italy where fashion and fashion magazines were very popular. The play suggested that Baptista made his fortune by having his own fashion magazine that Bianca modeled for. That being said, the house of Minola had to have elegant costumes and it did indeed. Baptista sported a golden outfit for the majority of the show that showed his social status immediately. Bianca wore mainly pink throughout the show, solidifying her character as “a perfect lady”. All the suitors were also upper class so they all sported top notch clothing, from fur capes, to gold chains, to fine denim, to long formal jackets. Kate also had an amazing wedding gown, not to mention the excellent job the costumers did with Kate and Petruchio’s “peasant” costumes after they leave the wedding which is quite the contrast from the other characters. In a nice homage to classic Shakespeare many characters at one point or another wore costumes that while seemingly modern, also incorporated codpieces. I confess my favorite pieces were the red jackets that Petruchio and eventually Kate show off in the last scene of the show that suggested a phoenix design.

Subtlety

I could write here all day about the acting in this show and how each line was given with elegance and eloquence but I don’t have the time. The true acting glory in this show were the subtle things (looks, gestures, etc.) Now as I’ve said before I can’t give credit to the director or the actors when it comes to subtlety because it could have been blocked that way or it could have been a character choice from the actor. Either way greatness was achieved. Before I talk about the subtle things I must fill you in on some things. This show added two romances that aren’t usually present in the show, without adding any dialogue to the original play.  I’ll talk about how in a bit. They added a one-sided romance from Tranio, Lucentio’s man-servant, towards Lucentio, and they also added a seemingly two-sided romance between Bianca and Biondello, a poor local hired man working with Lucentio. This matters because some of the best acting in this show was on the faces of Tranio (played by Matthew Russel) and Biondello (played by Drew Foster) when Bianca’s marriage to Lucentio was solidified. The looks of just sheer heartbreak and loss was enough to crush anybody’s spirit. André De Shields and Tom Story (playing Hortensio) also had their fair share of great moments, especially when it came to interacting with Kate. Great subtle things also contributed to the solid performance of Petruchio who would do things like pick his toes, shove food in his mouth and so on to make it clear he was a nobleman in name only. A great performance was also given by Gregory Linington as Grumio, who appeared be the most perfected Shakespearean actor on stage. I’ll disclose that my favorite bit of subtle acting was this look on Kate’s face on her wedding day, a look of absolute regret and fear that sticks with audience well after the curtain call has ended. 

Music

As I stated above this could have just as easily been considered a musical as opposed to a play. I like to consider it a happy middle ground. This show used musical number to do so much, the opening number set the theme for the show, they had numbers that expressed characterization, secret desires, and everything in between. Just about all music came from Duncan Sheik, a composer most known for the Tony-nominated, Spring Awakening. You could tell instantly the music came from the creator of Spring Awakening, because most of it had that teenage angst vibe to it as well as great romantic numbers. These were contemporary songs that seemed to flow flawlessly into the words Shakespeare provided us. It made the plot and the characters so much stronger and it was more understandable/enjoyable to the audience. Some of the more impressive musical numbers were “Shine Inside” where the audience learns of Tranio’s secret love for his master, “Mouth on Fire” which is sung by the ensemble as Petruchio tames his shrew, and the closing number “The End of the Outside” which left a bittersweet taste in the audience’s mouth and left us wondering if this really was one of Shakespeare’s comedy’s we had just watched. The strongest Vocalists were Telly Leung (playing Lucentio) and Drew Foster who were just brilliant. Also, with any musical number there is choreography, so kudos to Chase Brock on the good work there.

Audience Interaction

  photos by Scott Suchman

 photos by Scott Suchman

This aspect of the show was like nothing I had ever seen, heard of, or experienced before. It started out when you first got the Theatre and there were merchants as well as actors from the production who talk with you and encouraged pictures. They sang, drank, and laughed throughout the theatre which made you care about these characters before the curtain even went up because you just danced and sang with them in the lobby! They also made a point to block scenes throughout the audience periodically so we felt included. I was in the front row so they interacted with me more than most, and it made me feel very special and invested into this production. The most interesting and creative thing happened at intermission. Right before intermission there was the marriage of Kate. Intermission was the reception of the wedding on stage. So the audience was invited on stage to drink and mingle with the cast for twenty minutes, all the while the cast was still in character and performing musical numbers. They served wedding cake and wine, to over age patrons of course, and there was also some interesting character development happening if you were paying attention that I won’t spoil for you. The cast also greeted the audience in the lobby after the show was over and talked and took pictures and it was such a great time for all.

So in conclusion I recommend this show to anyone and everyone. It is an important look into society not only back then but also how society is moving forward. There isn’t a weak actor in the bunch or a weak vocalist, and you’ll never feel more involved or attached in another production the way this The Taming of the Shrew will makes you feel. This production is on till June 26th and tickets can be bought online (http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/) or you can call 202.547.1122. Please do yourselves a favor and see this show before it’s too late!

Review: Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

Tracy Danoff

When one hears the word hero, many adjectives come to mind such as brave, adventurous and true.  They are individuals who garner admiration and even love. However, a hero can also be flawed. Occasionally those shortcomings are a result of their own self-importance and sometimes they are born from a bigger and more difficult situation outside of their control. Suzan-Lori Parks has created just such a hero in her play, Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3).  The play, that presents the first three in a nine-part series, is currently making its home at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland.

 Michael Kevin Darnall (as Smith), JaBen Early (as Hero), and Tim Getman (as Colonel) in Round House Theatre’s production of Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) by Suzan-Lori Parks. (Photo: Cheyenne Michaels)

Michael Kevin Darnall (as Smith), JaBen Early (as Hero), and Tim Getman (as Colonel) in Round House Theatre’s production of Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) by Suzan-Lori Parks. (Photo: Cheyenne Michaels)

Using Homer’s Odyssey as inspiration, Ms. Parks tells the story of the aptly named Hero. Hero is a much admired African-American slave who accompanies his master to the battlefields of the Civil War. This is no simple war story or even a straightforward retelling of the horrors of slavery. It goes beyond being a morality tale. While it certainly shows the injustices of slavery, the play explores the complexity of human emotion and human frailty.  In going off to war, Hero has much to contend with – the feelings of his fellow slaves, leaving his love behind and his complicated feelings about both his master and his place in the world. 

Ms. Parks has written a thoughtful play with language this is almost musical at times. And music is used beautifully in this production in the form of blues musician Memphis Gold (The Musician). His soul-stirring voice creates just the right tone for the piece.

Joining him, is a wonderfully cast ensemble led by Jaben Early as Hero.  Simply put, Mr. Early is superb. All at once he conveys strength and vulnerability, bravery and cowardice and inconstancy while still managing to be true. His presence on stage is so palpable, that even during the times when his character is not at the forefront, he never fully disappears.

As Hero’s love interest, Valeka J. Holt (Penny) is nothing short of fierce. She takes over the moment she walks on the stage. She is the kind of actress that makes you want to know more about the character she is playing.

The remainder of the ensemble are equally compelling but special mention should be made of Craig Wallace (The Oldest Old Man/Odyssey) and Michael Kevin Darnall (Smith). Both deliver layered performances that make them interesting to watch.

Even though the pace can be a bit slow at times, the direction by Timothy Douglas is on point. He is joined by an outstanding creative team.

Tony Cisek (Scenic Designer) is especially notable for his effective set design. His set tells a story without one word being uttered on stage. Particularly striking is his use of a ramp that leads to an elevated path.  The path is supported by what looks to be tree roots.  However, a closer look at those roots reveal that they actually look like a human form with arms held high, carrying their loads.

There are so many ways to describe Father Comes Home from the Wars. It is certainly true that the play serves as a reminder of a dark time in American history and that it is a commentary on the weakness of man. It can also be seen as call to society to not repeat its past mistakes. It is all of those things but in the end it is about one man’s journey and the choices he makes.

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) has been extended through February 28th 2016.  Ticket and show information may be found at roundhousetheatre.org