Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The cast of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Photo by Scott Suchman.

The cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Photo by Scott Suchman.

Although Broadway musicals throughout history have been written about a tireless myriad of topics and events, few plot lines seem weaker or less full of suspense at the onset than The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. With the entire storyline centering on the events at a Midwest American spelling bee, the only initial enthusiasm for the show seems to be in wondering who the winner will be. Yet despite the fact that the entire plot really is exactly what it seems to be—contestants competing in a small-town spelling bee—The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a work of musical genius and one of the most amusing and entertaining shows I have ever seen.

The cleverness of the show lies in its complex simplicity. The plot is simple, with the audience knowing that as the show progresses, each of the contestants will be eliminated from the competition until there is only one winner. But book writer Rachel Sheinkin and composer/lyricist William Finn have added a wonderful layer of complexity to the show by leaving the audience asking more than just “who will win,” but also “what will cause the others to lose”, “how did the contestants come to be at the spelling bee in the first place”, and “how will this one event shape the remainder of the contestants lives (if at all)”. To be answered through short musical vignettes woven in between the actual bits of competition, and to all be done in a way that is uproariously hysterical is sheer brilliance. Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Violet

Erin Driscoll as Violet with Kevin McAllister and James Gardiner in the Ford’s Theatre production of the musical “Violet,” directed by Jeff Calhoun. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Erin Driscoll as Violet with Kevin McAllister and James Gardiner in the Ford’s Theatre production of the musical “Violet,” directed by Jeff Calhoun. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

When the entire plot of a two-act show centers around the emotional scars present due to a very large physical scar and said scar (or even hint of it) is not actually present on the face of the leading character, who spends more than two hours on stage focusing solely on the fact that the invisible scar ruined her life, I have a hard time being sympathetic. When the same character continues to verbalize how ugly she is and then repeatedly and ignorantly insults an African-American man, who is always kind to her, for his physical appearance, I have a hard time respecting her. When she then engages in a sexual fling with his white army buddy who is cruel and disrespectful to her, and Act I ends with her naively believing that she has found love in this meaningless one-night stand, I have a hard time understanding her.

In Act II, when the protagonist’s deceased father appears to her in a vision of sorts to aid in her emotional healing and all she does is blame him for making her ugly (it was his loose axe blade that caused her physical deformity in the first place), I have a hard time even liking her. And then, after both the vision of her father and her journey to a faith healer fail to heal her physical or emotional scars, she is met at the bus station by the two servicemen who both profess their love to her. When this happens, with no explanation why the cruel man has changed his tune or why the kind man would want to be with a woman who has been so awful to him, I have given up.

Such was my experience with Violet at Ford’s Theatre. Although most of my criticism stems from blaring gaps and issues with writing team Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori’s script and director Jeff Calhoun’s failure to clarify some of these issues, the decision to not give actress Erin Driscoll, who plays the 25-year old Violet, the massive scar around which the entire show revolves meant that from the opening moment of the show, I was dismayed. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Laramie Project


Photo: Carol Rosegg

In the performing arts world it is almost canon law that the show must go on. For the cast and crew of Ford’s Theatre’s The Laramie Project that meant finding a performance space for their production after Tuesday’s Government Shutdown resulted in the National Parks Service forcing the closure the famed theatre.

I learned about the events of that faithful day in an interview with Paul R. Tetreault, the Theatre Director for Ford’s Theatre. The staff arrived to work at 8:30 unsure on how the Shutdown would affect their production. In past government closures the theatre has been allowed to produce theatrical productions. This production of The Laramie Project doesn’t use any federal employees or funds, however the theatre facility is funded by both the Ford’s Theatre Society, a nonprofit entity, and the National Parks Service.

“We thought we’d be beneath the radar… the Federal government has bigger issues than little ol’ Fords Theatre.” Tetreault explained.

At 10:30 that morning Tetreault was hand-delivered a letter from the Director of the National Parks Service informing them that the facility will be closed for the duration of the shutdown. Suddenly The Laramie Project was out on the street without a home.

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Hello, Dolly!

Nancy Opel as Dolly Levi with Jp Qualters, Harris Milgrim, Kyle Vaughn and Alex Puette in the Ford’s and Signature Theatre co-production of “Hello, Dolly!” Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Nancy Opel as Dolly Levi with Jp Qualters, Harris Milgrim, Kyle Vaughn and Alex Puette in the Ford’s and Signature Theatre co-production of “Hello, Dolly!” Photo by Carol Rosegg.

When tourist season comes around and you own arguably the most famous theater in the country, it can’t hurt to play it safe.

That’s what Ford’s Theatre and Signature Theatre seem to think, anyway, as they’ve teamed up to bring Hello, Dolly! to the Ford’s Theatre stage right as the cherry blossoms and spring breakers roll in.

It’s not an entirely bad idea: the line to Tuesday’s performance stretched down the street outside; groups arrived by the busload; and the show – which won the 1964 Tony for Best Musical and/or production of the year at your high school – is a light, catchy romp.

If that’s what you’re looking for, Hello, Dolly! will do just fine; but this production has room to improve for those of us watching from beyond the tour bus.

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History, Special Events, We Love Arts

The Lincoln Legacy Project at Ford’s Theatre

Photo courtesy of
‘Rehearsal, Ford’s Theatre’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

With Republican debates underway and the growth of both Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Occupy Wall Street, it appears most of America is angry, frustrated, or confused. And we’re all pretty much broke.

What better time, then, to look back on the legacy of a president who saw the country through its most traumatic era?

This month, Ford’s Theatre launches the Lincoln Legacy Project, a 5-year effort to create dialogue around the issues of tolerance, equality, and acceptance.

You read that right: it’s a 5-year project. And yes, they know that 5 years in DC time is about 2.5 generations of staffers moving in and out. By the time they’re finished, we’ll be entering primary debates again.

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Entertainment, The Features

We Love Arts: Parade

The cast of the Ford’s Theatre Society production of the musical drama “Parade,” directed by Stephen Rayne. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The hardest part of watching Parade at Ford’s Theatre is knowing that the story of Leo Frank’s trial and lynching in 20th century Atlanta is true. Tony award nominee Euan Morton (Leo Frank) sheds a light on the tragic tale of Mr. Frank and his struggle as a Jewish pencil factory worker ostracized for his faith and Brooklyn heritage.

Director Stephen Rayne’s adaptation of Parade, which is based on the book by Alfred Uhry with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is a passionate musical production with an important message of what happens when people show intolerance for others based on religious faith or skin color.

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Entertainment, The Daily Feed

The DC Theatre Community Gears Up For Theatre Prom 2K11!

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘dbking’

My pal Brieahn J. DeMeo calls it Theatre Prom.

I call it the fanciest event I ever had to get dressed for.

Sure I’ve been to weddings, but it’s easy when you know you just have to rent a tux and you are all set. For this one I had to call in the big guns- I rang up Brittany and she set me straight.

I’m talking about the Helen Hayes awards, the annual night where the local theatre community honors the outstanding plays and musicals of the past year. It’s kind of like the Tony’s- but for stuff that happens at Kennedy Center and Arena Stage. 26 awards will be presented tonight as well as three special awards to Ford’s Theatre (Innovative Leadership in the Theatre Community), Factory 449 and No Rules Theatre Company (Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company), and stage legend Tommy Tune will be honored with the he Helen Hayes Tribute.

Tonight also marks the debut of a Helen Hayes commemorative stamp issued by the United States Postal Service.

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Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Liberty Smith

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

With the success of films like Shrek and Toy Story, there has been newfound respect for the “family film”. Gone are the antiquated tales of Princesses and “Happily Ever After”, instead today’s G-rated fare uses satire and pop culture references that hits with a savvier generation of children and their parents.

After attending the world premiere of Liberty Smith at Fords Theatre it doesn’t surprise me that the musical tale of a fictional American Revolutionary hero originally started as a screenplay that almost made the silver screen. Instead the screenwriting team of Marc Madnick, Eric Cohen, Adam Abraham, and Michael Weiner decided to adapt their idea for the stage. The end product is a fresh new musical that is bound to be a hit.

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Entertainment, The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Carpetbagger’s Children

(Seated) Kimberly Schraf as Cornelia, Holly Twyford as Sissie, and Nancy Robinette as Grace Ann in the Ford’s Theatre Society production of Horton Foote’s “The Carpetbagger’s Children,” directed by Mark Ramont. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

It’s no surprise.

Much like everybody else around Washington, I am not locally born and raised. I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and grew up in the neighboring town of Chelmsford. Before the city gained attention as the setting of The Fighter, it was known as a historic mill city  and one of the centers of the Industrial Revolution. Everything from canal tours to textile museum visits were regular rites of passage for the local school-aged children. While it was fun to ride in a boat through locks, learning about the finer points of looms and wooden dynamos were not the most entertaining of topics.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Sabrina Fair

Today’s formula for a romantic comedy is pretty clear: take two attractive actors and throw them in a highly unlikely situation. Maybe your Canadian boss needs to marry somebody in order to stay in the country or you have become the next target of your ex-husband who’s also a bounty hunter. As long as you pair up Jennifer Aniston with some hot guy (Matthew McConaughey is always a safe bet),  you’ll probably sell some tickets. Just make sure you include a series of obstacles and challenges on their journey that allow the pair to argue and bicker until the end where they fall in love.

The comedy in today’s RomComs usually come through slapstick and awkward situations. Whether it’s a grown man who still lives with his parents or a woman who’s been a bridesmaid in 27 weddings, the humor stems from a seemingly ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Samuel A. Taylor’s “Sabrina Fair” is a product of the 1950’s and follows old conventions of subtlety in its humor and drama. The extremism of today’s comedy is replaced with dry wit. The journey and obstacles are replaced with a fairy-tale clash of social classes where a person of wealth falls in love with a someone from the working class. Continue reading

Mythbusting DC, The Features

DC Mythbusting: Lincoln Edition

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Samuel Gordon’

Had enough of the tourists yet?  Not only do they stand on the left of Metro escalators and block entire sidewalks with their matching-t-shirt armies, half of what they’re saying about the monuments and memorials in our city is wrong.  The Lincoln Memorial is the subject of several monumental myths, so this week we’ll look at myths regarding our 16th President: is Robert E. Lee sculpted into the back of Lincoln’s head at the Lincoln Memorial?  Are Lincoln’s hands supposed to be showing his initials in American Sign Language? And why is  a portrait of George Washington hanging at the Lincoln Presidential Box at Fords’ Theatre?
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Entertainment, History, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

Celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday at Ford’s Theatre

Robert Parsons as Abraham Lincoln, Rick Foucheux as Stephen Douglas and Sarah Zimmerman as Adele Douglas in the Ford’s Theatre Society production of Norman Corwin’s The Rivalry, directed by Mark Ramont. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Robert Parsons as Abraham Lincoln, Rick Foucheux as Stephen Douglas and Sarah Zimmerman as Adele Douglas in the Ford’s Theatre Society production of Norman Corwin’s The Rivalry, directed by Mark Ramont. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service celebrates Abraham Lincoln’s birthday with special February programming. On February 5th, 12th, and 19th, Washington-area youth will present a selection of Lincoln’s greatest speeches as part of the Target Oratory Festival. On February 12th at 8:45 a.m., National Park Service Park Rangers will commemorate President Lincoln’s birthday with a Wreath-laying Ceremony on the historic steps of Ford’s Theatre. On February 13th, 15th, and 20th, visitors are invited to explore the many legends surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s life in Tales of the Lincoln with storyteller Jon Spelman.

Visitors can tour the recently renovated Ford’s Theatre Museum and experience an interpretive program about the events that led up to and include the assassination of President Lincoln. Visitors can also visit the Petersen House (the “House Where Lincoln Died”), dependent upon schedule. Through February 14th, check out a performance of “The Rivalry,” which explores the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. And to further enhance the visitor experience, park rangers and volunteers will be dressed in Civil War-era period clothing throughout the month of February.

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The Daily Feed

Ford’s Theatre Cancels “Christmas Carol”

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Ghost_Bear’

We received this from Ford’s Theatre regarding today’s performances of “A Christmas Carol“:

Ford’s Theatre has canceled both performances of “A Christmas Carol” for Saturday, December 19, 2009. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused by this change, but we felt it to be in the best interest of our patrons and staff. A decision regarding Sunday’s performances will be announced tomorrow.

Patrons who purchased through our authorized ticket distributor, Ticketmaster, will be contacted early next week concerning their refund. Patrons who purchased directly through Ford’s Theatre will be contacted by Ford’s Theatre; if they have not heard from Ford’s Theatre by Monday morning, they should contact the Ford’s Theatre Box Office at (202) 347-4833. For tickets purchased through any other outlet, patrons should contact that vendor directly.

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The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: A Christmas Carol


Tiny Tim has always had the striking ability to make me shed a few tears. Wednesday night’s presentation of A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre was no exception.

If you’re looking for a true holiday treat this season, get your tickets to see A Christmas Carol as soon as possible. Not only were Christmas carols stuck in my head for the 48 hour period following the show, but my desire to give to those in need this season was completely rekindled.

The Ford’s Theatre cast was full of youth and passion that was easily apparent during the numerous musical sequences throughout the show.  Director Michael Baron of the Signature Theatre undertook this timeless tale with the intention of creating “a world that evokes the spirit and time period of the Charles Dickens story but with a touch of fancy to celebrate the holiday season.” His use of music and dancing allows for a certain degree of audience involvement — because it’s hard to not sing along to the classic caroling songs this time of year.

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Special Events, The Daily Feed

Last Chance For Lincoln’s Coat

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Ghost_Bear’

If you’ve not seen the revamped Ford’s Theatre yet, you may want to soon. Tomorrow, the National Park Service is replacing the original wool overcoat worn by Abraham Lincoln with its replica. The original Brooks Brothers coat will remain in conservation storage until February, where it will return for public viewing until June.

The National Park Service with the support of Ford’s Theatre Society have agreed to display the Lincoln coat for six months annually in an effort to balance conservation of and public access to the historic artifact worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre. The coat has been on display in the Ford’s Theatre lobby since February 2009 when the theatre and adjoining lobby opened to the public following its $25 million renovation.

Downtown, History, Penn Quarter, Special Events, The Features, Tourism

Tourism: Ford’s Theatre

Rehearsal, Ford's Theatre

"Rehearsal, Ford's Theatre" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

It seemed eerie and yet fitting that as I was rushing to get to Ford’s Theatre I was delayed by a major traffic jam as the President was attending an event downtown. People were lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the man who counts Lincoln as a guide, and I was on the way to see a tech rehearsal of a musical on the Civil War, in the theater where Lincoln fell. Sometimes the line between the present and the past in this town gets blurred in a truly palpable way. It’s manifest in the remarkable renovation of this living museum.

Ford’s Theatre’s reopening season continues this month with “The Civil War,” a Tony-nominated musical opening tonight and in performance through May 24. I’m very impressed by the renovated space. Last time I saw a show in this theater it was a bit clunky, and that’s being charitable. Now they are up-to-date, with all new lighting, sound and visual equipment – it’s a bit snazzy actually! And those infamously uncomfortable seats and obstructed sightlines are a thing of the past. It looks to be an admirable job updating the theater while maintaining its historical and monumental status.

With all the tourists pouring into our city this week, I hope many of them take the chance to see the renovations and catch a show. “The Civil War” sounded quite rousing musically, a little bit bluesy, with some incredible vocalists, live musicians, and moving visuals. Get some important history mixed in with your cherry blossoms. 

Ford’s Theatre
511 10th Street NW
between E and F Streets
“The Civil War” performs Tuesdays thru Sundays at 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm, now thru May 24