Entertainment, The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. Photo credit Joan Marcus

Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone onstage. Photo credit Joan Marcus

If a musical theatre lover were to create a bucket list, it would be a very safe bet to assume that seeing Patti LuPone or Mandy Patinkin perform live would be on the list. Both of them are Tony-award winners and legends of the stage and screen, with numerous credits to their names, so the opportunity to see LuPone and Patinkin individually on stage is enough to send shockwaves of excitement through any artistic community. To see them perform together, though, is tantamount in the theatrical community to the winning of the powerball lottery or finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. And if a person were lucky enough to see them perform together at a venue like the Eisenhower theatre in the Kennedy Center, and if it were not only every bit as good as you imagined, but even better (if that were possible), it would be a very safe bet that the bucket list would then have be retired completely, as the chance to see anything like it ever again is as rare as Haley’s comet.

Fortunately for the DC community, the above hypothetical situation is a current reality, and an amazing one at that. An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, directed by Patinkin himself with choreography by yet another Tony-award winner, Ann Reinking, and musical direction by Paul Ford, is in town for eight performances only and is worth cancelling all other plans this weekend in order to see this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Peter and the Starcatcher

Joey deBettencourt as Boy and Megan Stern as Molly in Peter and the Starcatcher.  Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Joey deBettencourt as Boy and Megan Stern as Molly in Peter and the Starcatcher. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Before actually seeing it at the Kennedy Center, all I knew about Peter and the Starcatcher was that it was somehow tied into the Peter Pan story. A look at the cast list, however, revealed only one familiar character, Smee (Captain Hook’s legendary sidekick), but no Peter, Wendy, Nana, and certainly no Hook. I also knew the show had won five Tony awards in 2013 during its Broadway run. What I didn’t know was how brilliant and funny it was, how innovative it was, or how incredibly directed it was, leaving me only to question why it didn’t win all the Tony awards. It was certainly worthy of it.

Although it starts out a bit like a Shakespeare play, with the audience just trying to figure out the world in which the show is set, who is who, what is what and how the poetic language is to be interpreted, mere minutes are all that are required to become lost in the fanciful and magical world of creativity. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, writer Rick Elice, directors Roger Brees and Alex Timbers, and a slew of phenomenal designers including Donyale Werle (set), Paloma Young (costumes), Jeff Croiter (lights), and Darron L. West (sound) have envisioned a production so innovative that it’s hard to imagine ever having to sit through any other play without being unimpressed. Continue reading

Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Elf

Noah Marlowe and Will Blum in Elf at the Kennedy Center

Noah Marlowe and Will Blum in Elf at the Kennedy Center. Photo credit: Amy Boyle

There is something about the holidays that brings families to the theatre. People who don’t see live theatre the other 364 days of the year seem to revel in one annual trip with the children and in-laws to see actors sing and dance to melodies rife with sleigh bells and falling snow. Although there are a number of movies about Christmas, stage options until recently were very limited. There was A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas. Whether it was because repeated viewings of these shows is extremely monotonous or just because other movies leant themselves to being musicalized, Broadway has recently introduced three new shows into the holiday canon. Now families across America, in taking their annual jaunt to the theatre can also see How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story or Elf. For DC area residents, this year’s musical offering is the latter, based on the 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human raised as a Christmas elf who goes to New York City to meet his father, a high-powered book publisher with no holiday spirit. Although closely following the cinematic story, the musical stage version of Elf, playing at the Kennedy Center, doesn’t try to imitate the film, but provides its own take on the story and makes for a very fun family outing.

Being a fan of the film, but not wanting to just see a stage production mirroring the same thing I can see on DVD, I was pleasantly satisfied that Elf was able to keep the integrity of the plot, characters, and humor while, at the same time, giving each of those elements a fresh lift. Continue reading

Life in the Capital, People, We Love Arts

Taking Theater Into Their Own Hands: Interview with Jojo Ruf of The Welders

Jojo Ruf and The Welders / Teresa Castracane

Jojo Ruf and The Welders / Teresa Castracane

Among many other roles in local and national theater, Jojo Ruf is the Executive and Creative Director for an exciting new playwrights’ collective called The Welders.

Over the next three years, The Welders intend to produce a new play by each of their 5 members. At the end of that time, they will pass on the entire project to a different set of writers, thus ensuring the collective continues.

I sat down with Jojo to talk about DC theater, The Welders, and the state of new plays in our area.

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon First National Tour Company / credit: Joan Marcus

The Book of Mormon First National Tour Company / credit: Joan Marcus

When DC ticket sales opened last winter for The Book of Mormon‘s first national tour, it crashed The Kennedy Center’s servers. Then it happened again; soon after, the whole run sold out.

For over two years, the 9-Tony-winning NYC production has maintained over 100% capacity on Broadway – unheard of in today’s climate. Tickets for the Broadway show still fly past $400. Oh, and locally? Certain sketchy websites are pricing orchestra seats at around $500, or about the cost of a movie ticket every week for a year.

It’s been called the musical of the century and the funniest of all time. Now it’s here and finally time to ask: does The Book of Mormon live up to the hype?

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Showboat

Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie (center, in pink dress) and the company of Show Boat. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie (center, in pink dress) and the company of Show Boat. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The Washington National Opera’s production is a groundbreaking new work that challenges audience with a deep and nuanced examination of the many ways that racial politics and marital tensions intermingle across a complicated economic reality, eventually illuminating complex and crucial truths about -

No, seriously. It’s Showboat, the modern ur-musical, the production that was old when your mom first went to the theater. We’re not at its centennial yet, but we’re closer to the day “Ol’ Man River” turns 100 than we are to the 20th century. I’m sure we’ll see a revival then too. And every other year between now and then.

Which isn’t to say there’s nothing worth seeing here. Washington National Opera’s Showboat is a beautiful creature in every way. It’s well-acted, lovingly staged, and sung, at turns, competently and transcendently. It may not be new or different than any other of the thousands of times it’s been produced, but if you want to see the show that represented a pivot in Broadway musicals then this is as good a chance as any.

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The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Manon Lescaut

(l-r)  Patricia Racette as Manon Lescaut and Kamen Chanev as Chevalier des Grieux. Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.

(l-r) Patricia Racette as Manon Lescaut and Kamen Chanev as Chevalier des Grieux. Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.

If you’ve been wanting to try the opera, start with Washington National Opera’s Manon Lescaut this month at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Puccini’s first real hit runs a mere two hours, 45 minutes including two intermissions. Within this tight time constraint, the epic love story comes nearly bite-sized.

Soprano Patricia Racette makes her role debut as the tragic heroine Manon Lescaut – a woman torn between her love for the finer things and her love for impoverished student Chevalier des Grieux. After she leaves des Grieux for the wealth of “that ancient dandy” Geronte de Ravoir, her conflicting loves torment her and lead to devastation.

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: White Christmas

White Christmas: Mara Davi, David Elder, James Clow, and Stefanie Morse / Sharon Sipple, 2012

White Christmas’ Mara Davi, David Elder, James Clow, Stefanie Morse / Sharon Sipple, 2012

Wear sunglasses as you enter the Kennedy Center Opera House for Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Otherwise you might be blinded by the decked-out crowds, dressed head to toe in red suits and sparkling Christmas sweater sets.

It’s a festive occasion: the seasonal entrance of a classic film-made-musical that includes beloved tunes like “Blue Skies,” “Happy Holiday,” “Snow,” and of course “White Christmas.” Fortunately for audience members young and old alike, no one near me wore distracting jingle bell earrings, although a few people came awfully close with light up, Rudolph nose cuff links.

Also fortunate for us, the crowd’s costumes didn’t outdo the show we were about to see. White Christmas at the Kennedy Center is wondrous spectacle of a bygone era—an era that never really existed, but is at least an incredibly happy place.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Jekyll & Hyde

When Jekyll & Hyde first hit Broadway in 1997, it was met with four Tony nominations including a nomination for Robert Cuccioli in the Best Actor category for his performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. In a new production gearing up for a 2013 Broadway revival, American Idol’s Constantine Maroulis has taken the reins held by many other notables including Sebastian Bach and David Hasselhoff. Jekyll & Hyde arrives to the Kennedy Center for a holiday engagement while on a pre-revival cross-country tour.

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The Features, We Love Arts

Theater Spotlight: Q&A with The Theatre Lab’s Deb Gottesman

Dress rehearsal of Theatre Lab’s Musical Institute for Teens Production of Rent / Photo by Paul Oberle

Founded by Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro, The Theatre Lab’s mission is to transform lives through theater by making training accessible to everyone, regardless of age, income, or experience level.

The Theatre Lab leads programs and classes ranging from beginner to professional level.  They also develop numerous initiatives for marginalized populations within DC, including giving out more than $78,000 in scholarships to disadvantaged students each year.

Perhaps most notably, The Theatre Lab’s Life Stories program teaches people from typically marginalized populations like incarcerated and at-risk youth, seniors, critically ill children, and homeless women in recovery to create original dramatic works based on their real-life experiences.

On November 12, DC’s Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts celebrated 20 years at its annual Cabaret Benefit. For the organization’s anniversary, founder Deb Gottesman was kind enough to talk with me about The Theatre Lab’s progress over the last two decades.

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: War Horse

Andrew Veenstra (Albert) with Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, Rob Laqui (Joey) in War Horse / © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

There are two sides to The Kennedy Center’s War Horse. On one side, we have animals; on the other side, we have people—and by the end of the play, it’s evident the two sides are not equal.

The story surrounds a young man’s journey into the depths of WWI to save his beloved horse Joey, who has fallen behind enemy lines. With puppetry, music, and film, the show portrays the tragedy of war and the horrific treatment of animals during WWI.

Military technology runs down magnificent horses as if they’re just another weapon to be decimated. Both sides of the war use creatures around them as pawns; and even the heroes who want to save the animals feel helpless to do so.

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The Daily Feed, We Love Arts

Page to Stage Fest This Weekend

Photo courtesy of Michael T. Ruhl
Hanging Lights
courtesy of Michael T. Ruhl

If you’re looking to round out your Labor Day weekend plans, how does free theater at the Kennedy Center sound?

The 11th annual Page to Stage festival runs this Saturday-Monday and features free readings, workshops, and rehearsals of new works by some of the area’s most talented artists and theater companies.

This year, Synetic Theater offers a training demonstration and preview of their upcoming wordless Jekyll and Hyde; groups like The Inkwell and DC-Area Playwrights Group plan to showcase short, new works in progress by local playwrights; Signature Theatre, Folger Theatre, and the Kennedy Center all team up for Ken Ludwig’s latest thriller; and the weekend features a number of family-friendly shows for the younger crowd.

Page to Stage also offers a rare chance to see shows in the Kennedy Center’s rehearsal spaces and smaller venues. With a casual and collaborative atmosphere, it’s a bit like the Fringe – except with more chandeliers.

Page to Stage runs September 1-3, 2012 throughout multiple venues at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center is located at 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. Closest Metro stop: Foggy Bottom/GWU (Orange/Blue line). For more information call  202-467-4600.

We Love Arts

We Love Arts: First You Dream

First You Dream 2: (l-r) Patina Miller, Heidi Blickenstaff and Leslie Kritzer in the Kennedy Center production of First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A revue can be a strange beast. Typically a small cast comes together for a night of songs wholly unrelated to each other except a common lyricist or composer. The music often has very little context surrounding it, which can be alienating if you’ve never heard the tunes, but fun if you’re familiar with the material and can enjoy the variety.

Rarely does a revue break from that framework, and First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb is no exception. A project conceived and directed by Eric Schaeffer of Signature Theatre, First You Dream contains all the cheese you would expect in a revue, with the glitz and glam of a Kennedy Center production backed up with an all-Broadway cast of James Clow, Heidi Blickenstaff, Matthew Scott, Alan H. Green, Leslie Kritzer, and Patina Miller..

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Music, The Daily Feed, We Love Music

Tonight: Tubachristmas!

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall
Tuba bus.
courtesy of Jeffrey Beall

Got plans tonight? Cancel them, and head over to the Kennedy Center for the 38th anniversary performance of TUBACHRISTMAS. 6pm. A volunteer group of tuba players (edit: and euphonium players. Whatever.) will gather and make a joyful noise unto the Millenium Stage. From past experience I can safely say you can stand or sit pretty much anywhere in the hall for good sound.

Entertainment, Special Events, The Features, We Love Arts

Backstage with the Washington National Opera

Photo courtesy of
‘Kennedy Center – JFKC Opera – 03-08-11′
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’

Touring the backstage of the Opera House at the Kennedy Center for me was rather like being a very small mouse in a very large cheese shop. I’ve been backstage at many theaters, but never one as massive as this one. Photographer Brian Mosley and I joined a private press tour minutes before a Washington National Opera performance of Madama Butterfly earlier this month, and there was an eerie quiet backstage. We were in the proverbial calm before the storm. Technical professionals in black were moving about, readying the stage, and it reinforced just how much goes into a production of that caliber and size.

First off, the stats. When I say the Opera House is massive, I’m not exaggerating. The house seats 2,219 patrons. The stage is 100′ wide by 70′ deep by 100′ tall, with wing space of 50′ on each side – you are also dwarfed by the backstage stage space as two huge fire doors the width and height of the stage, located stage left and upstage, allow for enormous pieces of scenery to be moved on and offstage.

I am going to run out of adjectives to describe size, so just trust me when I say, um, it’s big.
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Education, Music, People, The Features

A Look From The Inside: Duke Ellington School for the Arts

Photo courtesy of
‘Clouds rise from Duke Ellington School’
courtesy of ‘randomduck’

The Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, D.C. boasts a 98 percent graduation rate in a public school district that only graduates 56 percent of its students on time. It is also the only dual curriculum program on the public high school level that attracts students from the entire D.C. metro area.

The school, founded in 1974, provides professional arts training and college preparation to talented D.C. public school students. Each student takes a full academic course-load and, additionally, majors in one of eight arts disciplines (Dance, Literary Media, Museum Studies, Instrumental or Vocal Music, Theater, Technical Design and Production, and Visual Arts), according to its website.

What makes this academic institution a success is its ability to fulfill the school’s proposed mission, to “give an artistic and academic opportunity to students who otherwise wouldn’t have this kind of unique opportunity.”

An Ellington education is no easy feat. Students have longer school days than the average D.C.P.S. student. Ellington holds classes until 5 p.m. every day. Ellington has two staffs: arts and academics. The respective faculties engage Ellington’s creative students with a curriculum that requires 34 percent more credits than other D.C. high schools.

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Entertainment, Music, The Features, We Love Music

Living the Dream … Singing the Dream: Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Song

Photo courtesy of
‘Martin Luther King Memorial – The Eyes – 12-04-10′
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’

It took 22 years of celebratory performances in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before the grandest of vocal collaborations took place, but it was well worth the wait. This year’s Living the Dream … Singing the Dream took place on February 20 at the Kennedy Center and was the first-ever on-stage collaboration between the Washington Performing Arts Men, Women and Children of the Gospel Choir and The Choral Arts Society of Washington Choir.

Choral Arts has produced this annual musical tribute to Dr. King for over two decades with The Choral Arts Society Choir as the main attraction.

“It is a joyful and inspiring experience each year to celebrate [King’s] legacy with the great songs that were so central to his timeless message of peace and love among all peoples,” Choral Arts Founder and Artistic Director Norman Scribner said.

“We are especially happy this year to be joining with the Washington Performing Arts Society and their outstanding chorus of Men, Women and Children of the Gospel for an unforgettable remembrance of all that has been accomplished so far, and a re-dedication to an even brighter future for us all.” Continue reading

The Daily Feed

India Comes to the Kennedy Center in March

maxINDIA_HeaderMain_2
As part of the Kennedy Center’s maximum INDIA festival, some special menu items will be available at Roof Terrace Restaurant and KC Café throughout the month of March to coincide with several exhibitions and performances.

It’s billed as “East meets West.”  Twelve chefs from India led by Chef Hemant Oberoi, the Executive Grand Chef of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai, will fly in for a delicious collaboration with Roof Terrace Restaurant’s Executive Chef Joe Gurner.

Roof Terrace Restaurant will offer three, three-course prix-fixe menus, each priced at $65 per person, and the KC Café will feature a range of Indian foods a la carte style.  Diners who purchase the special items will get recipe cards, letting them recreate the dishes at home…too bad I can’t cook.

I’m all about the gastronomic journey. Menu items include Khurmai Aur Aloo Ki Tikki, potato and apricot cakes with tamarind dressing; Roti Pe Boti, spiced lamb on leavened bread; Kali Mirch Ka Murg, chicken with peppercorn and mint; and desserts like Masala Chai Kulfi, spiced tea ice cream; and Elaichi Gulab Jamun Crème Brulee.

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Entertainment, Music, The Features, We Love Arts

The Washington Performing Arts Society Presents: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis


Photo by Rachel Levitin

Jazz – and Country/Bluegrass – are the dominant proprietors of modern “Made in America” music and that’s something worth holding on to. In its inception, Jazz defined an era of youth during tumultuous times. That was its claim to fame. That’s what got it notice. That’s what shot it to the forefront of popular culture during World War II.

Jazz defined an era of uncertainty. It ushered in a voice for the speechless. It provided a musical and mental solace for people who wanted to feel something beyond a war being fought or a job lost or anything besides the monotony of their daily routine. Jazz was the sanctuary and swing was the medium. Throw in a little Blues for a cherry-on-top flourish and by golly you’ve got yourself a true American portrait – an American testimonial.

If Jazz was personified, its equivalent would be akin to the likes of the always effervescent, charismatic, and talented Louis Armstrong. The New Orleans trumpet player, born in 1901, wasn’t the first Jazz trumpet player in the history books but he is an icon of the genre. Wynton Marsalis is a Louis Armstrong for the new millennium. Continue reading

Entertainment, Music, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: A Date with Idina Menzel & The NSO Pops

Photo courtesy of
’2009 05 17 – 6179 – Washington DC – Kennedy Center’
courtesy of ‘thisisbossi’

Tony award winner Idina Menzel — best known for her portrayal of Elphaba in the original cast of Wicked — is an undisputed face of Broadway today. Since her professional debut as Maureen in Rent over 15 years ago, Ms. Menzel’s voice, stage presence, and personality has grown from a young 20-something eager to grab life by the horns to a wife, mother, and tenured performer who continues to do the same.

What makes Menzel a role model and an icon in the music world isn’t just her powerful voice. What makes Menzel a role model and an icon is her ability to connect with a room full of people she doesn’t know.

Thursday night’s opening Pops performance of “A Date with Idina Menzel” featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Marvin Hamlisch at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall is proof. Continue reading