Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: West Side Story

©Amy Boyle Photography

(Maryjoanna Grisso and Jarrad Biron Green. Photo: Amy Boyle)

The “Tonight Quintet” in West Side Story, the song that ushers in the show’s first act finale, is one of my all-time favorite ensemble numbers. It is second only to “One Day More” from Les MiserablesWhen I first heard the opening brass vamps of the Quintet song I bounced a little bit in my seat inside the National Theatre. However there was something different about this particular performance of the song. The verses sung by the Sharks were in Spanish, like many other numbers throughout the show that were sung by Puerto Rican characters. Those changes, new to me and perhaps those that haven’t seen the West Side Story apart from previous versions or the iconic 1961 film, were originally incorporated into the 2009 Broadway revival of the show for which the current tour is based off of. The result is a West Side Story that is more modern and offers something different to audiences who think they know the Bernstein and Sondheim masterpiece.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: American Idiot

01 American Idiot NationalThea

The company of American Idiot (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Pop hits start and finish this stage musical version of Green Day’s American Idiot. The production, in its third U.S. tour at the National Theatre, opened strong with “American Idiot” and ended with a touching cast rendition of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” However between the curtain rise and fall is a performance that certainly packs all the moody, angst-filled energy you would expect but suffers from a story that feels too contrived to be anything more than a 90-minute live-action music video.

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Entertainment, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: If/Then

Idina Menzel and company in If/Then at the National Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Idina Menzel and company in If/Then at the National Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.

IF seeing a world-premiere musical before it went to Broadway weren’t exciting enough, THEN learning that Tony-award winners Idina Menzel and LaChanze were in it, along with Anthony Rapp and James Snyder, I was elated beyond comprehension. IF the writer/composer team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey could write a great musical, like Next To Normal, THEN their new show was probably going to be awesome. IF, after seeing it, I told you it was perfect, THEN I’d be lying. But IF I told you that If/Then at the National Theatre has something compelling to it, THEN that would be the absolute truth.

Set around the premise that one tiny, seemingly insignificant decision can alter the course of one’s life, If/Then addresses the ultimate existential question. What if…? In this case, Elizabeth (Menzel) simultaneously experiences dueling, but separate, existences based on the events that follow when she is faced with choosing whether to get coffee with a neighbor or attend a protest rally with a friend. In one scenario, she joins her neighbor Kate (LaChanze) for coffee, and in the process meets her future husband, becomes an adjunct professor, has a family, and is eventually faced with terrible tragedy that forces her to question whether she made the right choice that day she went out for coffee. In the other scenario, she joins her friend Lucas (Rapp) at a protest rally where she runs into an old colleague who offers her a corporate job as a New York city planner, becomes a successful professional, choosing a career over marriage and falling into a series of unsuccessful romantic relationships, eventually facing a terrible tragedy that forces her to question whether she made the right choice that day she followed Lucas to the rally.

While this was an interesting concept, I found that I didn’t fully understand exactly what was happening, or who was who in which scenario, until about 30 minutes into the show. Once I figured out that a red background was referring to the events of the coffee scenario, a blue background meant the rally scenario, that Elizabeth was Liz in one scenario and Beth in another, that her friends remained constant in both, but her careers and personal relationships didn’t cross over into both worlds, it made more sense. Both lives that Elizabeth leads are fun to see juxtaposed side by side and director Michael Greif has seamlessly woven them together. Events in each of the separate scenarios show the audience how, together, Elizabeth is a whole person, but separately, she’s incomplete, longing for something more. Because both lives find her wanting, it’s difficult to know which scenario you hope is the ‘true’ one, and about halfway through Act II, I realized that somehow the two would have to converge in order to have a satisfactory ending.

However, that ending, while it found a way to tie the two worlds together into a fairly complete conclusion, also negated the whole point of the show in doing so. This entire premise, based on the fact that destiny is created by the individual choices humans make, is erased by the realization that regardless of which simple choice Elizabeth made five years prior, it really didn’t matter because, in the end, fate was going to step in and make the choice for her. And, if fate is going to decide the course of human life, why bother considering whether you made the right choice if there is, ultimately, no actual choice? Continue reading

We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Spamalot

(L to R) Kasidy Devlin (Sir Robin), Adam Grabau (Sir Lancelot), Joshua Taylor Hamilton (Sir Dennis Galahad), Thomas DeMarcus (Sir Bedevere), and Arthur Rowan (King Arthur). Photo credit: Courtesy of Monty Python’s Spamalot.

(L to R) Kasidy Devlin (Sir Robin), Adam Grabau (Sir Lancelot), Joshua Taylor Hamilton (Sir Dennis Galahad), Thomas DeMarcus (Sir Bedevere), and Arthur Rowan (King Arthur). Photo credit: Courtesy of Monty Python’s Spamalot.

It never hurts your anticipation to wait in a humming crowd behind closed theater doors on opening night. Ah, the sheer grandeur of a stage that hosted the world premieres of Showboat, of West Side Story. “What more could you ask for, really?” I thought as I took my seat at the National Theatre.

Fart jokes, obviously.

Yes, Spamalot – the hit show based on the cult film Monty Python and the Holy Grail – is back, this time at the National Theatre. Patrick reviewed it last year when it delighted audiences at the Warner Theatre. A quick recap:

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Les Miserables

(Photo: Deen van Meer)

There’s nothing that gives me chills like the opening melodies of One Day More. It’s one of my favorite ensemble numbers and it will always stop me in my tracks whether it’s in a feature film trailer or if it’s being done by an Asian YouTuber who sings all nine parts. It is only one of many memorable numbers in the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. After over 25 years in production (the longest running musical in the world) the show continues to be a hit. Now on its fourth U.S. tour the show has grossed as much as a $1 million a week. Arriving at the National Theatre for its 10th time in The District since 1986, the all new production features new staging and sets inspired by the paintings of Hugo. However all the songs you’ve come to know and love are the same. I Dreamed A Dream, On My Own, Do You Hear the People Sing?, and the previously mentioned One Day More can be found in a powerful and vibrant show that continues to wow audiences after a quarter century on the stage.

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Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Beauty & The Beast

Photo: Joan Marcus

A show has pretty high expectations when it is production of a show that was nominated for nine Tony awards back in 1994. The bar is even higher when that show was based on a wildly successfully animated feature that was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

Here for a two week stint at the National Theatre, a new national tour of the Broadway musical version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast arrives just in time to entertain families and kids jumping into their summer break from school.

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The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Fiddler on the Roof

05 Fierstein and Company © 2009, JOAN MARCUS

What is the best way to teach the daily struggles of family life and change to a modern generation: physical comedy or unadulterated sincerity? Harvey Fierstein’s Tevye does both. On the other hand … he has some competition what with the starlet vocals of his three daughters in-production. On the other hand … he’s Harvey Fierstein, part of the reason this run of Fiddler on the Roof at the National Theatre has been so successful.

Fierstein first starred as Tevye during the critically acclaimed Broadway revival, having previously won four Tony Awards, including Best Play and Best Actor in a Play for Torch Song Trilogy, with his most recent win in 2003 for Best Actor in a Musical for Hairspray. Now, he’s filling seats for sold-out crowds of all-ages at the National Theatre, reprising the role as Tevye and doing justice to the name while still maintaining his sense of self on stage. Continue reading

Mythbusting DC, The Features

DC Mythbusting: Haunted DC

Photo courtesy of
‘Thomas Trueman Gaff Monument’
courtesy of ‘kimberlyfaye’

Hi, and welcome to a Halloween edition of Mythbusting!  This week, I’ll see if my mythbusting skills can translate to ghostbusting.  I’m going to tackle three different spooky DC myths and see if I can find any validity in the legends.  Sound good?  Let’s get started.

The Demon Cat in the Capitol: First off, let’s tackle one of the most widespread haunted myths of our city: the Demon Cat.  There are so many ghost stories involving a black cat who appears in the Capitol as an omen before national tragedies like presidential assassinations.  Legend has it that the cat has appeared before the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, before the stock market crash of 1929, and even on September 10, 2001.  Apparently, there are even permanent paw prints in the Capitol that show the presence of the Demon Cat!  So is there really a Demon Cat?

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