As we celebrate Christmas and await the New Year, here's a new audio interpretation of "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, written and recorded by local DC actors and designers who make up The Audible Group. It is Christmas Eve, 1935. In a small apartment in the H Street NE neighborhood of Washington, DC where James and Della Young, a young couple who, though rich in love, but down to their last pennies, still manage to give each other the perfect gift. It will fill you - from head to mistletoe - with the holiday spirit. Listen here.
As we eagerly await the dropping of that famous ball in Times Square to usher in 2010, DC area theatres are busily preparing to usher in a New Year of theatre with a diverse group of dramas, comedies, and musicals. There's something for everyone in your family to enjoy, so when you are visiting our Nation's Capital, come see some great productions in our 205 theatres venues. And besides, Washington, DC is so beautiful when the snow is glistening on our national monuments.
Happy New Year! May 2010 bring you and your family happiness, excellent health, and may it be filled with great theatre!
(1) Through January 10th : The Screwtape Letters at Lansburgh Theatre, in Washington, DC.
It was a here smash hit last year, and now The Screwtape Letters returns for an encore visit at the Lansburgh Theatre for the holidays. The production is an adaption by Max McLean and Director Jeff Fiske, based on C.S. Lewis' brilliant novel, which explores "the theme of spiritual warfare from a demon's point of view. Set in an office in hell, the play follows a senior devil, Screwtape (played by McLean), and Toadpipe, his feisty but 'wordless' secretary (played by Kate Eleanor Wight), as they train their new apprentice - Wormwood (who has just converted to Christianity) - on how to 'undermine faith and prevent the formation of virtues'. It will change the way you think about the influence of demons in your everyday life.
Read Tim Treanor's insightful interview with the two stars of The Screwtape Letters here:
(2) ) From January 11th, through February 7th, The Last Cargo Cult, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, in Washington, DC.
Monologist Mike Daisey is a phenomenon. Though he rarely moves from behind his desk, his performance is as commanding as his well researched, provocative works.
Last year's controversial How Theater Failed America, sparked discussions among audiences and artistic directors about the state of theatre in Washington. Now, Mike returns with his new work - The Last Cargo Cult - where Islander worshippers of cargo left behind by American soldiers "build meticulous bamboo replicas of Western engineering, re-enact scenes from internet broadcasts, and summon American power through sympathetic magic. What does our economic crisis mean to them, and what can they teach us about wealth and wishful thinking?" Daisey can give your brain whiplash - so if you think you know what he'll say - you're wrong.
(3) January 18th at 4 PM: A public reading of Dot Comet!, in the rehearsal room at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, in Washington, DC.
It's always exciting when you get a chance to sit in on a reading of a new musical, and on January 18th, producer Charlie Fink's New Musical Development Foundation presents a reading of Dot Comet!, a new musical comedy by Craig Pospisil and Michael Ogborn, directed by Shirley Serotsky. The cast features Tracie Higgins (from Michael's musical Baby Case), and DC area actors Evan Casey, Matthew Anderson, Jason McCool, Gillian Shelly, Toni Rae Brotons , and Skip Bromley. What a great cast! You never know what you'll see when you attend a reading like this. Will you hear and see something new and original and wonderful, or will you suggest that the creators start working on something else?
Charlie Fink fills us in: "Irrational exuberance is back! "Dot Comet!, a new musical comedy by Craig Pospisil and Michael Ogborn, is set in the heady days of dot com riches (1996), when idealistic geeks stewed in a heady broth of cunning journalists, rapacious venture capitalists, and black box programmers." Michael has won several (Philadelphia) Barrymore Awards, including Best Musical for Baby Case. Craig Pospisil is the award-winning author of Months on End, Somwhere in Between, and Life is Short. He also wrote the book for the musical Drift with Jeremy Schoenfeld. Dot Comet! is the kind of bright, shiny, popular musical comedy that can connect with contemporary audiences.
I have been covering another new musical called The Tapioca Miracle for the past two years, created by composer Dan Kazemi and writers Eric Coble and Larry Kaye. I have reported on their readings in DC, Philadelphia, and in NYC. The show has evolved into a hysterical and melodic old-fashioned musical comedy. So, as you can see, I am eager to attend the Dot Comet! reading to be introduced to this new work by Craig and Michael. I hope this comet takes off!
OPENING IN JANUARY 2010 - MUST-SEES
(1) From January 1st, through February 7th, Stick Fly, at Arena Stage in Crystal City, in Arlington, VA.
I met Lydia R. Diamond at a dinner/discussion held by a drama discussion group called Footlights, where she was joined by members of The Black Women Playwright's Group, and The Ushers to discuss her play Stick Fly, directed by Broadway veteran Kenny Leon, who directed the recent Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun. That night made me even more excited about seeing the co-Arena Stage and Huntington Theatre Company production, which opens on New Years day. I have only heard raves about Stick Fly from theatergoers and my DCTS editor Lorraine Treanor and her husband Tim, who reviewed the show at the 2008 CATF (Contemporary American Theatre Festival) festival production, held in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. When I finally got a chance to read the play in preparation for the dinner/discussion with Lydia, I knew after reading the first five pages that I needed to see this powerful production.
From Arena Stage: "Stick Fly follows the affluent LeVay family, who come together to spend a summer weekend at their family's Martha's Vineyard home. The youngest son, Kent LeVay, brings his fiancée Taylor to the cottage to meet the family. Taylor, unaccustomed to the surrounding wealth and life of privilege, challenges the household dynamic. The family ties rapidly unravel when Kent's womanizing older brother surprises everyone with his new, white girlfriend. Conflict and dysfunction ensue as the family attempts to coexist amid the new tensions and secrets they have each been concealing". It's Jelly's Last Jam meets "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner".
The exceptional cast is Wendell W. Wright (Joe LeVay), Billy Eugene Jones (Flip), Jason Dirden (Kent), Nikkole Salter (Taylor), Rosie Benton (Kimber), and Amber Iman (Cheryl). I can't wait to be a fly-on-the-wall on opening night.
(2) January 7th, through January 24th, Violet, Teatro 101 performing at the Mobtown Players Theater at Meadow Mill in Baltimore, Maryland.
I have never attended a production of Teatro 101, but I will be there to see their version of one of my favorite musicals - Violet.
Violet takes place during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. Young Violet is accidentally scarred by her father (don't ax me how) as she embarks on her personal bus journey where she fall in love with a black man, and learns the true meaning of love, and courage, and inner beauty. The real star of this show is Jeanine Tesori's wonderful score which, like her score for Caroline, or Change, fuses country, rock, gospel, rhythm, and blues. Brian Cawley wrote the book and lyrics.
After I saw this emotionally uplifting musical at Playwrights Horizons in NYC in March 1997, I was not surprised that the New York Drama Critics Circle awarded Violet its award for Best Musical. It was the first and only time that an Off-Broadway musical has won this award.
Teatro 101's Director Ryan Michael Haase, who is also the set designer, described his vision for this production, "Violet, in a nutshell, is an emotional journey through the eyes of a 25 year old girl (Violet). I say girl - because I do not think that she has matured much since both the incident with an axe, which leaves her face brutally scarred, and the passing of both her mother and father at such a young age. At the top of the show we see a before-and-after of an innocent woman. This before-and-after scenario runs parallel to one another until we breach moments within the script where they collide. At these collisions, we see heightened moments of drama with mixtures of imagination and fantasy. Since this is a "Memory Play", I envisioned the piece as a movie. Drawing out scene-by-scene sketches (slides to an extent), I was able to see how a director would approach this script if they were directing for the cinema. What we have created is something truly raw, real, hot, and beautiful, and I hope you will come and see this wonderful and power show".
The talented cast includes Katie O. Solomon (Violet), Jayne Harris (Young Violet), John Hurley (Father), Troy Hopper (Flick), Steve Bainbridge (Monty), and Angelo Arrington (Preacher). Vanessa Buenger, Morgan Fannon, CrystAl Freeman, Rebecca Garrahy, David Gregory, Kim Kernan, Amanda Rife, Paul Wissman, Todd Zachwieja, and Kristen Zwobot make up the ensemble. Cedric Lyles is the musical director music. I can't wait to take that journey with Violet once again.
(3) From January 15th, through January 30th, Reefer Madness at Dominion Stage at The Gunston Arts Center, in Arlington, Virginia.
How can you pass up a crazy pot-filled musical based on that 1936 cult classic Reefer Madness? This off-the-wall musical comedy, with book by Kevin Murphy and book and music by Dan Studney, and lyrics by Kevin Murphy, takes a satirical look at what can happen when clean-cut kids get hooked on weed, jazz, sex, and violence, as their lives "go to pot". I've seen this insane musical Off-Broadway, and saw Studio Theatre's Helen Hayes Award winning production six times, so I am curious to see what Dominion Stage will do with its smoke-filled version. There's a lot to lure me to this production, because Catherine Oh and Mark Hidalgo are the choreographer, and John-Michael d'Haviland is the musical director. I respect their work immensely.
From choreographer Cathy Oh: "Mark Hidalgo and I have teamed up again to choreograph Dominion Stage's production of Reefer Madness. Mark was also the Assistant Choreographer at Kensington Arts Theatres's production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical. He was also my right-hand man at The Wild Party at Dominion Stage. Our choreography for Reefer Madness runs a wide spectrum - from the sweet pairing of the hero and heroine - to line dancing patriots - to dancing zombies in an orgy. The different styles of dance, including swing, apache, and a Vegas showgirl number, will appeal to any musical theatre and dance fan.
Director Matthew Randall has a great cast that includes some of my favorite local actors: Jaclyn Young, who is playing the All-American cutey - Mary Lane, Amy Baska, who is playing the kind-hearted pot den mother - Mae, Tom Flatt, who plays the "square" authority-type - The Lecturer, Sam Nystrom, who plays the frat boy turned pothead, - Ralph, Joel Piper, who plays the wholesome - "I'm in love with Mary"- Jimmy, and Michael Reid, who plays Mae's evil, "pot-pimp" boyfriend, Jack. Lots of talent in this cast. Anyone got a light?
(4) January 15th through January 17th, The Stephen Schwartz Project at The Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, at The Olney Theatre Center, in Olney, Maryland.
Musical Theater Center (MTC) trains young actors and dancers, so it didn't surprise me that Michael Bobbitt, (working with Stephen Schwartz,) who conceived The Stephen Schwartz Project, would want to cast so many of MTC's talented performers from grades 9 - 12 for this mounting.
The Stephen Schwartz Project is based on the Broadway composer and lyricist's theatre productions and scores, and his Academy Award winning songs and scores. The musical arrangements are by John L. Cornelius II. Additional music is by Alan Menken, Charles Strouse, with additional lyrics by Leida Snow. Diane Hamilton and her assistant Randy Snight provides the choreography, Danny Tippett assists director Michael Bobbitt.
From creator and director Michael Bobbitt: "The Stephen Schwartz Project is the 4th production of a new revue of Stephen Schwartz songs. Most of the songs in the show have been re-interpreted with exciting new arrangements by John L. Cornelius and with the support of Stephen. After a successful production at Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival, Theatre Under The Stars (a Student Workshop Production in Houston, Texas), MetroStage (World Premiere - Professional Production in Alexandria, Virginia), and Clater-Kaye Productions in Hickory North Carolina - this production will hopefully be the final production before we seek to have the show published.
Stephen Schwartz has been very supportive and has seen the show at every venue. Usually, he leaves with 10 or 15 notes. John and I go back to work and then he sees the next show. We think we are close. After the last production, Stephen thought we should find a song from Enchanted to add. So, we mixed "True Love's Kiss" with "Popular" from Wicked in and it's now an Andrew Sisters-type homage. It's really fun.
High schoolers from all over Montgomery County are in the cast, including Max Talisman (Studio Theatre's Caroline, or Change, Theatre J's Lost in Yonkers and Strathrmore's Take Joy. What we love most about this show, is ultimately, that it should be performed by young artists.
Five or six years ago, I asked Stephen Schwartz if I could do a new revue. He said, "Yes", and we talked about some ideas. We were both in sync about what qualities make up a great revue - re-imagining hit songs. There are those that would always love to hear like "Corner of the Sky" as it was written originally, but we've mixed it with "Defying Gravity". Stephen loves hearing his songs reworked.
I have always had a strong fondness of the work to train the next generation of musical theatre artists that is done at Musical Theater Center ("MTC") but I could never sync up my schedule. MTC was applying for an NEA grant and asked if I would be available. Since it was more than a year out, I was able to clear my schedule. When MTC's Producer Laurie Issembert called, I was thrilled to get the chance to improve on the show, and finally finish it.
As for some of the other new arrangements, there is a "Proud Mary" version of "On The Right Track", a pop madrigal version of "When You Believe", mixed with "All Good Gifts", a big band version of "Lion Tamer". Basically, all his hit songs are re-imagined. And the production showcases some of Stephen's lesser known works".
When the show had an earlier production at MetroStage, in Alexandria, VA in April - May 2008, I recorded an interview with composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who talks about The Stephen Schwartz Project. Listen to it here.
(5) From January 15th, to February 6th, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, at American Century Theater, in Arlington, Virginia.
American Century Theater produces classics from great American Playwrights of the past, and this month, they are offering George Axelrod's very funny comedy Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Directed by Ellen Dempsey, it is described as a "Faustian spoof in which a hack writer becomes a successful Hollywood screenwriter thanks to a deal with old Lucifer himself. While searching for notoriety, George meets the reigning sex goddess, Rita Marlowe, and is forced to make a deal with the devil in order to achieve ultimate success". The Broadway production, directed by Axelrod, opened in 1955 at the Belasco Theatre, and ran for 444 performances.
From Artistic Director Jack Marshall: "George Axelrod is best known for his screenplays today, notably "The Manchurian Candidate," but he was one of the five or six best Broadway comedy writers of all time, and his plays still work, and are still very funny. This one was his most successful and arguably his best (although The Seven Year Itch" is more familiar to today's audiences), and the Faust set-up is always fun. It is important to remind everyone about important stars of the past, and Jayne Mansfield was certainly one. The show was her big break, and she defined the busty, flighty, blonde Hollywood sex symbol like nobody else. We need to remember Axelrod, but we also should remember Jayne".
And what a great cast, which includes local actors James Finley, Leigh Anna Fry, Kari Ginsburg, Bob Lavery, Steve Lebens, Craig Miller, Donald Osborne, and John Tweel. Anndi Daleski, is the set designer, while Rip Claassen provides the costume design. Jason Aufdem-Brinke is the lighting designer, and Edward Moser is the sound designer. Sounds like a lot of fun, and a big success!
Joel Markowitz grew up in Buffalo, NY. At a young age, between shoveling snow and eating hot Buffalo wings, he fell in love with theatre, particularly musical theatre. Moving to the DC area after graduating from Syracuse University, Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Social Group, where he leads groups to performances in the DC area, and theatre weekends in NYC and Philadelphia. This year, The Ushers is celebrating its 21st anniversary. Joel also coordinates Broadway Bound Meetup groups in the DC, Baltimore, and VA areas.|
In May 2011, Joel became the Editor and Senior Columnist for Maryland Theatre Guide, after writing his popular column Theatre Schmooze, and recording interviews with DC, Philadelphia, and New York actors, directors, and composers for DC Theatre Scene for 5 years. Joel is also a regular contributor on the weekly NYC radio program ���The Lunch and Judy Show��� where he talks with host Judy Stadt about theatre in NYC and the DC area. Joel is a fan of Stephen Sondheim, William Finn, Jason Robert Brown and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. His favorite musicals include Ragtime, The Secret Garden, Spring Awakening, Gypsy, The Light in the Piazza, Sweeney Todd, The Last Five Years, and In The Heights. He is a huge supporter of children's theatre. Joel is also a Buffalo Sabres fan, so you may see him at hockey rinks, as well as at stage doors, where he schmoozes with the stars.