A Standing Ovation! Performances to Cherish

In the last three months, there were many performances that moved me, made me laugh, and made me stand up and cheer at the final curtain. Here are my favorites. Bravo to all of you!

(l-r) Charlotte Akin, Noah Chiet, Lauren 'Coco' Cohn, Ben Cunis and Chris French

Charlotte Akin as Dottie Olley in Noises Off! at Keegan Theatre.

I have seen Noises Off several times and found all those slimy sardines jokes, well – too fishy for my taste. At Keegan Theatre, Charlotte Akin made me laugh uncontrollably at those silly jokes, and every time I looked at her very expressive face – I just ‘lost it’. I liked her performance so much that I decided to bring my social group The Ushers to see the show and Charlotte at the end of the run. Guess what? They couldn’t control themselves either. Sardines! Sardines! Sardines!

Watch Charlotte ‘forget the sardines’ here:

Noah Chiet as Jason in Falsettos at Ganymede Arts.

Noah had the critics and audiences in the palm of his hand from his opening song, “My Father’s a Homo” to “The Miracle of Judaism”. Not only did he prove he could sing really well, Noah also showed that he could also be very funny. Playing Jason is no easy task – he’s put through an emotional ‘wringer’, but Noah handled it all like a pro. Not only did he win the hearts of the audience and his fellow cast members, but the kid ‘stole the show’.

Read my interview with Noah Chiet and Tony Gudell, who played Mendel in Falsettos here:

Lauren ‘Coco’ Cohn as Ursula Gillow, Coral Hicks, and Maid in Glimpses of the Moon at MetroStage.

‘Coco’ Cohn arrived at MetroStage with a week to go before the critics arrived to review Glimpses of the Moon. In a short time, Coco had to learn the numerous lines for three kooky characters she was going to play in the show. Talk about laughing myself silly! If you’re a member of my generation – think Ruth Buzzi from “Laugh In”. I heard several members of the audience whisper, “Who is she? She’s so funny!” Local audiences and critics may not have known who she was before the lights went down that night, but after the lights came up after the final curtain bow – audiences and critics were yearning for more Coco.

Read my interview with Coco and Natascia Diaz: “A glimpse into the ‘big switch’ at MetroStage” here:

Ben Cunis as Arthur in King Arthur at Synetic Theater.

Ben Cunis is a phenomenon. He is so strong and athletic and is a powerful dancer, actor. In Synetic Theater’s King Arthur he is on the stage – or should I say in the water – for almost two hours, fighting, and jumping, and sword-swinging, and splashing and romanticizing, and performing physical feats of disbelief. No matter what difficult challenges the Tsikurishvilis throw his way, Ben always comes through and this royal performance, more than ever, is jaw-dropping. And splashy. Hail King Arthur!

Chris French as Snoopy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown at No Rules Theatre Company.

It’s rare when a dog – or a guy dressed up in a black and white costume – steals a show from the Peanuts character who the show in named after – but that’s exactly what Chris French did in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. His high-energized performance of “Suppertime” had the audience roaring and Charlie Brown fuming. It’s ‘ruff’ being the owner of a sassy beagle named Snoopy especially when every meal to this canine is a long production number. As Snoopy says, “What’s wrong with making suppertime a happy occasion?” And I’m so glad Chris did. Aarf!

(l-r) Deborah Hazlett, Stacey Jackson with Eric Messner, Kevin McAllister, Karl Miller and Jill Paice

Deborah Hazlett as Allison in Something You Did at Theater J.

When I read that Deborah Hazlett was playing Alison Moulton, who was spending many years in a women’s penitentiary for participating in a bomb blast that killed a police officer, I figured that this was going to be another one of those “I Want to Live” performances – lots of screaming about how innocent her characters was. Although she did have her ‘explosive’ moments, it was the quiet moments which moved me most. Watching Deborah’s eyes, you could see the pain, regret, fear, and uncertainty her character had awaiting the parole board’s decision. But she also kept me guessing. Was she helping a correction officer with her traffic ticket and tutoring inmates, and working in the prison library just to impress the parole board? Only a great actress could pull this off, and Deborah did.

Stacey Jackson as Philomena O’Shea in Improbable Frequency at Solas Nua.

In the middle of this non-stop Marx Brothers’-type contemporary Irish musical in Solas Nua’s very small and intimate performance space, Stacey Jackson arrived on the scene singing “The Inner Specialness of Me” and her angelic voice filled the small venue with “Oohs and Aahs”. Playing the sweet Irish lass Philomena O’Shea, Stacey was silly, cute, and mysterious. Was she a spy? Was she there to kill Faraday (Eric Messner)? I didn’t care because moments later she was rolling around and schtupping with Fraraday while singing the hysterical “The Bedtime Jig”. I loved it when Stacey sang out, “Infiltrated by British intelligence – oxymoronic as well as a sin!” as she is ready to reach the ‘climax’ of the song. And listening to her beautiful vocals on “All In Vain” and “Like Lovers Do These Days” was a real treat.

Kevin McAllister as Tom Collins in Rent at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

Kevin McAllister has one of the most beautiful voices I have heard anywhere. When I heard Kevin sing “I’ll Cover You” after Angel died in Toby’s production of Rent, I shook! I was an emotional mess, because after seeing 11 productions of Rent, this was the first time that I really was moved to tears when Tom Collins sang this song. There was so much sincerity, humor, and love in Kevin’s Tom Collins. And listening to Kevin also sing “Santa Fe,” well, it was heaven!

Karl Miller in The Talented Mr. Ripley at Round House Theatre.

I don’t know anyone else in town who would have played the role of Tom Ripley the way Karl Miller did. Without playing Tom as a ‘psycho monster’, Karl reached into his magic bag of acting skills and peeled away the layers of this manipulating and pathetic and brilliant character. I know this is crazy – but Karl made me see why Tom became this monster and made me, at times, feel sorry for him. It was a quiet and powerful and disturbing performance that slowly crept up and enveloped me. Now that’s what a great actor like Karl Miller can do.

Watch Karl Miller in The Talented Mr. Ripley here.

Jill Paice in Chess at Signature Theatre.

Her performance as Florence was the talk of the town and her rendition of “Nobody’s Side” shook the Max Theatre and had critics raving and audiences standing and cheering after every performance. I saw Jill Paice’s amazing performance twice in one week, and I loved how tough her Florence was compared to other actresses who always played Florence as a pathetic victim. And what a voice Jill has! The only present I want for Chanukah this year is a cast CD of the Signature Theatre production. Many of my friends saw Chess over and over again and when I asked them why – they all replied with these two words, “Jill Paice”.

Read my interview with Jill Paice here.

(l-r) Aaron Reeder, Marcy Searcy, Jonathan Shew, Rick Foucheux with Tom Story and Janine Sunday

Aaron Reeder as Youth in Passing Strange at Studio Theatre.

When I heard that Aaron Reeder was cast as Youth in Passing Strange I was elated because I knew that if Aaron was cast in a lead role where audiences could hear his gorgeous voice, they would learn what I have known for a long time – Aaron Reeder is one helluva talented man. And Aaron didn’t disappoint. Not only did he sing the heck out of Stew’s electrifying score, but he played Youth with passion and power and his performance was electrifying.

Aaron is moving to NYC. It’s The Big Apple’s gain and a big loss for our theatre community. I wish him well and hope to see him on a NY stage soon!

Mary Searcy as Maureen in Rent at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

What Mary did with “Over the Moon” was like no other rendition that I have ever seen. It’s hard to even describe all the gyrating, the whirlwind energy, cowbell clanking, crazy choreography, and running around Mary did while ‘milking’ every word and emotion out of this crazy performance piece. And being a stunningly beautiful woman – it wasn’t just the cowbell that the men in the audience were looking at during her manic performance. It was an ‘udderly’ astounding vocal and acting performance! Moo! Moo!

Jonathan Shew as Duane in Frat, at Page-to-Stage, at The Kennedy Center.

I was sitting at The Kennedy Center at the Page To Stage Festival watching a new musical called Frat. Ten minutes into the show, in walked Jonathan Shew on the stage and when he started singing his song “I Belong”, I was blown away by the beauty of his voice. Jonathan was hysterical as Duane, an ‘outsider’ white guy who’s attending Howard University and pledging in a less than friendly fraternity. When Jonathan sang his 11:00 number “I Never Knew”, I knew I was in the presence of a future star.

Jonathan’s Dad Tim and Mom Jane are both great singers, and have both appeared on Broadway and in many National Tours. I saw his Dad Tim sing “Bring Him Home” on Broadway and on the road eight times when he played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. When I heard Jonathan first sing in Frat, I said to my friend who was sitting next to me, “He sounds a lot like Tim Shew”. After the performance I finally looked at the program and saw that this young man who I admired so much was named Jonathan Shew, and I waited to ask him if he was related to Tim Shew. He said he was and when I turned around there was Tim Shew and his wife Jane Brockman beaming.

Jonathan was a finalist this week in NYMF’s “Next Broadway Sensation”. He sang “Awaiting You” from Adam Guettel’s Myths and Hymns. You can hear him sing it here.

You can watch and listen to Jonathan perform other songs here, including his own rendition of “Bring Him Home”.

Tom Story as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Although Sir Andrew is quite foolish, the brunt of so many laughs and the deliverer of so many funny lines, he is also a sad and empty man when he realizes that Sir Toby Belcher has used him and that he will never win the hand of Lady Olivia, who has chosen the handsome Cesario, who is really Viola (Christina Pumariega). It all gets very complicated and silly. Tom Story’s funny and poignant performance had the audience and myself in stitches, and then suddenly he made us feel sorry for this ridiculous suitor and for this poor ‘victim’. It was a tour de force! You had to be there to see the duel between Tom and Cesario, (who is really Viola). It was hysterical!

Janine Sunday as Grizabella in Cats at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore.

As Grizabella the dragging, raggedy cat, Janine Sunday schlepped across the stage so eloquently. But when she sang “Memory’ the chills went up and down my spine. Aah – it was sheer ‘purr-fection’. I’m so glad she’s back on the stage to share her beautiful voice with Toby’s audiences, after delivering the cutest baby boy I have ever seen. Congrats to Janine and Russell Sunday and welcome to the newest little Sunday. Can you imagine the great singing voice this kid is going to have?

(l-r) Vato Tsikurishvili, Greg Twomey, Li Wei, and Ryo Yabe

Vato Tsikurishvili as Lancelot in King Arthur at Synetic Theater.

He’s no longer the Tsikurishvili son who wanted to be in his parents’ shows. Now in King Arthur, he’s a seething and passionate Lancelot who burns up the stage or in this case – makes many waves. Vato has built himself into a strong and physically powerful presence, and with his intense performance as Lancelot in King Arthur, Vato has come into his own as an actor. It’s hard to believe that the sweet young man who I have come to admire so much – scared the hell out of me when I was watching him slay the enemy with rage and ease. It’s the first time in a Synetic production that I was really rooting for his character. You can also see Vato doing some backflips and delighting young audiences in Synetic Family Theater’s production of Cowardly Christopher Finds His Courage.

Greg Twomey as Roger Davis in Rent, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

Greg sang the hell out of “One Song Glory” and brought a multi-layered performance of a man – very gentle, frustrated, and scared of dying from AIDS – who is usually played by actors as one-dimensional, depressed, miserable, and an unlikeable mess. After seeing Rent so many times, I actually felt sympathy for this Roger, and I felt the frustration he was feeling. Greg’s vocals with the talented MaryLee Adams (Mimi) on “Light My Candle”, “Another Day”, “Without You”, and with Nick Lehan (Mark) singing “Your Eyes” and “On Your Own”  – were all powerful and beautiful. Another great performance from a member of an amazing cast of local actors in Toby Orenstein’s production of Rent.

Li Wei in Cirque du Soleil’s OVO.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Here was Li Wei (dressed up as a spider) dancing and doing handstands while riding a unicycle upside-down on a beam of slack wire 15-20 feet above the ground. As the wire was raised and lowered, he moved up and down at a 45-degree angle that the thin slack wire created, while still pedaling the unicycle with his hands. And there’s more! Li Wei then balanced himself on the slack wire with a crooked stick as he walked on the wire. And to make it even crazier – the wire was swaying all the time. Amazing! I was really ‘wired’ after watching Li Wei perform.

Watch Li Wei perform in Monte Carlo in 2008 here:

Ryo Yabe in Cirque du Soleil’s OVO.

I have always loved jugglers and although I’ve tried juggling balls, hockey pucks, and even bagels, they always dropped to the ground very quickly. So you can imagine the thrill I got watching Ryo Yabe, dressed as a firefly, using a rope to fling and then juggle four spinning spools, in a stunt called ‘diabolo’. Watching him juggling one and then two and then three and then four spinning spools as he flung them higher and higher to the top of the Grand Chapiteau and then back down and catching them, it was unreal! And to show what a great showman he was – Ryo Yabe actually missed catching one. Immediately, he looked at the audience with a grin (the audience laughed and applauded) and he picked himself up – dusted himself off – and ‘diaboloed’ all over again – never to miss again!

Watch Ryo Yabe perform some of his ‘diabolo’ magic here.

Photos from left to right:
1. Charlotte Akin (Photo: James Coates), Noah Chiet (Photo: Joel Markowitz), Lauren ‘Coco’ Cohen (Photo: Colin Hovde), Ben Cunis (Photo: Graeme B. Shaw), and Chris French (Photo: C. Stanley Photography).
2. Deborah Hazlett (Photo: Stan Barouh), Stacey Jackson (Photo: Dan Brick), Kevin McAllister (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen), Karl Miller (Photo: Danisha Crosby), and Jill Paice (Photo: Scott Suchman).
3. Aaron Reeder (Photo: Scott Suchman), Mary Searcy (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen), Jonathan Shew (Photo: Laura Rose), Tom Story (Photo: Carol Rosegg), and Janine Sunday (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen).
4. Vato Tsikurishvili (Photo: Graeme B. Shaw), Greg Twomey (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen), Li Wei (Photo: Benoit Fontaine), and Ryo Yabe (Photo: Benoit Fontaine).

Comments

  1. Thank you, Joel. I am touched and honored to be on this list! The DC theatre community has welcomed me so warmly. I cannot wait to return. In the meantime, we have one final weekend of GLIMPSES. Thru 10/17. The cast is wonderful. Please come!!!

  2. Lilia Slavova says:

    Dear Joel,
    it is so nice to recognise the local talent.Those kids work for very little money,but with lots of passion!Most of them have daily jobs to support themselves and it is so hard ofter 8 hours of a job to do what they do.Bravo for recognising them.
    i want you to come and see little Ian Pedersen in the title role of The Little Prince.This kid has all it takes to be the prince.We have been comparing previous productions on y-tube and films,this one is to see.
    Thank you again for recognising Ben and Vato from our theatre! Hard!Hard working kids!

  3. Thanks Joel for a great feature. So fun to read about so many amazing actors and performances. And thank you for recognizing Coco in our production of Glimpses of the Moon. She is remarkable, and we will miss her when she returns to New York. There are only five performances left so hope your readers will come see Glimpses of the Moon this weekend and see the incomparable Lauren “Coco” Cohn and the rest of this wonderful cast that includes Natascia Diaz, Stephen Schmidt, Gia Mora, Sam Ludwig and Matt Anderson.

  4. Gerald Gleason says:

    Thanks for spotlighting these wonderful performers, Joel.  The breadth and depth of talent we have around here is amazing.

  5. David Hoffman says:

    Joel,
     
    This is a great list of top-notch performances I can wholly validate for the several I was able to see myself – Jill Paice in “Chess,” Ben Cunis and Vato Tsikurishvili in “King Arthur,” Charlotte Akin in “Noises Off!” and those two from China, Li Wei and Ryo Yabe in Cirque du Soleil’s “OVO – and ESPECIALLY Lauren “Coco” Cohn in those 3 roles in “Glimpses of the Moon” at Metro Stage, which she stepped into totally at the last minute.  BRAVO ands BRAVA to them all.
    For special excellence I would also add the new member of the Synetic Theater company and in the cast in “King Arthur,” 15-year-old Sean Pedersen in the part of Arthur’s evil bastard son Mordred – we will see much more of Sean in the future!  For more info on him, see my profile of Sean in this week’s FAIRFAX COUNTY TIMES at http://www.fairfaxtimes.com

  6. Thanks so much to Joel for including me on this wonderful list!  I absolutely love the theatre community here in DC and look forward to returning soon.  In the meanwhile come check out No Rules’ last weekend of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the H Street Playhouse!  Friday and Saturday the 15th and 16th at 8 PM and Saturday and Sunday the 16th and 17th at 2 PM.  Such a fun show and a remarkably talented group of people I feel privileged to be working with.

  7. Renee Rabben says:

    Joel.  I was lucky enough to see a lot of the performances that you have listed here & agree with you wholeheartedly! Aaron Reeder is a good friend of mine.  I have seen almost every performance he has done in the past 4 years.  Seeing him play Youth was incredible.  Not only was his singing gorgeous, but he brought a beautiful vulnerability to the character.  I will miss having him here in the DC area but NYC better look out!  I am hoping to see him on Broadway in the near future!
    Renee

  8. I love you, Joel!  Thank you for recognizing our amazing actors.
    Nancy ?

  9. Rosalind Lacy says:

    Joel: You are so right about the actors who are great for projecting more in quiet stage moments we often don’t expect to be profound. Thank you for recognizing Deborah Hazlett as Alison in Something You Did. And Karl Miller in The Talented Mr. Ripley. We often forget that it takes more than a well-crafted script to bring a play to life. These were truly two memorable performances. And for introducing us to Ryo Yabe’s spinning tops from Cirque du Soleil, (watch the clips)you remind my inner child of how I am a Cirque du Soleil fan forever.    

  10. Montario Hill says:

    Joel, those are some excellent choices especially those from Toby’s production of Rent. Kevin made me cry. I knew Kevin from college and to me, it felt like he was just Kevin on stage. He was amazing as Tom Collins!!!! Mary, WOWED me as Maureen. I literally can not get her performance out of my head. It was so raw and real. What a great production.

  11. I appreciated the mention in your favorite performances. It’s one of my personal favorite roles. Nice to be included in such a great list.
     
     
     

  12. Joel, Thank you so much for your wonderful comments, and for helping us get the word out there about our shows! I am so honored to be on your list. For anyone who can make it out, this is the final week of “Improbable Frequency”! I hope you can come!!!

  13. Joel, thank you so much for your kind words. DC has been a great support network; loving and generous people. It’s an honor to be included on this list. I look forward to the opportunities to come back home.
    Thank you sincerely for your well wishes.

  14. I saw the final night of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown and I have to disagree with you.  I thought Chris French wasn’t that good.  The man can sing, don’t get me wrong, and I am not familiar with the musical, but just watching it as an audience member who loves the Peanuts…I thought Snoopy was supposed to be cool?  I felt like Chris’ performance was good but was very all over the place and kinda spastic, which didn’t read as cool to me.  Now the stand out performance I feel you should have praised is the girl who played Lucy.  Her voice was incredible and character was over the top and hit all the right notes.  Was beyond impressed with her and far out shined everyone in that very talented cast.

  15. Joel Markowitz says:

    I obviously disagree with your above comments, but I do agree with your applause for Carolyn Cole who played Lucy. I thought her performance was also wonderful. Obviously. Snoopy is not supposed to be so cool or he wouldn’t act like such a big ‘puppy’ when he thought Charlie Brown wasn’t going to feed him, when in fact Charlie was right there about to fill up his bowl with food. Right?

  16. I agree with you there Joel…that yeah he shouldn’t be so cool he wouldn’t act like a big puppy, but I didn’t get the feeling of puppy from him as much as I got the feeling of teenage boy in puberty.  I guess the night I saw it he didn’t “steal the show”, but Lucy stole the show with every moment she was on stage.  It is the beauty of theatre…that people can disagree.  I can totally see your point about loving Chris in that moment, but for me…he was just good and Lucy was the show stealer.

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