Nubians, Pissers, Cheating Queens, A Puffing Maid, A Lot of Heart, Deerlick, Bli-Blip, Marilyn Monroe, and Bosom Buddies:
I saw 36 musicals locally and on Broadway this year, and boy are we blessed in the DC/MD/VA area!! Here are my favorite musical experiences of the 2005-2006 (from August to August).
1 BLOOD BROTHERS AT THE ELDEN STREET PLAYERS.
I can hear some of you saying, “Is he kidding?? Nope. I’m not!
For 14 years, my social group The Ushers has ended its season with a visit to The Elden Street Players in Herndon, VA, located in a small industrial park. We’ve seen incredible productions of Sweeney Todd, Rocky Horror Picture Show, La Cage Aux Folles , Gypsy, Pippin, Hair, Tommy, Suburb.(ESP has a history of putting on great productions of
One word musicals. I always get nervous when I hear they are producing a musical with two words or more. With their intimate space, and their “in your face” productions, ESP has won numerous local WATCH and Ruby Griffith Awards for their productions.
Which now leads me to ESP’s powerful, emotional, but un-schmaltzy production of Blood Brothers-a musical that is still running in London after a decade. The restrained direction of Gloria DuGan, the musical direction of David Rohde (what a pleasure to be able to hear every lyric and not be drowned out by the loud orchestras we see in many of the “bigger” theatres in the area), the clever and simple choreography of Jeannie Torres, and the sheer emotional power and beauty of the score, made this production for me, the most unforgettable musical of the year.
Why? Because the cast was perfection! Everyone had beautiful voices with perfect diction (Merman would have been proud)! It’s very easy to overact in this show-I’ve seen several productions that were insufferable, especially the Broadway production that starred the two Cassidy brothers with Helen Reddy, Petula Clark and Carole King. I wanted to scream out, “It’s too late baby now, it’s too late.”
Andy Izquierdo as Mickey and Josh Doyle were brilliant in two very difficult roles, where they were called upon to play their characters both as children as well as adults. You believed they were children when they were supposed to be children, and you believed they were adults when they were supposed to be adults.
The audience was also moved by the powerful acting and singing of Anita Miller as Mrs. Johnstone, Kat Brais as Mrs. Lyons and Nano Gowland (as a very strange narrator-Bogeyman-whose sang the most beautiful tones I’ve heard in a long time on a local stage).
The night I saw the show, the SRO audience applauded wildly during the performance. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the cast sang Tell Me It’s Not True. It’s very true-this production was simply amazing, and wins my vote for the Best Local Musical Production of 2005-2006! Congrats ESP!
2. URINETOWN AT SIGNATURE THEATRE.
When a show you saw 4 times and loved on Broadway is reinterpreted by a genius-Joe Calarco-and has a cast made in toilet heaven-and you like the Signature production more than you liked the original Broadway production-what do you call it?
With multi-talented Will Gartshore again giving a strong (as in Bobby Strong) performance, Erin Driscoll bringing hope (as in Hope Cladwell) to a ditsy role, Jenna Sokolowski smirking and endearing Little Sally, Sherri Edelen’s Little Becky Two Shoes busting out all over and Stephen Schmidt’s hysterically deadpan Office Lockstock trying to look serious, (when you know he very close to “losing it”)” oozing all over the stage, how could you not have immense joy leak out of your pores? That cast was a royal flush! And how about that hysterical campy choreography that Karma Camp’s put her peeons through?
Congrats to the amazingly talented cast. You deserved your Helen Hayes Awards! Sorry, gotta go. Down the hall, Joel.
3. TWO QUEENS, ONE CASTLE AT METRO STAGE.
It takes courage to produce a musical about the “down low,” about an African American man who is cheating on his wife with a man, who then contracts AIDS and tries to infect his wife. But Carolyn Griffin had that courage to produce Jevette Steele’s autobiographical musical, Two Queens, One Castle, which played to sold out houses at MetroStage.
Everyone who has seen her in Aida at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia last year knew Felicia could sing the heck out of Tim Rice and Elton John’s score. But, what theatre goers found out at MetroStage, was that Felicia, who played Wife, was a talented actress as well as a powerful singer.
And what a team of great actors and singers Felicia had to support her in this powerful production-TC Carson as Husband, with his beautiful lower range (that melted the women and some men in the audience when he and Felicia sang the seductive Inside Me), Gary Vincent as the Lover, and Tracy McMullan and Monique Paulwell as the Women, and Roz White Gonsalves as Mama. Boy could they sing!
And what about the brilliant band of 3 – William Hubbard on piano, Yusef Chisholm on bass and Quincy Phillips on drums? Again, these fine musicians allowed the lyrics to be heard and appreciated and did not drown out the incredible singers on the cast.
Powerful. Entertaining. A show with a message performed by a cast of local powerhouses. A theatrical experience I’ll never forget.
4 AIDA AT TOBY’S THE DINNER THEATRE OF COLUMBIA.
I waited in line in the cold of winter NYC many Nubians ago with a hundred devoted insane teenagers trying to get a ticket to see Aida. I despised that production because it was so overblown – the characters got lost in the large sets, and in the overloud orchestra. At Toby’s, AIDA was reborn and resuscitated. The show I hated became the show I admired.
Stripping away the mega sets and concentrating on the story -a love story- Toby Orenstein brought emotion to what was a hollow production in NYC.
Russell Sunday (Rhadames), Janine Gulisano (Amneris), Felicia Curry (Aida), JP Gulla (Zoser) and Alan Wiggins (Mereb) and Charles Abel (Pharaoh) sang their hearts out and also emphasized the humor in the score. Janine’s My Strongest Suit was hysterical. Russell and Felicia’s duets Elaborate Lives and Written In The Stars were beautifully sung, as was Felicia and Alan’s rendition of How I Know You.
Ilona Kessell’s clever choreography kept the production moving quickly and The Gods Love Nubia, which ended the First Act was especially breathtaking. No Wonder Ilona has won 2 Helen Hayes Awards (for Damn Yankees in 2002 and Ragtime in 2004). Christopher Youstra’s orchestra, hidden upstairs, (behind a pyramid) made beautiful music and Lynn Joslin’s lighting was simple and beautiful. What a production! It would make a great opera someday.
5 DAMN YANKEES AT ARENA STAGE.
Molly Smith knows how to bring out the heart of a musical. She did it South Pacific and last year, her production of Damn Yankees was damn good! With this year’s Helen Hayes’ Winner Meg Gillentine’s beautiful Lola legs enveloping the stage and ensuring that Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets, and Broadway star Brad Oscar burning up the stage and recalling The Good Old Days, and hunky Matt Bogart crooning A Man Doesn’t Know, this fun-filled production had the audiences cheering for the home team.
What was new about this production? Maybe it was the space -The Fichandler shaped like a baseball diamond, made you feel like you were part of the game. Maybe it was the energetic choreography of Baayork Lee. Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo’ left me (and the dancers) gasping for breath. Maybe it was George Fullginiti-Shakar’s fabulous orchestra, Martin Pakledinaz’s colorful costumes, or John Ambrosone’s gorgeous lighting, or Steve Cupo’s adorable Smokey. I just wanted to pinch his cheeks! You know why I loved this production-it was fun! Damn fun! You hit a home run Molly!
6 CAROLINE, OR CHANGE AT STUDIO THEATRE.
If you have been reading Theatre Schmooze since I began writing this column in April, you might remember that I wrote an article on May 16, 2006 about my love for the Public Theatre and Broadway production of Caroline, or Change.
I love this show. I was fearful about what Studio Theatre was going to do with it. I was shaking when I walked into the first preview performance, and I wasn’t thrilled at the sound problems in the new Metheny Theatre, but when Julia Nixon opened her mouth and sang her first notes as Caroline – a very angry maid, the fear disappeared. Her voice was clear and powerful and although I wish she was angrier (which is more in character) Julia’s voice crackled during Lot’s Wife – the long, powerful, difficult to sing second act soliloquy. During Lot’s Wife, Julia Nixon was a force of nature.
And what about local wonder boy, Max Talisman? A true professional – at the ripe age of 12 – who delivered a vocal performance that not many adults 3 time his age could. Trisha Jeffrey as rebellious daughter Emmie, delivered I Hate The Bus with such power and conviction that I almost called a cab for her. Kelly Rucker’s Dottie was the perfect foil for Julia’s Caroline, and Allison Blackwell’s Moon-singing Donna, Donna (a Yiddish folk song about a lamb lead to slaughter) in Moon Change, gave me the woolies. And special note to Elmore James-the washing machine-who put Julia through the ringer, and whose powerful rendition of The Bus (which ends with “The President is dead.”) shook the Metheny Theatre.
I saw the show 5 times, and each time the performances grew stronger. No wonder this production was extended several times. I’m proud of you Studio. You did well!
7 MAME AT THE KENNEDY CENTER.
Sixty Five Ushers members and their friends and families tapped their feet, hummed along with Jerry Herman’s melodic score, and enjoyed the eye-popping sets and costumes when we saw Eric Schaeffer’s production of Mame on Sunday, June 25th. Loud applause accompanied the first and last notes of that wonderful overture. Laughter erupted every time Harriet Harris opened her mouth as Vera, and we cheered when Christine Baranski’s comedic skills were utilized to the fullest. And although many of those who attended felt that Ms, Baranski lacked the vocal power in the role of Mame. I didn’t care. My fellow Buffalonian was giving her all and she looked great doing it. As we say in Buffalo, she “winged it” well.
And how nice to hear that beautiful voice of Broadway veterans Jeff McCarthy as Beauregard, Max Von Essen as the Older Patrick, Emily Skinner as Agnes Gooch, and to see my favorite Signature Theatre actor, Harry Winter enjoying himself as Mr. Upson.
Harrison Chad brought the majority of the much needed warmth to this production of Mame. Here is a young teenager with several Broadway shows under his belt (Les Miz Beauty and the Beast, and Caroline, Or Change (where he played and originated the role of Noah Gellman). His young Patrick was adorable and his beautiful rendition of My Best Girl lit up every audience member’s face.
The audiences at the Eisenhower Kennedy Center packed the run of Mame. I am still stunned that the show did not move on to Broadway. Thank you Eric for bringing it back. Me and my bosom buddies had a great time.
8 ELLINGTON: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF THE DUKE AT METRO STAGE
From the moment I sat down to interview Jimi Ray Malary at MetroStage, and heard that velvety voice ooze into Drop Me Off In Harlem, I knew that local theatre goers and music lovers were in for a real treat.
How could you not love a show where a great singer caresses the songs of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn -Sophisticated Lady, Take The “A” Train, Love You Madly, Caravan and Satin Doll. OK, the book wasn’t great, but who cares. I came to hear “the man” and “the man” delivered sheer beauty and spine chilling renditions of jazz classics.
Hearing Jimi Ray Malary slither through Come Sunday was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Special kudos go to the band – musical director (Helen Hayes Award Winner for Dinah Was!) William Knowles on piano, Yusef Chisholm on bass, Gregory Holloway on drums and the highly energetic Ron Oshima on saxophone. Thanks guys for bringing me so much joy this summer.
Jimi Ray Malary returns to MetroStage opening December 1st for 4 weeks with the Nat King Cole show that was a smash hit in Seattle- King of Cool: Nat King Cole-The Life,The Man. What a nice Christmas gift for our Theatre Community!
9. A MURDER, A MYSTERY AND A MARRIAGE AT ROUND HOUSE THEATRE
Peter Marks called it “Twangy.” Everyone I took to see this silly, pun filled Mark Twain musical at the beginning of the summer found the little show funny and thoroughly entertaining. I saw school kids laugh themselves silly. I like silly, and those who know me tell me I pun too much. I loved the play on the words “Hugh” and “You.” Now, you know why I loved this musical. Some friends thought I wrote the book.
And how can you not love a musical that has local theatre legend Sherri Edelen, playing Sally Gray, singing and dancing and kibitzing in her Tennessean drawl? I would pay money to hear Sherri recite the alphabet. She’s a very funny lady. Check out my podcast with Sherri at
http://dctheatrereviews.com/review/2006/06/06/hugh-will-love-this-show/, See how hilarious she is.
The terrific cast-Dan Manning (Clem/Reverend Hurley), Anthony Lawton (John Gray). Erin Weaver (Mary Gray), Ben Dibble (Hugh Gregory) and Thomas Simpson (David Gray/Sheriff Thwacker) all were having as much fun as the audience. Chris Youstra’s band of four played the twangy music beautifully, and Karma Camp’s-(Yes-That Urinetown Karma Camp) choreography added to the fun.
Twangy, schmangy. There’s nothin’ like puttin’ your feet up, layin’ back, and lettin’ some homespun fun overtake ya, especially when you’re in Deerlick. Right Aunt Bea?
A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO MY MUSICAL FRIENDS
This has been a great year for musical theatre on our local stages. Thanks to all our theatres that mounted musicals during the past twelve months. As I sit here tapping my feet and reminiscing about last year’s numerous musical joys, I want to personally thank every actor, actress, singer, musician, director, stagehand, stage manager, marketing, PR, group sales manager and associate, and lighting, sound, costume and set designers, musical directors and their wonderful bands and orchestras for all the harmonious, brilliant, soaring, velvety, spine tingling overtures, songs and performances that enriched my life and other theatre goers’ lives the past twelve months. Break a baton!