SPECTACULAR SEPTEMBER-A DIARY
By Joel Markowitz
September was filled with many memorable theatre highlights.In this column and in my podcasts with local actors and directors, I try to capture these moments for you. Lace up your running shoes, and I challenge you to keep up with me as we stroll around our theatre community.
On Saturday, September 1st– I set up my new home at Bethesda Midtown North, near the Twinbrook Metro Station. Isn’t moving so much fun? NOT! To the shock of the staff, but not to my family and friends, the new place is set up in 2 days. I work fast.
On Wednesday, September 5th at 6 PM, my first house guests arrived- Lorraine and Tim Treanor, Debbie Minter Jackson and James Konicek. We ate our way through a nice tossed salad, garlic bread and a chicken rigatoni dish, topped it off with assorted mini homemade brownies, pecan pies and cheesecakes while recording our first DCTS Audience Choice Awards. Yes. now it can be revealed – the undisclosed location of that grand awards show was my living room. It was a blast – full of laughs, and oh that voice of our host James – that Orson Wellesian timbre oozing out of those vocal chords.
Who knew that over 1,500 DC readers/listeners would vote for the winners-Bobby Smith, Donna Migliaccio, The Musical of Musicals-The Musical and The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl. Considering the fish was totally ignored in last year’s theatre awards, it was nice to see local actors and theatre goers remembering this little gem.
I’ll confess that I voted for 3 of the 4 winners, and that I voted for Souvenir, which I saw and ushered for 8 times. Sorry Goldfishers.
I was all ready to accept for Donna, if she wasn’t able to call in, but she came through for us. I was really looking forward to saying Mazel Tov to her, so Mazel Tov Donna and Bobby for your hysterical performances in The Musical of Musicals – The Musical.
It’s Saturday, September 8th at 6 PM, and I’m off to Titanic – The Musical at Toby’s in Columbia. When I arrived, I asked Toby Orenstein and Larry Munsey, the co-directors, to podcast with me before the press night performance began, and what a podcast it was! I couldn’t believe my ears when Toby offered a refund to attendees through the end of September if they didn’t like the production.
And as for the show, it was one of the most visually and vocally exciting spectacles I have ever seen on our local stages. And those gorgeous Broadway costumes from the original production were stunning, as was the entire cast which sang Maury Yeston’s Tony Award winning beautiful score so gloriously all night.
After the show, at 10:15 PM, I sat down with Sam Ludwig who sang the role of Barret, the Stoker, and talked about the night the lights went out on The Barber at Kensington Arts Center in the darkest production of Sweeney Todd I have ever seen. Byron Fenstermaker (Harold Bride the Radioman) joined Sam to sing from their duet, “The Proposal and The Night Was Alive.”
It’s a wonderful moment from a superb production that you should not miss!
It’s Sunday, September 9th at 3 PM, and I’m at Metro Stage with The Ushers to see Three Sistahs. I always get goose bumps when I hear Bernadine Mitchell sing, and today those goose bumps were out in full force. No wonder Bernadine has won two Helen Hayes Awards. Felicia Curry hit her high notes with great ease and Crystal Fox’s gorgeous scale-climbing notes made the audience and Ushers’ members stand up and cheer as the cast took their bows. These Three Sistahs know how to sell a song! Hallelujah!
And what a way to end a wonderful event by eating at my favorite Thai restaurant in Virginia – Thailand Royal Street, a 5 minute walk from Metro Stage. The pineapple fried rice is a killer as is the mango sticky rice dessert. Yum!
Finally a couple days’ rest and then on to Signature Theatre on Friday, September 14th at 7 PM for a cabaret – The Lost Songs of Broadway, with my friend Steven McKnight.
The show consisted of twenty obscure songs from shows, including “Washington Square,” a song with lyrics by Cole Porter and the Betty Boop hit, “I Wanna Be Loved By You.,” and one of my all-time favorite songs -“Mountain Greenery”. The cast – Priscilla Cuellar, Matt Pearson, and Lauren Williams sang well and Priscilla’s rendition of “Don’t Look at me That Way” was the highlight of the night. The pitter patter between songs was inexcusably unrehearsed. Still a lot of fun listening to these talented young singers
The next day-Saturday, September 15th, it’s on to My Children! My Africa! at Studio Theatre for the 2 PM matinee. Everyone I know had told me to see this powerful production. All the critics raved and I decided to usher and see the show. And they were all correct – the production was the best show I had seen in town all summer.
But, what happens during the second act was an usher’s’ nightmare.
A man is sitting in the front row of the right side of the house is not only checking his messages for the entire second act, but he is text messaging and shooting a green light into the faces of the actors and everyone who is sitting directly in front of him – on the far right side of the house (where I am sitting). I look at this man several times mouthing, “Please shut the phone off!” I totally failed at my attempt to stop him. The stage manager was nowhere to be seen and I couldn’t walk across the stage to stop the rude man. I felt horrible for the actors and those sitting beside me. I should have brought my sunglasses.
After the show, I approached the flasher, and asked him why he showed such disrespect to the actors and the audience. He became enraged and yelled profanities at me as stunned audience members also told him how he had bombarded them with his green flashing light. The cast told me they had seen this moron’s bad behavior and had a hard time concentrating. I wish one of the actors would have stopped the show and told him to stop.
It’s on to Toby’s – The Dinner Theatre of Baltimore for press night of Dreamgirls with my brother David. And here was another Toby Orenstein fantastic production – perfect casting, direction and like Titanic, gorgeous costumes and a cast that could sing beautifully.
There was one problem-the orchestra was so loud the cast was forced to work too hard vocally. I walked over to Toby during intermission and told her to tell the orchestra to tone it down, or she would not have a cast left in two weeks. The orchestra did tone it down in the second act, and the show breezed by and those superb voices were heard crystal clear.
At 10 PM, I sat down with the girls and Ray Hatch to talk about the show, and I had them sing some of their big numbers. What a pleasure to hear them sing so beautifully. And when Kelli Blackwell, who played Effie with such power and grace, sang a snippet of “I Am Changing,” I felt shivers up and down my spine.
As I walked into the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall to honor Gilbert Mead’s generosity to our theatre community on Monday. September 17th at 6 PM, I realized that there was no media coverage, except for Lorraine and I from DCTS. I was stunned and ashamed! Didn’t this event deserve some press coverage? I quickly started taking notes and after the wonderful tribute ended, I ran home to write this article. So, once again, thanks Gil and Jaylee for all you’ve done for local theatre. I hope everyone enjoyed my write-up.
I loved Betty Rules at Theater J last year and particularly the gorgeous vocals of Amy Ziff. I couldn’t wait to see Amy’s one woman show called Accident which had to be relocated to Studio Theatre, because Pangs of The Messiah had extended. I am a lover of the cello and Amy Ziff knows how to play that instrument well. Her cello playing was the highlight of her show which I saw on Tuesday, September 18th at 8:30 PM.
I met Amy after the show and we arranged to podcast the next night, right there on the set at Stage 4. What a podcast it was – two Jews schmoozing about her show and her music. It was so much fun. Listening to Amy talk about what she learned from the audiences and how she needed to make changes to improve the show, was such a refreshing discussion. And to hear her Lilly Tomlin characters – was a blast!
It’s Thursday. September 20th at 7 PM, and Broadway legend Jerry Herman is about to be interviewed by ASCAP’s Michael Kerker (who was so boring as the interviewer) as part of Performance Plus: Broadway: Up Close and Personal series in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre.
And there were well-rehearsed answers from the composer of Hello Dolly, Mame, Dear World, The Grand Tour and Mack and Mabel. What a pleasant surprise when Jerry Herman said he was so impressed by Arena Stage’s Artistic Director Molly Smith’s production of Mack and Mabel at the Shaw Festival, that he was hoping it would be moved to Broadway.
But then, the anti-Sondheim remarks oozed out of his lips:
“My songs are easy to sing. There are other composers whose songs are so difficult to sing that most singers can’t get through half of the song!”
I couldn’t believe it! When he won his Tony for the inferior score of La Cage Aux Folles at the 1984,Tony Awards, beating Sondheim’s superior score for Sunday In The Park With George, he accepted his award by poking fun at Sondheim, saying that the “simple, hummable tune” was still alive on Broadway.
The cameras were rolling. The 90 minute discussion was being filmed for future broadcasts. There were three of my favorite Broadway singers-Jason Grae, Debbie Gravitte and Ron Raines belting, and I mean belting Jerry Herman standards when a cell phone stating ringing loudly.
And it rings. And it rings. And it rings 10 times before the owner finally turns it off and says, “Sorry.” Jerry Herman can’t believe it. We in the audience can’t believe the rudeness of the owner of this cell phone and after that, Jerry Herman never regains his composure. What a shame!
After the show, Mr. Kerker told me that Jerry Herman was so ill that they almost cancelled the performance. I’m so glad he showed up. I may be a Sondheimite, but I love Hello Dolly and Mame, and I think that Mack and Mabel is his best score and deserves a new production on Broadway. But leave Stephen Sondheim alone, Jerry.
It’s Sunday, September 23rd at 2 PM, and I’m here at Arena Stage to see Well, a show that I loved in NYC. And there’s Nancy Robinette and Susan Lynskey, two of my favorite local actresses on the stage. But it’s Emily Ackerman who plays Lisa Kron whose performance I love and Donnetta Lavinia Grays in the ensemble that I love!
But Susan Lynskey’s delivery of the first “Joy line” was a doozy. Only Susan Lynskey could have pulled that one off!
The sad part for me was the decision to put this intimate show in the pit-The Fichandler, where confrontations that required the actors to be in each other’s faces, were staged 50 feet away from each other. This production gained a lot of square footage, but lost some of its power and impact. But, oh those performances!
It’s Tuesday, Sept 25 at 7:30 PM, and Lorraine Treanor and I are at Signature Theatre to see Merrily We Roll Along. My best friend Gary McMillan had just written a rave review and I was looking forward to seeing the production.
It’s my second favorite Sondheim show- right behind that show about the barber and pies, but it has the sassiest brassiest overture, and when that overture began, I was in heaven! And to see two of my favorite local Sondheim actors Will Gartshore and Tracey Lynn Olivera in the leads as Franklin and Mary, I knew I was in for a treat.
And for the record, Tracey’s performance in MetroStage’s production of The Last 5 Years was one of the best performances I have ever seen grace our local stages, and was unfairly ignored.
I won’t say much about the production except that I wish the cast was mic’d. To hear so many attendees complain that they couldn’t hear everything that was being said on the stage, is a complaint I keep hearing at Signature intermissions. Why mic some shows and then not others-especially Sondheim shows where each magical and brilliant lyric needs to be heard to add to the enjoyment and brilliance of his shows.
Let me speak up again-Mic it please, but mic it softly. Be kind to your audiences.
And what a way to end the month than by sitting in the Sondheim Rehearsal Hall and podcasting Will Gartshore, Tracy Lynn Olivera and Erik Liberman, about the Merrily production. All I can say is that it was the most interesting podcast I have recorded in many a day, and it was sheer joy! And oh that Jerry Herman discussion! Listen in…
And now it’s time to prepare questions for a podcast tomorrow at 4:30 PM of Matt Macis (Batboy) and Talia Segal (Shelley) from the cast of Batboy-The Musical, which is playing at Landless Theatre Company.
Some of September’s shows are gone, but there is still time to catch
Well at Arena Stage