I’ve seen some outstanding performances lately. Here are some you still have time to savor for yourself.
A Really Lovely and Hysterically Funny Funny Thing at TAP
Aaah! What bliss! Musical director Mark Deal and his superb orchestra breezed through Stephen Sondheim’s extremely hummable and toe-tapping overture of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and I was in musical theatre heaven. If you love this 1962 Tony winner for Best Musical, you must run to The Arlington Players’ production, which ends this weekend. (Oct 4th).
Some of the best performances I have seen on our local stages this year are happening right now in Forum. Andy Izquierdo is hysterical as Pseudolus the slave, who is the narrator, and troublemaker. No one I have ever seen perform this role (including Nathan Lane in the Broadway revival) has ever sung it so well, and his Pseudolus is like none you have ever seen before. You don’t need to run to NYC to find a great singing actor to bring back to our local stages. We have one actor/singer extraordinaire in Andy Izquierdo, and I hope that local artistic directors will run and see him in this production…and hire him.
There are others in the terrific cast who I want to single out. Ross Wolfarth, who was so adorable as Hero, made me love “Love I Hear” for the first time in my life. Ian Grossman, as Hysterium, was (I can’t think of a better word to use here) hysterical in his “virgin dead scenes” in the second act. Bill Karukas displayed perfect comic timing as Senex, the horny patriarch, and local theatre vet Albert Coia had the audience howling as he rounded the seven hills of Rome – seven times – as Erronius. Special kudos to Barbara Esquibel’s gorgeous and colorful costumes, Peter Finkle and Jared Davis’s eye-stunning set, and to director Malcolm Edwards who made all the crazy pieces come together in a fast-paced and enjoyable production.
You know the old joke: it was raining cats and dogs and I almost stepped in a poodle? Well, there are bucketfuls and poodles of love and heartbreak and – yes – rain and tears at Kensington Arts Theatre’s production of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones (The Fantasticks) 110 in the Shade.
Like Forum at TAP, 110 in The Shade has a dream cast, all of whom sang the heck out of the score, led by the glorious Katie McManus, Paul Mattocks as H.C., Harv Lester as File, and the seductive Patrick McMahan who played Starbuck.
Katie squeezes every emotion out of her Lizzie. Her renditions of “Love Don’t Turn Away” and “Old Maid” are gorgeously sung and heart-wrenching. I saw 4-time Tony Award winning Audra McDonald sing the heck out of “Old Maid” in the Broadway revival, but I never believed for one moment that she was going to be an old maid, but here, Katie was so convincing that I wiped away several tears while she was finishing the song. A tour de force!
And that leads us to Ryan Manning who plays the “slow” but self-confident Jim with a lot of heart, and along with the adorable squeaky Jaclyn Young, they drove the audience into a tizzy with their hysterical rendition of “Little Red Hat.” Stephen Gregory Smith, whose Helen Hayes Award winning performance at Signature Theatre as Jim, I remember fondly, would have been proud.
Special kudos to musical director Valerie A. Higgs and her fellow five exceptional musicians who never drowned the actors out and played this underrated score so beautifully, director Michael Kharfen who directed this production with so much heart, and to John Decker who made the rain finally come. There’s a downpour of emotion now at Kensington Arts Theatre, and I hope you will trench through the rain and see 110 in the Shade, which plays on Oct. 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12
Talking about Garcia Girls
I attended a preview of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents on Sept 19th, and slipped into the pre-performance discussion which was lead by Round House Theatre’s Artistic Director Blake Robison. It was steamy in the small conference room, filled with subscribers and donors and first-time attendees eager to hear an excited Blake give some of the behind-the-scenes gossip and background before everyone saw the 8 PM performance.
There was immediate excitement when Blake told the audience that playwright Karen Zacarias was attending the performance, and that novelist Julia Alvarez would be attending press night, the following Monday. I asked about the auditions and where Blake found the actors that comprises his cast. I was told that since it was difficult to find 8 actors who were bilingual, he cast three local actors, and four actors were brought in from NYC.
The most exciting part of this adventure, Blake told the crowd, was to watch the actors transform into their roles. The most difficult challenge for playwright Zacarius, he explained, was to prevent the work from sounding and looking like a “movie of the week,” where, when adapting a novel to the screen, many of these bad movies have just “cut and pasted” dialogue from the novels. Instead, this production at Round House, “Is inspired by the novel. It captures the feeling of the novel, and distills it down to its theatrical essence.”
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents plays through Oct. 12th. Check your local theatre websites to see if they offer pre or post-performance discussions or talk-back. Don’t miss them!
Report from the Hard Luck Café
I recently got an invite to attend the reading of Karin Ringheim’s new musical Welcome to the Hard Luck Café and came away with interviews and music clips. It’s in my next column, coming soon.
Four I’m Looking Forward to …
I can’t wait to see these four musicals which will be opening soon:
Opening Oct 30th. President Harding Is a Rock Star at Landless Theatre Company. I have gained so much respect for this little-company-that-could after their enjoyable and very tight-cramped performances of Bat Boy, Gutenberg! The Musical! and A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant. Now they are producing another bizarre musical about Warren Harding by A Very Merry…’s Kyle Jarrow. I know it will be a hoot. Those Baughman brothers are really talented and crazy! I love’em both!
Opening Nov 12th. Grey Gardens at Studio Theatre with the great Barbara Walsh.. What a great choice! I loved Barbara Walsh in Falsettos as the ever-suffering wife Trina, and as Joanne, where she belted The Ladies Who Lunch in the recent John Doyle -“they play their own instruments ” revival of Company. Barbara grew up locally – in Chevy Chase – and, Barbara, it’s so nice to have you home where you belong! Last year she was brilliant as Desiree in Center Stage’s production of A Little Night Music I know Serge Seiden will direct the show with his usual steady hand and brilliance.
Opening Nov 21st. Next To Normal at Arena Stage, Crystal City. What a coup to get Alice Ripley to reprise her sensational performance in this manic depressive/bipolar musical. Alice is an incredible talent and this performance will be talked about for years to come. Bring your lithum and lamictal. You’re gonna need it.
Opening Dec 2nd. Les Miserables at Signature Theatre. Finally, Felicia Curry gets to strut her incredible talents in the MAX, where she is playing Eponine. Just to hear her sing “On My Own,” will be worth the price of the not-so-cheap ticket. I hear they got a great deal of blood with The Lieutenant of Inishmore dripping and spewing all over the ARK, and hematological substances will be dripping from the barricades. I’m willing to go with the (blood) flow!
I’m off to NYC to see Jason Robert Brown’s 13, and to Philly to see State Fair and Rock ‘n Roll and to attend The Barrymores, Philadelphia’s Awards for Excellence in Theatre.
Stay tuned for some new articles and podcasts! Shanah Tova to my fellow Jewish friends who work in and support our local theatres.