Here’s To The Ladies! The Women of Tin Pan Alley, A Dante Rehearsal, Tommy Tune: Steps in Time and Broadway Today.
No winter blues here! As the snowflakes fell and the freezing temperatures made us shiver, there was a buffet of song and dance appetizers on our local stages. Here are four shows and special performances that made this musical theatre lover stand up and cheer!
Giving The Ladies Their Due – Finally!
Theater Alliances Here’s to the Ladies! The Women of Tin Pan Alley, now playing at H Street Playhouse, and lovingly directed by Jessica Burgess, is a walk down memory lane – an homage to many of our country’s gifted songwriters, whose contributions to our Great American Songbook have been ignored for too long.
Upon entering the intimate The H Street Playhouse space, audiences were welcomed into a small cabaret with round tables, placed no more than a foot from the three talented performers, Joanne Schmoll, who conceived the show, and fellow cast members Desiré DuBose and Carl Randolph. In the background were three green panels (a door and two windows), where the actors waited in between their songs.
To ensure that every member of the audience was intimately involved in this 75 minute tribute to many unknown lady songwriters, all three performers “worked the room”, and lured everyone into listening and appreciating every brilliant lyric.
When bass player Mary Scott began plucking her strings and pianist musical director and Linda Dowell started tickling her ivories opening the show with Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’ “I’m in the Mood For Love”, I was in the mood for more.
From the opening anthem, “I Feel a Song Coming On,” by McHugh and Fields, we knew we were in a for a toe-tapping and interesting afternoon, and Joanne and Desiré and Carl did not disappoint. How many shows can entertain you, while teaching you the history of our great songwriters? I rarely check my program during a show, but here, I was eager to find out who wrote each song.
With their duet of Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” coupled with Ann Ronnell’s “Willow, Weep For Me,” Joanne and Desiré sent chills up and down my spine. It was one of the loveliest moments so far of this year’s local musical theatre season.
And there were other great interpretations, including Joanne and Carl jazzing it up on Marco Pinkard, Doris Tauber and William Tracey’s “Them There Eyes,” all three wiggling their hips to McHugh and Field’s funny “Diga Digga Doo” paired with their “Doin’ The Low Down,” Desiré’s swinging performance of Kay Swift and Paul James’ “Can This Be Love,” and Joanne’s hysterical interpretations of Comden and Green classic, “I Can Cook Too” (from On The Town) and Jerome Kern and Irene Franklin’s “My Husband’s First Wife”, performed with rising venom.
So, here’s to the ladies – Joanne, Desiré,- and to songwriters Dorothy, Vee, Tot, Billie, Doris, Irene, Ann, Kay, Betty, Doris, Ruth, Evelyn, Irene, Nora, Nancy, Diana, Maria, Dory and Linda. This grateful song lover thanks you.
Going Through Hell Preparing for the Opening Night of Dante
I wasn’t surprised when I woke up on Saturday, February 7th to these words written by DCTS’s Tim Treanor, “Forget their multiple Helen Hayes Awards; cast aside all their revolutionary wordless interpretations of Shakespeare; dismiss all their productions which have hitherto stunned audiences and reduced critics to babbling. Take it from me, sports fans; this is the best Synetic ever.”
I’ve been to many dress rehearsals where I walked out of the theatre knowing damn well that show was not going to be ready for press night. On Wednesday, February 4th I attended a dress rehearsal of Synetic Theater’s Dante, and it was a tense evening, to say the least. Director Paata Tsikurishvili was making changes all night from the opening scene to the last scene. Lighting designer Andrew Griffin was programming different settings on his board to adapt to the director’s changes. Cast members were trying on their gorgeous Anastasia Ryurikov Simes costumes for the first time. Ben Cunis, (Dante), was swirling his cape to become acquainted with it and doing back flips, while Greg Marzullo, (Virgil who leads Dante through the gates of hell), was leading me through the evening’s rehearsal.
In the Rosslyn Spectrum lobby, Irina Tsikurishvili was rehearsing The Prologue with the members of the ensemble of Dante. These young dancers/actors were at full speed and working effortlessly to incorporate the new changes of the moment. I was exhausted watching them.
As I entered the theatre and plopped myself down behind lighting director Andrew Griffin, introduced myself to Andrew, and asked him questions about his lighting board/computer and software. I met a man named Cecil, who was videotaping the rehearsal. He told me he watched it late at night and sent notes to Paata.
Actor Greg Marzullo came to greet me, and I asked him what was different from this production from the other Synetic productions of the past. “It’s a huge cast, the largest cast we have ever had. It’s a production with a smoother marriage between text and movement. It’s a combination of dark humor, as well as tragedy. There is less intimacy in this production, compared to other Synetic productions, and Irina is not in the cast, serving only as the choreographer, because there is so much to manage with this production’s choreography. The set is a very stable set, a series of trap doors – it looks like rocks, but it’s really styrofoam. Our production preserves the flavor, the ideas, the theology and the personal journey that Dante took.”
Greg also told me that one of the scenes wasn’t working, and that it will get changed or eliminated completely. “Paata and Irina will not sacrifice details for time. They will not have a scene go on that doesn’t work.” And on his costume, which he was just about to try on for the first time: “My costume is blue and is very open in the front. It has a long skirt. I will see it for the first time in a few minutes.”
I was introduced to stage manager Abby Lynch, who quieted the crew, and began the rehearsal I watched the Prologue, and two fight scenes – the spider fight and the angel fight. Both were visually exciting and dizzying. I was stunned to see how Vato Tsikurishvili, who plays one of the angels, had bulked up and had grown into a muscular, tall and incredible dancer.
There were some technical glitches, which caused some stress. Trap doors didnt open. The doors from Hell wouldn’t close. There was a buzz in the sound system, and, at times, breaks went on too long. As patience grew thin, the actors’ and director’s voices got louder, but the dedication and hard work and love for their profession kept everyone in this rehearsal optimistic, working together as one unit, to ensure that opening night – only two days away – would be a success.
So, it was no surprise when I called the Treanor home 13 hours after the opening night performance began, and was told that Dante was “the best Synetic ever.”
Dante plays through March 22nd at the Rosslyn Spectrum – 1611 North Kent Street in Arlington, VA.
This Man Can Still Tap
He’s 69 years old. He looks much younger. He’s still very tall and his southern drawl and charm still lights up the stage. He still knows how to tell a good story. And, boy, can Tommy Tune still tap!
On Friday, January 23rd, Strathmore presented 9-time Tony Award winning director and choreographer Tommy Tune and The Manhattan Rhythm Kings, (who have worked with Mr. Tune since 1984) in their new show, Steps in Time: A Broadway Biography. It was an evening of tapping and harmonizing and Tommy Tune reminiscing about his journey from a small Texas town to the light of Broadway, to a shelf full of Tony Awards. ”
Tommy told the largely older crowd of fans that, “I danced before I was born in my mother’s womb” before giving the audience a lesson in tapping, illustrating the “times step” the double time step and the triple time step. He even gave the audience a triple quiz, to make sure they were listening and watching.
Dressed in white tails and orange tap shoes, and sitting in a director’s chair with “TUNE” on it, he sang songs, including “Losing My Mind” from Follies, “You Can’t Take That Away From Me”, “I’m Old Fashioned,” and “I’m Leaving Texas.”
But it was the many funny stories that Tommy told about his career that made the adoring crowd laugh and tear up. When Tommy finally met his mentor, Sir Fred Astaire, after a performance of My One and Only, Mr. Astaire greeted him with, “You are a tall son of a bitch.” Not what he was expecting to hear from his mentor. When he was on the film set of Hello Dolly! where he played Ambrose Kemper, Tommy asked director and another one of his mentors – Gene Kelly, who directed the film – how to improve his performance. Kelly said to him, “Dance better!” When co-star of My One and Only – tap legend Charles “Honi” Coles (“He had grace and style) suddenly forgot his lines during the song “My One and Only”, Tommy tried to feed him the lines. Unbeknownst to him and the audience, Charles suffered a stroke, but that didn’t stop him from returning to the stage, and performing his big dance.
The highlights of the evening for me were Tommy and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings tapping to George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. It was if time stood still, and I was watching the young Tommy Tune tapping his heart out with Twiggy to “Kicking the Clouds Away” at My One and Only. When he sang the song “Seesaw” from the same title of the show which won him his first Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical, I saw the young, extremely tall (“I am 6’6″ and 1 and 3/4 tall”) dancer smiling wildly as he sang “It’s Not Where You Start” on the Mark Hellinger stage in 1973. I was there, and I remember thinking that this guy was going places! Little did I know that Tommy Tune would become a Broadway legend, and I would be sitting at Strathmore twenty-five years later watching him reminisce about his long and distinguished Broadway career.
At the closing. Tommy made it very clear to all us that he was not ready to retire, “I don’t understand what the word “retirement” means. What would I do? Eat bonbons all day?” I don’t think bonbons are in his future.
Broadway Today – Worth the Wait
I love to work a crowd, and it was so much fun to talk to many visitors to the Kennedy Center, and fellow local theatre goers as me and my friends were waiting in line in the lobby, for tickets to be distributed to BroadwayToday, a concert in the Opera House that was celebrating the 12th anniversary of the free – 365 days a year – performances held on the Millennium Stage. It was well worth the 2 ½ hours we waited in line.
As the evening began, Jim Johnson, who oversaw the creation of the Millennium Stage concerts, told the audience that there have been over 4,300 performances, 43,000 artists have appeared on the Millennium Stage from all 50 states, and over 4 million people have attended these free concerts.
The over 2,800 attendees were treated to an unforgettable evening of Broadway songs and stories by Broadway musical theatre composers and lyricists Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime), Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens), and Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, Or Change and Shrek The Musical). The Q&A was moderated by ASCAP’s Director of Musical Theatre, Michael Kerker.
There were so many memorable performances by the composers and lyricists themselves.
Stephen Schwartz described and played and sang all the different phases of writing “The Wizard and I” from Wicked. The very funny and animated Jeanine Tesori, sang the pretty “When Words Fail” from Shrek The Musical. Lynn Ahrens sang “Times Like This” from Lucky Stiff, and Scott Frankel sang “Neverland” from a not yet produced new musical based on the famous film. It was so nice to see the personal sides of these musical theatre geniuses, and their immense respect for each other’s work.
As if having these composers and lyricists speak to us wasn’t enough pleasure, we were also treated to performances of songs from these composers/lyricists works. Capathia Jenkins blew the roof off the Opera House when she sang “Spark of Creation” from Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden. Liz Callaway sang a passionate rendition of Ahrens and Flaherty’s “Journey to the Past” from the film Anastasia. KT Sullivan offered an elegant and gorgeous rendition of “Will You” from Grey Gardens, and we were given a sneak preview of one of Frankel and Korie’s “The Best Seats in the House,” from Happiness, which is opening on March 31st at Lincoln Center.
The most heartwarming moment of the evening was hearing students from the University of Maryland’s Musical Theater Workshop singing “For Good” from Wicked, while Stephen Schwartz accompanied them on the piano. Watching Stephen smiling and watching those students’ faces beaming was such a joy to see.
But for me, I will never forget Tony Award winning actress (for Doubt) Adriane Lenox’s exceptional rendition of Lot’s Wife from Caroline, Or Change, probably one of the most difficult songs or soliloquies ever written for the musical stage. Adriane played the moon in the Public Theatre cast of Caroline, Or Change, but then (smartly) moved on to Doubt, where she won her Tony for playing Mrs. Muller, the mother of a child who might have been molested by a priest. Adriane’s vocal performance was astounding, and the audience responded with a long standing ovation.
And, what a way to end this amazing 2 ½ hour celebration, by hearing Tony Award winner – and my favorite Broadway actor -Brian Stokes Mitchell – sing “Wheels of A Dream” from Ragtime/ It brought back so many memories of watching Ragtime in Toronto and on Broadway – more than a dozen times. Thank you, Kennedy Center, for bringing us this wonderful evening, and for sponsoring the free concerts on the Millennium Stage for the past twelve years, and for many years to come.
To watch this performance and several others in the Broadway series, click here.