– It seems no production opens without longtime arts buff David Tannous sitting front row center. As the recipient of DC Theatre Scene’s 2011 Gary Lee Maker Award for Outstanding Audience Member, Tannous has brought boundless enthusiasm and a smart analytical eye to Washington shows for decades. On the eve of this year’s awards, DC Theatre Scene spoke with Tannous about his responses to 2011 musical theatre in the DC area. What follows is our distillation of his thoughts, culled from extensive conversation. Read his overview of the 2011 musicals here. –
I didn’t get to see A Year With Frog and Toad, so, I can’t speak to Kirstin Riegler’s performance in this category.
Tracy Lynn Olivera was wonderful in The Sound of Music. She was stepping in and out of roles for that one! Channez McQuay took over as Mother Superior, which bumped Tracy up to Channez’s role, and then for some performances Tracy moved up to play Mother Superior. So I’m not exactly sure whether she’s nominated for playing a particularly character or not. At any rate, she did very well. I wish the play allowed her the scope to go deeper, to show the kind of passion and complexity in a role like the Baroness, which Jenna Sokolowski played in this production. Tracy did beautifully, but her roles were somewhat circumscribed. That being said, I have never seen her give a bad performance, or one that lacked real thought. She did beautifully in this one.
Also in this category: two people nominated are from Hairspray. Nova Y. Payton and Lauren Williams. Both were dynamite. As sidekick character Penny Lou Pingleton, Lauren serves as the sort of beta to Tracy Turnblad’s alpha. But even though her character suffered at moments, she discovered her inner moxie.
This is how, in a sense, Hairspray is a fairy tale. Penny falls in love with a young black guy, and he falls in love with her. And her mother finally accepts it. It’s a cotton-candy take on American life in that period. What Lauren did was embody that sense of unexpected self-discovery and astonishment, which then edges over into delight and joy. Especially in the last scene, where her newfound self-confidence manifests. That role allowed her a lot of room to maneuver, and she took charge of it.
Nova Y. Payton’s performance was spectacular, both vocally and dramatically. Motormouth had been there and done that and had had her own education. When Tracy was losing heart and losing confidence, it was Motormouth who showed her it was possible to continue on and find another way to what she wanted. So that with someone else’s very different experience Tracy discovered a different way to walk the walk and discover unknown strengths within herself. When Carolyn and Nova were in scenes together, musically and dramatically egging each other on, it was a ratcheting up of the dramatic between the two of them, finding a sisterhood and connection between racial divide and their difference of age and experience.
What Nova brought to the role was utter conviction and determination.When Nova led the company in her great ballad “I Know Where I’ve Been”, it created one of the grand moments of the musical, and I, along with the rest of the audience, were ready to join the cast in marching behind Motormouth, picking up those signs and banners, sweeping all before us.
Then there’s Rachel Zampelli. Oh my god! The performance she turned in as Valerie Solanis in POP!, as the founder of the Society for Cutting Up Men… She just fit in so beautifully. She really showed us that sense of rage Valerie felt at her growing certainty that she was not being taken seriously. And Andy Warhol — the man who seemed to be welcoming everybody in — turned out to not be letting anyone in. But Valerie had such certainty of her own worth, as an artist, that she would accept being put off. She was a force of nature.
Rachel played a sort of similar character in Brother Russia at Signature this spring, actually. But in POP! she had a much more nuanced role. I really admired what she did. It was like watching a covered pot of stewed tomatoes on the stove suddenly boil over. Her mounting frustration turned to anger, which then turned into a consoling self-justification for the crime she’s going to do. Then — Pop! The pot boils over.