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The outgoing president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has fostered community engagement, educational programs, and “a culture of listening” among musicians and audiences alike. By Kevin Nance

Deborah Rutter. Photograph by Todd Rosenberg.

When Deborah Rutter takes over as president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts next summer, she’ll bring with her a sterling reputation. Over the past decade in the same position at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, widely viewed as one of the two best-run major orchestras in America (along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic), Rutter, 57, has impressed the Windy City as a straight-talking manager, consensus-builder, and tireless fundraiser with excellent people skills and a heartfelt populist streak.

While it’s unclear how those skills will translate at the Kennedy Center—with its bigger budget, its more varied array of programs and tenants, and the greater prominence of political and society types among its funders and constituents—the feeling in Chicago is that if anyone is up to the task, it’s Rutter.

“She’s absolutely straightforward in a buoyant, positive way—she’s not any kind of a game player,” says Andrew Patner, longtime classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago’s classical radio station, WFMT. “The day she was announced here, she told me, ‘My job is to listen, and once I get to know people and see what they need, I go from there.’ Of course, people in her position always say things like that, but in her case it was true. Ten years later, the main thing she leaves here is a culture of listening. There’s a connection between management, staff, trustees, and musicians at the CSO that’s very, very unusual at orchestras around the country, and that’s largely because of Deborah.”

Most of Rutter’s major accomplishments at the CSO are familiar in arts administration circles: record-breaking ticket sales and fundraising the past three years running; lowering the average age of CSO concert-goers by about 10 years in a time when most orchestras are fretting about graying audiences; and luring the Italian maestro Riccardo Muti to Chicago as music director to replace the departing Daniel Barenboim. The last was no mean feat; Muti was famously skittish about returning to another music-director post after the collapse of his relationship with La Scala in Milan. (Following health issues that forced him to cancel dozens of appearances during his first year on the job in Chicago, Muti has bounced back in the past two seasons and is enjoying a prolonged honeymoon with CSO players and audiences alike.)

Less well-known is Rutter’s impressive track record as an impresario. When the frosty Barenboim gave two years’ notice as music director in 2004, he relinquished involvement with all concerts other than his own; Rutter and her staff filled the gap seamlessly, handling the bulk of the artistic side of the CSO season to an unusual degree. At the same time, Rutter continued to function as the principal presenter or co-presenter of performances at Symphony Center and other venues in Chicago, including festivals and other collaborations with theater, dance, classical, jazz, and pop music ensembles around the city.

In an interview with Washingtonian, Rutter emphasizes that interdisciplinary diversity of her experience in Chicago as preparation for the dizzyingly varied mission of the Kennedy Center. She also shrugs off a question about the political nature of the Washington and the Kennedy Center’s funding structure. “It’s true that in Chicago, I haven’t had the opportunity to deal with government funding because we get so little of it,” she says with a laugh. “But a huge aspect of our work at the CSO involves regular interactions with the mayor’s office and the governor here. When I was in Seattle [at the Seattle Symphony prior to coming to Chicago], we had a long-term relationship with the city that led to our raising $30 million a year to build a brand-new concert hall. So the experience of working with government is not new to me.”

Perhaps the least heralded but arguably most significant aspect of Rutter’s career in Chicago is her commitment to community outreach, in particular partnerships with arts organizations, schools, prisons, and other entities. Well before the widely publicized community engagement efforts of Muti and the CSO’s creative consultant, Yo-Yo Ma, Rutter was beefing up the orchestra’s outreach efforts and forging relationships with arts-education groups around town.

“Deborah really upped their game in terms of community outreach, the result of which is that the CSO is a lot of places now that they never used to be,” says Nancy McCarty, executive director of Storycatchers Theatre, a group that works with young women and girls in Illinois prisons and detention centers to create original musical theater based on their personal stories. During Rutter’s tenure, the group now works with Muti, who gives regular lecture-demonstrations for the inmates; CSO players, who perform as part of the group’s orchestra in their annual musicals; and members of the CSO chorus, who serve as teaching artists and mentors.

“It’s not just showing up for a one-hour assembly in high school and you never see them again,” McCarty says. “They’re embedding themselves in community organizations to make it a deep, committed, worthwhile experience. Our kids get to know the musicians who work with them, and our young composers form valuable peer relations with the CSO people. And it wouldn’t be happening if Deborah weren’t making those resources available.”

Rutter seems likely to build on that legacy at the Kennedy Center, where community outreach is a top priority. “I think this will be a way for Deborah to go national with her ideas, including notions about community engagement,” Patner says. “There are people who find their niche and want to stay in it, and then there are people who want to go on to bigger challenges every ten years or so. Deborah is in the second group; she wants to spend the last decade of her career riding that beast. She’ll be missed here, but it’s certainly good for the Kennedy Center.”

Posted at 12:19 PM/ET, 12/16/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Our favorite shows of the year. By Sophie Gilbert
Rachel York and company in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Anything Goes, our favorite touring musical of 2013. Photograph by Joan Marcus.

At this point in December you’re almost certainly sick of year-end lists, and that’s OK: We are, too. They’re arbitrary, entirely subjective (like all criticism is), and biased toward art that was produced in the second half of the year and is still easy to remember.

So with the above as a disclaimer, we’re trying something a little different this year. All of the below are shows that Washingtonian’s critics loved in 2013, and because we’d rather not rank them since they were all superb in so many ways, we’ve given them random and nonsensical (and imaginary) awards instead. Congratulations, Washington theaters, on producing so much great work this year. We can’t wait for 2012, I mean 2014.

Best Production of a Shakespeare Play: The Winter’s Tale at Shakespeare Theatre
Rebecca Taichman’s production of one of the trickier Shakespeare plays (love! tragedy! bears!) was memorable for its “starkly elegant” modern design and its immensely powerful performances from Mark Harelik, Hannah Yelland, and many more.

Best Touring Musical: Anything Goes at the Kennedy Center
Doubtless everyone will say this should go to The Book of Mormon, and maybe it should, but like we said, subjective. Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony-winning production of the Cole Porter classic was de-lightful, de-licious, de-lovely, and just on the right side of de-luded.

Best Dysfunctional Family Drama: Other Desert Cities at Arena Stage
If there’s one thing we learned about families, it’s that “long-buried family secrets, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, barbed endearments, and bourbon” are no combination for a happy holiday. Jon Robin Baitz’s spectacular play made for “gut-punching theater” nonetheless.

Best Riff on Chekhov With Profanities in the Title: Stupid F**cking Bird at Woolly Mammoth
Aaron Posner’s spin on The Seagull might have led to an overuse of asterisks among area publications, but its magical, moody commentary about love and art made up for it.

Best Riff on Chekhov Without Profanities in the Title: Man in a Case at Shakespeare Theatre
Mikhail Baryshnikov is magnetic in this brief but gorgeous adaptation of two short stories about love (currently playing at the Lansburgh Theatre). And yes, he dances, although not in the way you might expect.

Most Entertaining Use of Profanities: Glengarry Glen Ross at Round House Theatre
David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play might be a cynical and downright bleak look at humanity, but his four hungry salesmen were impeccably portrayed in this Round House revival.

Best Performance of a British Royal: Henry V at Folger Theatre
Zach Appelman’s portrayal of the former Prince Hal made the hero “so eloquent, so engaging that it’s hard not to leave the theater thinking of him as one of the greatest male characters Shakespeare ever wrote.”

Best Swordplay: The Three Musketeers at Synetic Theater
We’ve come to expect dazzling choreography from the Arlington physical theater troupe, but in this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, the swordplay stole the show.

Most Charming Revue: Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life at Arena Stage
Maurice Hines is a charmer. That’s all. And this 90-minute look at his life and career on the stage is so endearing it could make even Grumpy Cat smile, not to mention his magnificent, all-female backup band, or the tap talents of the Manzari and Heimozitz brothers.

Best Play You’d Never Want to See With Your Parents: Mies Julie at Shakespeare Theatre
This sexual chemistry between the two leads in this tragic, frantic South African adaptation of Strindberg might be sufficient to light up the Verizon Center’s exterior for a week. So, not really something you’d want to watch sitting next to an elderly relative, or a boss, or even a stranger.

Most Adorable Puppets: Baby Universe at Studio Theatre
Who knew infant universes were so cute they could have their own BuzzFeed vertical? Baby Universe, portrayed adorably by Wakka Wakka Productions in this dystopian puppet show, charmed, as did the show’s fusion of fantasy, video, music, and sci-fi.

Best Play the Government Shutdown Stopped People From Seeing: The Laramie Project at Ford’s Theatre
Press night for The Laramie Project was moved from Ford’s Theatre to a Woolly Mammoth rehearsal hall after the government shutdown booted performers and audiences from the space where Lincoln was shot. Even with the new location, this show’s outstanding ensemble gave “heartfelt, fierce, committed performances” exploring the circumstances of Matthew Shepard’s death.

Best Musical About a Perplexed Bachelor: Company at Signature Theatre
Some say Bobby’s gay, some say he’s just greedy. Whatever your take, Signature’s production of Sondheim’s 1970 musical about a confirmed bachelor facing all his paired-off friends was a triumph.

Best Portrayal of a Dead President: Mary T and Lizzy K at Arena Stage
All of the performances were spectacular in Arena Stage’s world premiere of Tazewell Thompson’s play about Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker. But in a year in which Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for playing Lincoln, Thomas Adrian-Simpson’s portrayal stood up to the competition admirably.

Best Encapsulation of Our Post-Recession Era: Detroit at Woolly Mammoth
Lisa D’Amour’s play, a “morality tale of philosophic ambition and massive symbolism about the destruction of the American middle class,” incorporated comedy, tragedy, despair, and “the closest thing to 3D thrills” our reviewer’s seen in a theater.

Most Engaging Neurotic: Torch Song Trilogy at Studio Theatre
Shakespeare Theatre’s Michael Kahn moved across town to Studio Theatre to direct Harvey Fierstein’s masterpiece and Brandon Uranowitz came from New York to play Arnold, a fussy, needy, funny, tough, and entirely lovable drag performer.

Best Heroine to Root For: Good People at Arena Stage
Johanna Day’s portrayal of Bostonian Margie in David Lindsay-Abaire’s play was “nearly flawless, communicating years of strength and struggle, pride and vulnerability cloaked in every snarky remark or blunt admission.”

Posted at 11:40 AM/ET, 12/12/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
“Porgy and Bess” at the National, the Pajama Men at Woolly, Sondheim at Shakespeare and Signature, and much more for the holiday season. By Sophie Gilbert
See Elf the Musical at the Kennedy Center starting December 17. Photograph by Joan Marcus.

OPENING THIS MONTH

December 5 through 22, Mikhail Baryshnikov comes to Shakespeare Theatre with Man in a Case, an experimental work adapted from two short stories by Anton Chekhov. Read our interview with Baryshnikov about the show.

December 6, Patina Miller, who recently won a Tony Award for her performance in the revival of Pippin on Broadway, comes to the Kennedy Center for the Barbara Cook Spotlight series.

December 10 through January 5, manic and unpredictable comedy duo the Pajama Men returns to Woolly Mammoth with Just the Two of Each of Us. The show follows In the Middle of No One, a hit at Woolly last year.

December 11 through January 5, Studio Theatre kicks off its New British Invasion Festival with Edgar and Annabel, a dark comedy about life in a surveillance state by 30-year-old playwright Sam Holcroft.

December 13 through 29, Keegan Theatre reprises An Irish Carol, its annual staging of Matthew Keenan’s riff on the classic Dickens tale.

December 14 through 22, the Washington National Opera presents The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me, a new work based on Jeanette Winterson’s children’s book about the nativity, narrated by the donkey. Music is by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change).

December 17 through January 5, Elf the Musical sets up shop in the Kennedy Center Opera House. The show is a musical adaptation of the Will Ferrell movie about a well-meaning oversize elf named Buddy.

December 17 through January 19, Joe Calarco directs Gypsy , Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne’s 1959 musical about Gypsy Rose Lee, at Signature Theatre.

December 19 through January 12, Theater J presents Our Suburb, a world premiere by Darrah Cloud about an interfaith teenage romance in 1970s Illinois directed by two-time Tony-winner Judith Ivey.

December 25 through January 19, Flashdance comes to the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Thirty years after the movie about a dancing steelworker in Pittsburgh, the musical revives hits such as “What a Feeling” and “Maniac.”

December 25 through 29, the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess stops by the National Theatre. The production is a new adaptation by director Diane Paulus and playwright Suzan Lori-Parks.

Read More

Posted at 03:50 PM/ET, 12/02/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Idina Menzel stars in this powerful if unpolished musical, which stops in Washington before it heads to Broadway. By Sophie Gilbert
Idina Menzel as Elizabeth and James Snyder as Josh in the world premiere of If/Then at the National Theatre. Photograph by Joan Marcus.



The question continually posed by If/Then, the strong yet unfinished musical trying out at the National Theatre before it heads to Broadway, is what if? To what extent can a decision made in the blink of an eye impact the course of a life? This concept—not exactly an unfamiliar one thanks to movies such as Sliding Doors, from which If/Then appears to borrow a substantial amount of its story—can start to feel gimmicky throughout the course of the show, particularly given the heavy-handed lighting used to clarify the narrative. But these are just minor quibbles compared to the showstopping performances on display. As far as opportunities to see stars belting out songs go, this one goes gangbusters.

Directed by Michael Greif, If/Then stars Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked) as Elizabeth, a 39-year-old city planner who moves to New York after ending her loveless marriage, and whose life subsequently splits into two forks after she decides whether to listen to a musician (Sexy Guitar Guy, a title Tyler McGee needs to put on his résumé) play in Madison Square Park. Carefree, stop-and-smell-the-roses/listen-to-the-music Elizabeth becomes Liz, who’s still neurotic and obsessed with quantifying all her options but lets loose enough to go on a date with Josh (James Snyder), a handsome doctor back from his second tour with the Army. Uptight Elizabeth becomes Beth, gets a fantastic job, falls into an unhappy relationship of sorts with her bisexual best friend, Lucas (Anthony Rapp), almost dies in a plane crash, and ends up successful and miserable after all that leaning in.

Liz/Beth’s different stories are illustrated by lighting effects—cold blue for Beth, warm red for Liz. It’s a device that feels like it was added last minute for clarity, and it detracts a little from the spectacular set by Mark Wendland, above which trees loom over the stage and stars and neon maps of the New York City subway appear as if from nowhere. The show is at its strongest when Liz and Beth’s worlds collide, as they do at the end of the first act at a birthday party on a rooftop when both versions of Elizabeth find themselves pregnant by a different man (again, Sliding Doors).

Early in the show, the character of Elizabeth feels clichéd, what with her extreme anal retentiveness and her constant attempts to calculate decisions out of numbers. “I’m not sure how to quantify sexy,” she tells her friend Kate, plated by the spectacular LaChanze, who won a Tony for her role in The Color Purple. But as Liz and Beth emerge, Menzel does a good job showing how each character changes—Liz becoming more open and accepting, and Beth hardening to the point where she impulsively kisses her boss (Jerry Dixon). Decisions have consequences, we’re told over and over again, and Liz/Beth’s different paths demonstrably affect not only her own life but also the lives of those around her.

If/when the philosophizing gets a bit much, the songs are ample compensation. The music and lyrics are by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the team behind the Tony-winning show Next to Normal, and while there are a few duds (through no fault of Rapp’s, “Ain’t No Man Manhattan” is a dullard), Lucas’s “You Don’t Need to Love Me” is a genuine heartbreaker, as is Liz’s “Learn to Live Without.” Rapp, best known for playing dorky Mark alongside Menzel in the Broadway and film versions of Rent (the former of which was also directed by Greif), is unexpectedly charming as even more dorky Lucas, a hapless and crunchy housing activist whose happiness is intertwined so tightly with Liz/Beth’s own. And as winsome and kindhearted Josh, Snyder is exceptional, managing to save his too-good-to-be-true Army doctor from becoming boring and delivering his solo numbers—especially “Hey Kid”—with chops galore.

But it’s Menzel’s musical, and everyone else is just living in it. The Idina superfans you’ll almost certainly run into in the ladies’ room at intermission already know all the lyrics, and understandably so—the way she delivers her songs is just thrilling to watch, even if she seems to be holding back a little in the first act. One imagines it’s hard to play a character as unshowy and awkward as Liz/Beth while simultaneously winning over the whole of the audience in the National’s 1,676-seat theater, but Menzel does it, and also manages countless costume changes while flitting between Liz and Beth. If/Then is a long way from perfect—the choreography by Larry Keigwin in particular feels alarmingly clunky—but it’s definitely captivating at moments, thanks to some lovely songs and a deservedly acclaimed star.

If/Then is at the National Theatre through December 8. Running time is about two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets ($58 to $228) are available via the National Theatre’s website.

Posted at 11:58 AM/ET, 11/26/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The “Cosby Show” alum, starring in Arena Stage’s upcoming adaptation of the 1967 film, talks theater, his cultural heritage, and following in the footsteps of Sidney Poitier. By Sophie Gilbert
Tess Malis Kincaid as Christina Drayton, Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Dr. John Prentice, and Tom Key as Matt Drayton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Arena Stage. Photograph by Tony Powell.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner once told National Geographic that what got him his role as Theo on The Cosby Show was his ability to take direction. It’s a skill he’s been using a lot during rehearsals for Arena Stage’s upcoming production of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, a new theatrical adaptation of the 1967 movie that starred Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy. Warner plays Poitier’s character, John, a doctor who arrives to meet the parents of his white fiancée and is obliged to deal with the fallout over their interracial relationship from both sides of the family.

The adaptation by Todd Kriedler (based on the original screenplay by William Rose) was first staged in a 2012 production at Atlanta’s True Colors Theatre directed by Broadway and television regular Kenny Leon. While some of the original cast members remain, Warner is a newcomer to the show, along with director David Esbjornson. We talked with Warner about reinventing a classic 50 years after it first reached audiences, returning to theater, and how his cultural heritage helped him prepare for the role.

When did the opportunity of being in this show come up, and what appealed to you about it?

It was a couple of months ago, back when Kenny Leon was still involved, and it was one of those situations where there really isn’t a whole lot to think about. It’s kind of like, Yeah, sure, I’ll read the script first but I’m probably going to say yes anyway. It’s a great opportunity to take this classic movie and reprise it onstage, and of course having grown up with and been so inspired by Sidney Poitier, it’s an honor to be able to do a role of his.

In the film your character, John, is pretty much beyond reproach—he’s this amazing ideal of a man. Is he the same way in the play?

I think those attributes still remain in terms of his accomplishments as a doctor. But we also have an opportunity [to do more], because the racial climate when the movie came out meant there was only so far they could take it, and they had to tread lightly with the subject matter. Though we’re not making it a heavy story, exactly, we do have the opportunity to deal with the seriousness of the issue and the seriousness of everyone’s reactions to it. With my character in particular there’s the chance to go a little deeper into his life and his relationship with his father, so there’s another dimension to it. Here’s this guy with all these accomplishments, but his parents’ approval is still very important to him. There’s a great dynamic that we get to deal with in his having to stand up to his father in terms of the personal decisions he makes, and there’s a great emotional journey we get to take with the character that we didn’t get to see in the movie.

Fifty years ago, when this movie came out, the culture was obviously enormously different. Have you talked together as a cast about how you not necessarily keep it from being dated, but how you can make it connect with contemporary audiences?

I think what makes it more compelling is the fact that we’re not treading lightly with the material or the subject matter. Though the humor and the wit is still there because it’s in the script, we’re not playing anything for comedy.

Then again, 50 years ago people probably would have hoped we’d be a lot further along than we are now.

Definitely. We still live in a world where people claim to be liberals, but then when they come face to face with something it turns out they’re not as liberal as they purported to be.

What’s it like being back in the theater world?

I love it. Theater is definitely my favorite platform. Television is definitely my favorite paycheck, however. But the concept of being able to actually spend time developing a character with the same actors, and to have a couple of weeks together on the floor—there’s a certain texture that happens that you can’t find written on the page, or in the way sitcoms are shot with one day of rehearsal.

When was the last time you did theater?

About six years ago. I started out in theater. I think every actor worth his salt revisits theater every few years.

What have you taken from the rehearsal process so far?

Some of the cast did the production in Atlanta, but because David [Esbjornson] has come in, he’s coming at it with a very different approach from the movie and from the earlier stage production of the play. Even for cast members who’ve done the show, there’s a deprogramming to do to work with this new interpretation.

Did you do anything in particular to prepare for your role?

Of course I’ve watched the movie again, and I’m watching different movies from that time period in the ‘60s, and listening to music, and doing some research in terms of reading. The ’60s are really a period that I’ve spent my life reading about. My father named me after Malcolm X and Ahmad Jamal, and from six, seven years old he was making me read about Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Marian Anderson, because he wanted me to have a real sense of my history and where I came from. So the ’60s are a very familiar period for me.

You talked a little bit about David Esbjornson coming in and taking over from Kenny Leon. Was that disruptive at all?

It’s not disruptive so much as it’s exciting. On the one hand, the cast who’ve done the show before have a slight advantage, but with David’s different take, everyone’s at square one. It’s really evened out the playing field.

How are you liking being in Washington?

It’s great, but I see the theater, my apartment, Safeway, Whole Foods, and Target. That’s the extent of my Washington visit so far. But my band has played here several times, and I have friends here, so I’ve hung out in the city before.

What’s next for you after this?

I’m in the middle of finishing up this third CD with my band, so between this show and the music I’m pretty focused. Then, when I finish up here it’s back to LA for the pilot-season grind.

What do you hope people take away from the show?

I think people who are familiar with the movie are going to be pleasantly surprised with the depths to which David’s taken it. I think people will definitely be able to relate to the concept of a liberal being forced to face how they may not be that liberal after all. I think the play still speaks to that issue.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is at Arena Stage November 29 through January 5. Tickets ($55 and up) are available via Arena’s website.

Posted at 12:10 PM/ET, 11/20/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Watch the first ever cast-orchestra rehearsal of the world premiere show, currently in previews at the National Theatre. By Sophie Gilbert
Idina Menzel in rehearsal for If/Then. Photograph by Matthew Murphy.

It might sound like an uncomfortable medical checkup, but a “sitzprobe” is actually a defining moment in the life of a new musical—it’s when the composers, cast, and orchestra come together to perform the work together in its entirety for the first time.

On October 31, the crew behind If/Then got together at the National Theatre for the musical’s sitzprobe, and the event was captured on video (see below). The world premiere show is currently having its first run of previews at the National Theatre before it heads to Broadway next year, and stars Tony winner Idina Menzel of Rent and Wicked fame as a 40-year-old city planner who moves to New York for a new adventure. If/Then has book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, who last collaborated on the Tony-winning musical Next to Normal. (That show was directed by Michael Greif, who’s also directing If/Then, and who directed Menzel when she originated the role of Maureen in Rent.)

If/Then also stars Rent’s Anthony Rapp as Lucas, The Color Purple’s LaChanze as Kate, and James Snyder as Josh. Tickets ($53 and up) are available via the National Theatre’s website.

Posted at 01:51 PM/ET, 11/12/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
News, reviews, and other highlights. By Sophie Gilbert
Ines Nassara in Crossing, playing at Signature Theatre through November 24.

OPENING THIS MONTH

Through November 24, Signature Theatre presents The Crossing, the world premiere of a new musical by Matt Conner (The Hollow) and Grace Barnes, who also collaborated on 2006’s Nevermore. Eric Schaeffer directs.

Also through November 24, Washington Stage Guild presents Inventing Van Gogh, a fusion of theater and art by Steven Dietz that imagines a painter asked to forge a work by van Gogh who’s then confronted by the artist himself.

November 4 through December 1, Woolly Mammoth stages the local premiere of Appropriate, Washington-born playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkin’s acclaimed play about a family returning to a dusty plantation in Arkansas.

November 5 through December 8, the National Theatre hosts the pre-Broadway premiere of If/Then, a musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt starring Idina Menzel (Wicked) as a 40-year-old woman who moves to New York for a fresh start.

November 7 through 23, Pinky Swear Productions presents Bondage, David Henry Hwang’s play about the relationship between a Los Angeles dominatrix and her client.

November 9 through 24, Shakespeare Theatre hosts Mies Julie, Yael Farber’s 2012 adaptation of the Strindberg play set in post-apartheid South Africa. Farber directs.

November 13 through December 29, Studio Theatre stages the first two plays in Richard Nelson’s quartet about the Apples: That Hopey Changey Thing, set on the eve of the midterm election during Obama’s first term, and Sweet and Sad, about the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

November 14 through December 29, Olney Theatre stages The King and I, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical about the King of Siam and his relationship with a British schoolteacher.

November 15 through December 29, Maurice Hines returns to Arena Stage in Tappin’ Thru Life, a show recounting his and his brother Gregory’s life in dance. The show features the Manzari Brothers, whom Hines discovered while he was auditioning for his last Arena Show, Sophisticated Ladies.

Opening November 21 at Shakespeare Theatre is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning 1966 musical farce set in ancient Rome.

Through December 15, Theater Alliance stages White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, an experimental play featuring a different actor for each performance.

Read More

Posted at 10:34 AM/ET, 11/07/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The company can return to its National Historic Site thanks to a $25,000 donation from Ronald Perelman. By Sophie Gilbert
Ford’s Theatre reopens Wednesday thanks to a donation from Ronald Perelman. Photograph by Flickr user ttarasiuk.

Ford’s Theatre, whose production of acclaimed documentary theater work The Laramie Project fell victim to the government shutdown when the company was booted from its performance space, will be allowed to return to the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site starting tomorrow. The agreement is thanks to a $25,000 donation from billionaire businessman Ronald Perelman.

Although Ford’s Theatre Society is a privately funded nonprofit institution, it shares the use of the Ford’s Theatre site with the National Park Service. The theater is designated as a National Historic Site because President Lincoln was shot there by actor John Wilkes Booth in 1865. During the last government shutdown Ford’s was able to continue hosting performances at the site, but the company was informed that the space would be closed on the day The Laramie Project was supposed to have its opening-night performance.

The company hosted a performance for press in the Woolly Mammoth Theatre rehearsal space and a handful of subsequent shows at the First Congregational United Church of Christ. Reports estimated that the move would cost Ford’s Theatre around $100,000 a week in lost ticket revenue. The show was devised by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project in 2000, and delves into the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard and how it affected the small town of Laramie, Wyoming.

Paul Tetreault, the director of Ford’s Theatre Society, met with officials from the National Park Service this weekend and discussed whether the society might be able to use the Ford’s Theatre space if it paid for the operation of the site itself. Similar maneuvers have been made by states to allow national parks to open in Utah, Colorado, New York, and Arizona.

Perelman, who is estimated by Forbes to be America’s 26th richest individual, is chairman and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, as well as founding sponsor of Ford’s Theatre’s Lincoln Legacy Project, an initiative that aims to foster tolerance and civil communication. His personal wealth is estimated at upward of $12 billion.

Ford’s Theatre will present The Laramie Project through October 27. Tickets for all performances are $25. Read our review of the production here.

Posted at 03:13 PM/ET, 10/15/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
He says his new play is “about living somewhere where your community is your entire world.” By Sophie Gilbert

Photograph of Colaizzo courtesy of Signature Theatre.

Paul Downs Colaizzo was an unknown 26-year-old when his Really Really debuted at Signature Theatre last year, becoming one of the most successful shows in Signature’s history. (The uncomfortably accurate portrait of an entitled group of college students later opened off-Broadway in a production starring Zosia Mamet of HBO’s Girls.) His new play, Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill, premieres at Signature October 15 through December 8, starring Christine Lahti and directed by Michael Kahn. Here’s a conversation with Colaizzo.

How would you describe the new play? It’s a family drama, and it explores pride and shame and the veneer of life in the suburbs, although stylistically it’s still funny and dark. I had to write a description of it once—it was very labored but said, “In a gated community where having fat daughters can discredit an entire family, one woman is confronted with the cracks in her family’s foundation.” It’s about living somewhere where your community is your entire world.

What was the inspiration? I grew up all over, and the last place I lived before going to college was Alpharetta, Georgia. There was a neighborhood called the Falls of Autry Mill, and it just sounded like a woman falling down, so that was the jumping-off point. The South has a way of worshipping appearances—the suburbs are all about presentation and amazing flowers and a beautiful yard and dinner parties that impress people and having the Christmas lights just right.

And Michael Kahn is directing? That man is so smart. In our first meeting, he’d basically memorized the play, and he had such insight into the characters and was so collaborative and patient with me through the auditions. The word of mouth is that he’s one of the greats, and I’m certainly experiencing that.

How did the success of Really Really affect you? Well, I can eat, and I wasn’t always able to before, so that’s a nice change. I’m in LA right now working on TV projects, so more doors have opened, but I’m trying to keep my feet in theater because that’s what I love first.

Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill. Oct. 15 to Dec. 8 at Signature Theatre. Tickets ($40 to $94) at signature-theatre.org.

This article appears in the October 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 10/14/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Shakespeare Theatre feted the “Downton Abbey” star at Sunday night’s fundraiser. By Sophie Gilbert
Honoree Elizabeth McGovern with Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn. Photograph by Margot Schulman.

It might be stretching things a little to say that the government shutdown is making Washington nostalgic for the simpler days of Queen and country, but the mood sure was pro-Britain at last night’s Harman Center for the Arts Gala. The honoree: Elizabeth McGovern, a.k.a. Downton Abbey’s Lady Cora. The emcee: plummy-voiced actor Edward Hibbert. The closing act: Beatles tribute band 1964. The post performance dinner menu: saddle of lamb, Yorkshire pudding, and a trio of desserts including spotted dick (yes, really).

McGovern might be best known these days for starring in the hit British show about a family of landed gentry in the early 20th century, but before she set sail for England just like her aristocratic character she studied classical acting at Juilliard under none other than Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn. “He was one of my teachers, one of my favorites, and I’m not just saying that,” she said. (Kahn himself was recently given the title of honorary commander of the British Empire for his services to the arts by Queen Elizabeth.)

Each year, Shakespeare Theatre celebrates one outstanding performer at its annual gala, awarding him or her the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre in a performance that also cuts a broad swathe across the performing arts. Last night’s event featured standout acts such as 12-year-old cellist Sujari Britt playing Edward Elgar; Joffrey Ballet soloists Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani performing an astonishing pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain; and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato singing an aria from Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda followed by “Danny Boy,” in honor of the Irish heritage she shares with McGovern.

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Posted at 02:33 PM/ET, 10/07/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()