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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.

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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 ()
Ford’s Theatre Society has to find a new space to perform its scheduled production of “The Laramie Project.” By Sophie Gilbert
Craig Wallace and the cast of the Ford’s Theatre production of The Laramie Project, directed by Matthew Gardiner. Photograph by Carol Rosegg.

Despite the fact that Ford's Theatre Society is a private institution, it's the latest casualty of the government shutdown. The company, which was scheduled to host its opening-night production of The Laramie Project in the historic theater tonight, has been informed that it won't be allowed to use the space while the shutdown continues.

Although the company is privately funded and maintained, it operates within the Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, which is managed by the National Park Service (all national parks and national park sites are currently closed). During previous government shutdowns, Ford's was able to go ahead with its performances as usual. Unfortunately, despite mixed messages it's received over the past few days, Ford's has now been made aware that it won't be able to use the theater space while the government is closed.

Tonight's opening night performance of The Laramie Project has been moved to Woolly Mammoth Theatre's rehearsal space, with no word yet on future performances. The show is timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man whose murder in 1998 shocked the country and led to new federal laws regarding hate crimes.

Devised by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, the show explores the reactions to and aftermath of Shepard's death, using a documentary theater approach to reenact courtroom testimony, other moments from the trial, and interviews with Shepard's friends and family. Ford's current production, directed by Signature Theatre's Matthew Gardiner, is part of the institution's Lincoln Legacy Project, an initiative that uses theater, educational programs, and other events to promote tolerance and respectful dialogue. 


Posted at 01:53 PM/ET, 10/01/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Nancy Robinette excels as the elderly revolutionary Vera in Amy Herzog’s intense family drama. By Missy Frederick
Nancy Robinette and Megan Anderson in After the Revolution. Photograph by Stan Barouh.

Theater J certainly has a gift for uniting the political with the personal, as seen in its engrossing season opener, After The Revolution

Amy Herzog’s play explores how the Joseph family’s dynamics interact with its history of political persecution. Emma Joseph (Megan Anderson) is the daughter of radical Marxists, though she’s the only member of her generation to have followed in her family’s politically active footsteps. Her passion is the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose treatment after being accused of shooting a Philadelphia police officer has been questioned by many civil-rights activists. 

She’s tied the case’s social justice implications to the treatment of her blacklisted grandfather during the era of McCarthyism, and raises funds for the cause. But when new information about her grandfather’s behavior comes to life—information her father, Ben (Peter Birkenhead), has kept secret for years—Emma has to deal with the implications it has on her career, her cause, her relationship with her family, and her personal life.

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Posted at 09:41 AM/ET, 09/13/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Harvey Fierstein’s 1980s drama is as moving as ever in Michael Kahn’s production. By Sophie Gilbert
Alex Mills, Todd Lawson, Brandon Uranowitz, and Sarah Grace Wilson in Torch Song Trilogy. Photograph by Teddy Wolff.

In Torch Song Trilogy, currently playing at Studio Theatre in a heartfelt production by Shakespeare Theatre’s Michael Kahn, it’s telling that protagonist Arnold’s drag queen persona sports a modest vintage dress and a 1940s, Andrews Sisters-style wig rather than sequins and size-12 platform heels. For all his brash stories and double entendres, Arnold, played impeccably by Brandon Uranowitz, is a true romantic at heart, and something of an anachronism in New York City’s pre-AIDS gay scene. He moons about his apartment, staring at a rotary phone that maddeningly refuses to ring, and in one terrifically funny scene, manages to form an unlikely emotional attachment to an anonymous guy who’s just manhandled him (and more) in the back room of a bar.

That bar shares a title (“The International Stud”) with the first act in Harvey Fierstein’s three-play trilogy, which won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Play and remains resolutely charming 30 years later. Bundled together, the three hour-long pieces trace Arnold’s evolution from a needy, angsty, wistful lost soul to a matriarchal tour de force, with enough heartbreak along the way to furnish a Dolly Parton record.

Kahn also manages to make each one quite distinct, theatrically: “Stud” is a series of monologues where Arnold regularly breaks the fourth wall; “Fugue in a Nursery” features conversations but is set entirely within the confines of a giant bed; and the last play, “Widows and Children First,” is set in Arnold’s home and is almost sitcom-like in its faux-naturalism.

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Posted at 03:10 PM/ET, 09/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Splashy technical effects and some strong performances can’t save this horribly dated show. By Sophie Gilbert
The cast of Miss Saigon, at Signature Theatre through September 29. Photograph by Christopher Mueller.

When it comes to aging gracefully, Miss Saigon appears to be less of the Château d’Yquem/Helen Mirren type and more of a Boones Farm/Joan Rivers varietal. Signature Theatre’s current production of the Claude-Michel Schönberg/Alain Boublil musical about a doomed love affair during the Vietnam War, loosely based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, begs the question: Why revive such a horrendously dated show?

The fact that it’s one of the most successful musicals of all time probably helps, as does Cameron Mackintosh’s upcoming West End revival in 2014. Alas, if Signature’s production is anything to go by, Miss Saigon is yet another add to the long list of ’80s relics best left alone. Director Eric Schaeffer has masterminded a technically elaborate, well-choreographed production, but he can’t make up for the show’s infantile lyrics, heavy-handed sentiment, and improbable plot, not to mention its Kenny G-esque saxophone solos and awkward racial stereotypes.

The most awkward of these is, of course, Kim (Diana Huey), the sweet, submissive Vietnamese orphan who’s forced into prostitution but ultimately ends up rescued by her first customer, Chris (Gannon O’Brien), an ethical young john who typically shuns Saigon’s seedy nightlife. Understudy O’Brien took over the role from Jason Michael Evans when the latter pulled a muscle in his throat shortly before press night, and does a fairly steady if uncharismatic job in the lead role. Huey, however, is very strong, elevating her flat courtesan into something more believable, and drawing on real emotion in songs like “Sun and Moon.”

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Posted at 02:25 PM/ET, 09/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The 2011 Pulitzer finalist discusses her critically acclaimed play about couples questioning their lifestyles, opening this week at Woolly Mammoth. By Sophie Gilbert
Photograph of D’Amour by Zack Smith.

Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, a Pulitzer finalist in 2011, comes to Woolly Mammoth September 9 through October 6, following a hit off-Broadway run. The play features two couples in an unspecified US city: white-collar professionals Mary and Ben—who has been laid off—and the more footloose Sharon and Kenny. Ultimately, the four collide in ways that shake their foundations. Here’s a conversation with D’Amour.

How did the idea for Detroit come about?

I wrote it in the summer of 2009, and a couple things came together. I’ve always had an obsession with two kinds of people, in this case two kinds of couples, who are drawn together at a certain point in their lives—part fate, part intuition. And underlying it was the fact that I was writing it during the economic crisis when a lot of people I knew were unemployed, as well as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I was raised in New Orleans, and I had many family members who had to redo their homes after the storm, so these ideas of destruction and rebirth were very much on my mind.

How did those ideas of reinvention and resilience feed into the play?

I think of Mary and Ben as people who’ve gone down a certain track without really questioning it—that middle-class path where you go to college, then get a steady job, then get married and have kids. It’s not necessarily a bad track to go down, but it’s almost like a pre-written script. They’re in denial about the fact that the life they’ve chosen isn’t a good fit, but they haven’t had time to imagine something different, so they’re escaping through different ways, whether it’s via the internet or via alcohol. They’re at a point where things could still be reinvented but someone needs to shake them into it, and this odd, not entirely functional relationship with Sharon and Kenny gives them the opportunity to rethink things.

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Posted at 10:15 AM/ET, 09/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()