My Top Ten Shows of 2015

2015 was another great year for theatre in DC, on Broadway, and in the West End. Here is a recap of my favorite shows from this past year.

McLean Community Players’ Production of 13
My first choice is totally biased since this is also the first show I ever produced. I couldn’t imagine how much the show, the cast, and the creative team would come to mean to me. Plus, I had the chance to produce a show by one of my favorite composers, Jason Robert Brown, and that was incredible. Even more incredible, was the time I got to talk to him about it and create this video! The show was so much fun and well-received, and now, I’m producing another show this year!

Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage
Another two of my favorite composers are Pasek & Paul, so the moment I heard they would be working on their next original musical in DC, I was excited. I had no clue what to expect when I saw the first preview, but the result was beautiful. The cast was amazing, and the music was funny, honest, and heartfelt. The script tied the whole thing together. Seeing the show develop in DC is one of my best theatre experiences ever, and I can’t wait to see what’s changed during the show’s upcoming Second Stage run.

MTC’s Parade in concert at the Lincoln Center
Did I mention I love the work of Jason Robert Brown? Well, when I heard his first Tony Award Winning show would be made into a one night only all-star concert in one of the world’s best venues, I knew I had to be there. Seeing him conduct the show was incredible, and with a cast led by Jeremy Jordan and Laura Benanti, the music has never sounded so good. The show touches on a real, heartbreaking event, and yet, I would still go back to see the show anytime I have the chance.

Hamilton on Broadway
Many people may be shocked that this is the fourth show on my list. I was incredibly impressed yet again by the innovative work of Lin Manuel Miranda. It’s fourth simply because it’s not my favorite of what I saw, and I have been blessed to see a lot of shows. I love that this show has introduced so many people all over the world to theatre and reinvented what musical theatre music can be. Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and I hope he creates many more shows for us to enjoy.

West Side Story at Signature Theatre
I had a feeling that Signature’s production of West Side Story would be nothing less than brilliant, and I was right. The music and story have been performed for over 50 years because they’re beautiful, and the way Signature transformed their small theatre space, incorporated multiple choreographers’ expertise and utilized local and NY talent is superb. I am always excited to see a show directed by Matthew Gardiner, and his choices with this production were brilliant. I’d say go see it since it’s still running, but the run (and extension) are sold out.

Brooklynite at Vineyard Theatre
Initially, I was going to see this show because Matt Doyle would be the star, and anytime I can hear him sing, I must go. However, this show’s entire cast was quite memorable, and I am still wishing for a CD so that I could hear the fun, inspiring music again. The show was overall lighthearted, and I hope it continues to be produced.

Cabaret at Signature Theatre
In the previous season, I knew Cabaret was going to be the show for Signature that year. Then, they cast Barret Wilbert Reed and Wesley Taylor, and a whole lot of other people knew too. Matthew Gardiner directed and choreographed the show, and he even took the direction in a slightly different direction than I’d seen at other incarnations of the musical. The cast was all finely selected, and the intimate space made the whole production feel a little more like it could be in 1930s Berlin.

Deaf West’s Spring Awakening on Broadway
Spring Awakening is a show that has been near and dear to my heart since I first saw it just before it closed on Broadway in 2009. The show’s themes still resonate today, and the lyrics of the musical are truly poetry. When I heard Deaf West would be interpreting the show in L.A., I was so sad to miss it, so naturally, when it came to NYC, I got my ticket immediately. The sign language adds another element to the show’s narrative in a brilliant way, and given that lack of honest, open communication is central to the storyline, the incorporation of another language to make the show understandable to even more people fits incredibly well.

Fun Home on Broadway
I’ve never seen a musical quite like Fun Home. The music wasn’t exactly something you’d leave humming, but it was something you’d want to listen to over and over. The cast told the story sincerely, and the three actresses playing the lead character were phenomenal (along with everyone in the show). It’s not your typical family story, but I think it’s relatable because it’s much more real.

The King and I at the Lincoln Center
Honestly, The King and I has never been a favorite of mine, but this production was too good to not love it. The set and costumes were stunning. The cast was lovely and oh so talented. I must mention that while I did not see Kelly O’Hara in her Tony Award Winning performance, I was thrilled to see Betsy Morgan, who I have had the chance to see on stage several times in the past. Her stage presence is wonderful, and when she sings, you can’t help but root for her. No matter who you see in this production, the show is so well put together, that you will enjoy every moment of it.

Advertisements

Seize the Day

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of seeing Newsies at the National Theatre. Not only did it remind me how much I loved the show on Broadway, but the message of “seizing the day” resonated more than ever. So, while summer in the DC area is full of activities, I recommend you don’t delay and see a show (or several)! Here are a few recommendations:

  • Cabaret at Signature Theatre (running through June 28) ~ Tickets are scarce, so act fast if you want to see this stellar musical!
  • The Good Counselor, a drama, is an intriguing play running at 1st Stage through June 28 – Don’t forget that 1st Stage is now a short walk away from the Spring Hill Metro Station!
  • Capital Fringe’s Summer Fringe Festival 2015 features a variety of new work at several DC locations in July ~ Plus, if you like to fit this in with other shows, performance times vary, many allowing for multiple shows in one night!
  • The Sizzlin’ Summer Cabarets series at Signature Theatre offers a variety of shows in July that likely has something for everyone’s tastes ~ I highly recommend the Revenge of the Understudies Cabaret that features Signature’s understudies from the 2014-2015 season!
  • Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage (July 10 – August 23) ~ This world premiere Pasek & Paul musical boasts a fantastic cast, featuring many Broadway actors.
  • Keegan Theatre reopens on a high note with productions of Cat in a Hot Tin Roof and Dogfight this summer, and personally, I can’t wait to check out their new facility!

This list barely touches on the theatre opportunities in the DC area this summer. Visit theatreWashington.org for a more complete list!

Top Theatrical Experiences in 2014

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s the time of year again for reflection. One of the things that means the most to me year after year is the theatre I see. This year was exceptional. I struggled to come up with my top ten theatrical experiences of the year because I was fortunate enough to see many great shows in London, New York City and the DC area. Here are my favorites:

Miss Saigon – West End

I had been eager to see Miss Saigon in the West End since the original run. My parents still argue I was too young when the opportunity originally arose (but I continue to disagree). However, it was worth the wait to be able to see this production with fresh eyes. The cast is incredible. The beautiful music remains (with some slight alterations), and I thought the set was brilliant. It’s a must-see if you are in London.

Les Miserables – West End

There is nothing like seeing my favorite show on the West End, and nothing beats the original incarnation of this masterpiece. I was particularly thrilled to see a John Valjean I know from the States, Peter Lockyer, the last two times I caught the show abroad. I find that anyone who plays Jean Valjean then steps away and comes back to the role has a perspective that can only be gained with time. The whole London ensemble is phenomenal, and the experience of this now-classic musical is a grand event worth repeating.

Les Miserables – Broadway

Surprisingly, I had never seen Les Mis on Broadway until previews began this past March. I was lucky to have a front row seat to the first performance of the new revival, and the energy of the audience that night was like nothing I had never experienced before at the theatre. Ramin Karimloo was an outstanding choice to lead the cast, and I’m fairly positive Jean Valjean has never looked so sexy (sorry Hugh Jackman!). I hope to be able to return to this production very soon.

Side Show – Kennedy Center (DC) and Broadway

Before Side Show made its return to Broadway, it had a run this past summer at the Kennedy Center in DC. To say I saw it a few times would be an understatement. I think many of us can relate to a show that highlights our inner needs of acceptance and love as well as a sense of belonging. If the end of Act 1 doesn’t hook you, the 11 o’clock duet by the fantastic Emily Padgett and Erin Davie will. I am thankful to have seen this show again when it hit the Great White Way, and I will be sorry to “say goodbye to the Side Show” in only a few days.

Jason Robert Brown’s Artist-in-Residence Launch Concert – SubCulture, New York City

Considering that this special one-night-only concert featured songs and original cast members from all of Jason Robert Brown’s shows, I am counting it amongst this group. This concert was one of the best I’ve ever been to, but this is coming from a longtime, dedicated JRB fan who wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in NYC when this concert was going on. The show JRB personally curated included songs from The Last Five Years, 13, Urban Cowboy, The Bridges of Madison County, Honeymoon in Vegas, Parade and Songs of a New World.

Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse, London

Sadly, I missed Dogfight’s premiere in New York City, but I was overjoyed to learn that I would be able to catch its London premiere just before it closed this past September. I’d seen a show earlier this year for the first time at Southwark Playhouse, and Southwark Playhouse is quickly becoming one of my favorite theatres to visit when in London. This intimate venue produced an excellent cast and presented an unforgettable, touching production of Dogfight. The performance has stayed with me for the past few months, and I sincerely hope that I can see another production of this poignant Pasek and Paul musical soon (though I wonder if anything will top the Southwark Playhouse production).

Urinetown – St. James Theatre, London

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I got a ticket to see Urinetown in London. I had heard of the show, but to be honest, the name did not make the show sound appealing to me. This dark musical comedy won me over rather quickly between its gifted cast, intriguing story, awesome set and amusing music. I was not surprised when the show received a West End transfer, and my only regret is that I could not make it back to London to catch it on the West End as well.

Here Lies Love – Public Theatre, New York City

For one reason or another, I kept putting off seeing Here Lies Love in New York. I didn’t know what (or who) the show was about, so while I continually heard how good it was, it took a while for the feedback to resonate. This intimate, hands-on musical was one of the most interesting, original theatrical experiences of my life so far. The music is catchy and moving, and the true story the show is based on is compelling to watch. Although this show will be missed in the city, it’s wonderful that Here Lies Love has had a life beyond its original run at the Public.

Ordinary Days – Round House Theatre, Bethesda, MD

I first learned of Ordinary Days through a special concert at Signature Theatre, and after relating heavily to some of the characters as I completed graduate school (and worked full-time), I could not wait for the chance to finally see the show. Round House’s production did not disappoint as the musical was cast superbly, and Matthew Gardiner’s direction was ideal (as usual). Even though this musical captures the feelings of four characters during a specific moment in time, the message continues to ring true.

Gypsy/Sunday in the Park with George – Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA

This list would be incomplete without a Signature Theatre musical. I am highlighting two Signature shows since I saw both this year, but Gypsy opened in 2013 technically. Nonetheless, Signature’s amazing production of Gypsy, starring the sensational Maria Rizzo and Sherri L. Edelen as Gypsy Rose Lee and Momma Rose respectively, has stayed with me all this time. Likewise, Sunday in the Park with George was a stunning show to kick-off the theatre’s 2014-2015 season. Though all of the elements of the show came together spectacularly, for me, the best part was the two leads, Claybourne Elder (George) and Brynn O’Malley (Dot). Plus, I suspect any art lover, like myself, will appreciate Sunday’s music and meaning.

I am thrilled to see what 2015 brings. Happy New Year!

The Lullaby of Broadway

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fun fact: I am making my producing debut in 2015. I am in the progress of co-producing 13, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, with the McLean Community Players (MCP). The show runs January 30 – February 15, 2015, and in the meantime, I’m busy with rehearsals. So far, the process has been a lot of fun, and I’m learning just how much some kids love musical theatre, particularly the awesome teenagers I’m working with.

At any given time, the DC area theatre scene undoubtedly offers family-friendly musicals, and this fall and winter, there are plenty of big hits coming to town. Here are a few I’d recommend:

If you have kids, perhaps they’d like to see a musical this coming holiday season!

Gotta Find Their Corner of the Sky

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Until working on casting a musical featuring children last week, I didn’t realize how many parents (and children) were struggling to find ways to participate in live theatre. Personally, I do not know of a one-stop-shop that can tell you about every show children can be involved with in a given area. While in this area, I only have knowledge about the DC area, I thought I’d share what I do know.

First of all, there are many opportunities for children in the DC area to get involved by performing in a show. There are 84 professional theatre, and they are all listed on theatreWashington’s Theater Directory. By visiting each theatre’s website, you can find out what’s coming up in their season and how to visit and contact each theatre. Additionally, there is a list of 33 community theatres in the DC area listed on the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (WATCH) website. Likewise, if you visit these groups’ websites, you can learn about upcoming performance opportunities that may be suitable for children.

Additionally, there are many educational opportunities for children interested in expanding their performing skills at local theatres, including Signature Theatre, Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Creative Cauldron, Round House Theatre, Studio Theatre, The Theatre Lab, Adventure Theatre, and Imagination Stage. When I was younger, I attended the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts (BAPA), renamed as Imagination Stage in 2001. Also, there are other performing arts camps available in the DC area in the summer and organizations or individuals that offer year-round acting, singing and dance classes. You may have to do a little research, but thankfully, the DC area is full of arts education opportunities.

The Heat Is On In the West End

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

London’s West End provides some of the greatest theatre in the world, and Cameron Mackintosh knows the way to my heart since he is the producer behind my top two shows in London’s West End at the moment: Miss Saigon and Les Miserables. I was particularly eager for my latest London holiday because I would finally be seeing Miss Saigon in London!

Miss Saigon did not disappoint. Eva Noblezada was the perfect choice for Kim. She’s young and ferociously talented. Her performance brought me to tears throughout the entire show.

Meanwhile, I had a gut feeling that Cameron Mackintosh would cast a past Marius (in Les Miserables) as Chris, and his choice could not have been better. I saw Alistair Brammer in Les Miserables and War Horse previously, and while those performances were wonderful, his performance as Chris takes his career to the next level. His voice sounds stunning during “Why God Why”.

Then, there’s Hugh Maynard, who takes the powerful Act 2 opener, “Bui Doi” to new heights. His beautiful voice ensures this song will be a hit with the audience at every show. I cannot wait to gets my hands on the new album and listen to this song repeatedly.

The rest of the cast was well selected too. Rachelle Ann Go gives a standout performance as Gigi, as does Kwang-Ho Hong as Thuy. The entire ensemble helps the harsh circumstances at the end of the Vietnam War hit home during “Kim’s Nightmare”, my favorite part of the show.

Beyond the cast, Miss Saigon boasts an elaborate set, a grand orchestra, intense lighting and sound effects, and an epic score. The story is so momentous that it’s no surprise this musical attracts tourists from all over the world. I will definitely be back the next time I’m in London.

Another performance I loved in London? Les Miserables. I’ve the seen the show over 70 times, and the West End performances hold a special place in my heart. The current Jean Valjean, Peter Lockyer, performed in the US tour recently as well, so after catching two shows in London, I’ve seen him 19 times in the role. His performance is one of the best I’ve seen. Notably, Jean Valjeans who have returned to the role after involvement in previous or other productions seem to bring a deeper understanding to the character. Other top Jean Valjean performances I’ve seen include Les Mis veterans J. Mark McVey and Ramin Karimloo, who is currently starring in the role on Broadway. I love seeing debuts in Les Miserables in the West End, and the current cast features many West End debuts. Rob Houchen, the Marius in the current West End cast is superb, and I love Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Eponine (she made her adult performance debut in Les Miserables after starring in several productions when she was younger).

Moreover, the crowds adore Les Mis in London, and the show continually sells out despite almost 30 years on the West End. Amazing! There’s noting like listening to “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in the magnificent Queen’s Theatre to make your day a little more magical. If you’ve never seen Les Mis in the West End, you’re missing out on an incredible performance.

Take Me Back

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Over many years, I’ve learned about the diversity of London theatre. Most theatregoers are aware of the wonderful productions gracing the West End theatre scene. However, there’s an abundance of other theatres making up the Off West End theatre scene that often provide more intimate and immersive productions.

For me, my education of this facet of the London theatre scene began in 2008 when I took a theatre class while studying in London. With my theatre class, I would attend one show a week that could be anywhere from a West End stage, the National Theatre, or a meat locker on the outskirts of London. I never knew a show could be performed in any sort of room prior to this class, and the more cozy, site-specific shows are the ones that have stayed with me most in the years since I took this class.

During my holidays in London since 2008, I have slowly been making my way to some incredible Off West End theatres, including:

A few years back, I caught Anthony Rapp’s incredible one-man show, Without You, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and it was such a touching treat. In March, I saw one of my theatrical idols, Frances Ruffelle, on stage at the Southwark Playhouse, and her voice is just as epic live as I imagined. Earlier this year, I also had the pleasure of seeing Urinetown at the St. James Theatre. It begins previews in a few days on the West End, and I encourage all who can to see it. The dark comedy boasts an amazing cast that will make you want to see it again and again.

A couple weeks ago in London, I returned to the Southwark Playhouse to see Dogfight, a show I had sadly missed in NYC despite my love for all music by Pasek and Paul. I had high expectations and yet was blown away with the cast and creative team. The simple set and small orchestra suited the show’s tough topics. The story was both heartbreaking and heartwarming, featuring a great balance of romance, humor, darkness, and lightheartedness. Knowing the styles of the actors who created the roles in NYC, I could see how they left their touches on the characters they created, but the actors in this production did a good job of making the characters their own. I would have seen it again if I could have, but the show was closing the week I saw it and I was short on time. I sincerely hope there are many more productions of Dogfight that I can see in the future. According to MTI, Keegan Theatre in DC is scheduled to do the show in the spring, so I am crossing my fingers that their renovations will be finished in time!

Additionally, I visited the Donmar Warehouse for the first time recently to see My Night with Reg. The play had a unique take on the time when HIV/AIDS was disrupting the gay community. I was amazed by the talented actors, fitting set, and awesome sound design, but my favorite part of the experience was the theatre itself. It’s a very small space with cushioned benches for seats, and you are never that far away from the action. Moreover, the theatre is conveniently located near Covent Garden. I hope to return soon.

There is so much more to the London theatre scene than just the West End. If you are in London or have the opportunity to visit, please check out one of the many marvelous Off West End theatres.

Children and Art

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I am completely amazed and overjoyed that Iain Morton has generated such a commotion online and offline for his wonderful “critiques” of shows in NYC and in the DC area. As an active theatregoer in the DC area, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Iain. He really is as charming as he seems in his videos.

By the way, in case you’ve missed Iain’s reviews, here’s my personal favorite:

Iain has been fortunate to be exposed to the arts, particularly theatre, at such a young age. What I love about his reviews is that they highlight the importance of arts education and instilling the value of art in children. Each “critique” demonstrates a greater understanding of theatre. I wish I could have been lucky enough to see as many shows as Iain on and off Broadway by the time I was his age.

Nonetheless, although I was not exposed to the arts at the same extent as Iain by his age, I was very fortunate to have parents that took me to shows and introduced me to several cast albums and art classes over the years. Had it not been for their support and desire to further my arts education, I would not be the theatre concierge that I am today. In an age where schools are cutting arts programs left and right, I think it’s more important than ever to highlight the significance of arts education. Several reports and studies have been published emphasizing the importance of arts education on development and achievement in addition to the pure joy the arts can bring to lives. Here is one report I referenced in graduate school about re-investing in arts education.

With that said, parents, please take your children to a show! It’s the perfect indoor activity to distract them for a few hours, especially on a rainy day. Here are a few shows coming up in the DC area that may be of interest to younger audiences:

Let’s Go to London

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Not long from now, I will be going on holiday in London. While there, of course, I will enjoy as much of the West End theatre scene as I can.

Here’s what’s on my itinerary:

When I Grow Up

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Many people are unaware that Washington, DC is a theatre town. As a theatre town, there is more to its theatre scene than big performing arts centers, like The Kennedy Center and Arena Stage, or Tony Award-Winning theatres, like Shakespeare Theatre or Signature Theatre. While many people may have also heard of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, recognized for producing contemporary new plays that sometimes go on to Broadway, or the National Theatre, known for presenting major touring musicals, most have not heard of our area’s smaller professional theatres. There are many, many options, all listed on theatreWashington’s website, but of these, two have come to mean a lot to me: Keegan Theatre and 1st Stage.

Since discovering 1st Stage and Keegan Theatre in the DC area, I have been spreading the word about these two small theatres producing ambitious plays and musicals that take advantage of their intimate spaces. 1st Stage is located in a strip mall in Tysons, Virginia, and Keegan Theatre is located off of Church Street near DuPont Circle. Although you could walk or drive by both theatres and not even realize they are there, both have been making a splash on the DC theatre scene for some time, earning many Helen Hayes Awards nominations and winning several Helen Hayes Awards over the years.

Keegan Theatre began nearly two decades ago. My first performance there was Working in 2011, and since then, I have been back for every show I could catch. In 2013, Keegan’s stunning production of Cabaret ignited my love for the musical and the careers two young actors in the DC area, Paul Scanlan and Maria Rizzo, who thankfully I had seen in previous shows and initially had attended a performance to see their takes on the famous roles of the Emcee and Sally Bowles respectively. Meanwhile, this past spring, Keegan’s daring, sold-out production of Hair may win several Helen Hayes Awards next year. Because of the theatre’s success, Keegan now owns the building that houses their theatre, which is under renovation to make the accommodations more comfortable, useful and accessible. As soon as this theatre is ready to produce its next season, I’ll be there.

1st Stage is newer to the DC theatre scene as it is less than a decade old. Nonetheless, the theatre is amidst some exciting changes, with the opening of a Silver Line metro station down the street from the theatre and the start of a new Artistic Director, Alex Levy. I first learned this theatre existed (only five minutes from where I live) in 2012 when I saw Flora the Red Menace. I was incredibly impressed by the talent I saw on stage, particularly that of the lead, Dani Stoller, backed by strong off stage support. Since then, like with Keegan, I have seen every show I could there. The past two holiday shows have garnered great success for the theatre: Altar Boyz and Noises Off. This fall, the theatre embarks on a bold season, featuring Take Me Out, One Man, Two Guvnors, Doubt, a Parable, Old Wicked Songs, and The Good Counselor. I recommend you get your tickets to their forthcoming season early, especially if you want to see the comedy coming to the theatre over the holidays, One Man, Two Guvnors.

Both of these theatres have been making an impact on the DC theatre scene since their founding. I look forward to seeing how Keegan Theatre and 1st Stage evolve as they “grow up”.