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New and Noteworthy


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CurtainUp/DC/ New & Noteworthy, October 2014 by Susan Davidson

Washington is awash with world premieres this season. Why? hard to tell. Less expensive to work out the kinks some 200 miles south of New York City possibly or is Washington one of the few places left where season subscribers can more or less guarantee a “captive” audience.

The Little Dancer, starring Vanessa Hudgens, begins performances at the Kennedy Center (www.kennedy-center.org) in October but will not open formally until late November. Edgar Degas' sculpture of the young girl who overcame poverty as well as the advances of top-hatted gentlemen who hung around the Paris Opera Ballet has inspired this new, part fact, part fiction musical with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty with direction and choreography by Susan Stroman. The sculpture, a likeness of Marie Genevieve van Goethem, who has an upturned nose, braided hair and faded tutu, can be found at the National Gallery of Art. It's charming.

In 2015, prior to heading for Broadway, the Kennedy Center will present Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's romantic musical Gigi. Some old timers might remember well the play with Audrey Hepburn and/or the movie with Leslie Caron but playwright Heidi Thomas and director Eric Schaeffer are billing this musical version as re- envisioned.

Patrons of Theater J (www.washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/theater-j) will have to wait until January for its world premiere. Writer/director Aaron Posner who has taken a swipe at Anton Chekhov before, has derived a play based on Uncle Vanya that is titled Life Sucks (Or The Present Ridiculous). Meanwhile, the theater is producing Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, a DC premiere.

Another name that resonates among New York's contemporary playwrights, Chris Durang, will be represented at Washington's Arena Stage (www.arenastage.org) next spring by his hit Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, with Chekhov-obsessed Aaron Posner directing.

Also in the production pipeline are world premieres of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, by Washington resident Ken Ludwig; The Blood Quilt, a family comedy/drama by Katori Hall; and The Originalist, with Ed Gero as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, written by John Strand. (Gero, by the way, will not have to worry too much about changing his appearance for the role; he already resembles Scalia greatly.)

For those who like the tried and true, Arena is producing Fiddler on the Roof, now in its 50th year. All kinds of gimmicks accompany the production such as a contest for Arena to foot the bill for one lucky couple's wedding at the theater.

It's Woolly Mammoth's 35th season. The famously off-beat theater (www.woollymammoth.net) is bringing in the Old Trout Puppet Workshop's Famous Puppet Death Scenes in December, Lisa D'Amour's Cherokee in February and, in the spring, Lights Rise on Grace by Chad Bekim – yet another world premiere.

Bad Jews, Joshua Harmon's comedy that is one of the most widely produced plays around the country this season, will be at Studio Theatre (www.studiotheatre.org) in November. Serge Seiden directs. Choir Boy, set in a boys school, by Tarell Alvin McCraney, begins in the new year; and there are two world premieres — Rachel Bonds' The Wolfe Twins in October and Beth Henley's Laugh, in March.

When Studio opened its doors in 1978 the surrounding neighborhood was, to put it politely, dicey. Today, in large part to Studio's presence, it is one of the hippest parts of town. Out of towners who may not associate Washington with hipness will just have to take my word for it. Terrific restaurants, fun shops, million dollar apartments, Whole Foods and an energetic vibe define the area. But try to find a parking space! Fortunately, Studio, sensitive to its audience's needs, has finally cut a deal with a local hotel.

Hard to believe that the little theater that could is now celebrating its 25th anniversary season which opened with a very well received Sunday in the Park With George directed by Matthew Gardiner. Never wanting to shy away from a challenge Signature's season continues with several new shows, some world premieres, others new to Washington. Opening in October is an updated version of Elmer Gantry, adapted from Sinclair Lewis's novel about a charlatan who finds religion, something that has been known to happen in Washington. Eric Schaeffer directs. Then there's the DC premiere of Laura Eason's Sex With Strangers. Aaron Posner directs.

Sheryl Crow and Barry Levinson's adaptation of the movie Diner, set in Baltimore, Christmas, 1959, will have its world premiere at Signature, December 2014. It will be followed by world premieres early in 2015 of Kid Victory, with music by John Kander and book by Greg Pierce; Soon, with book, music and lyrics by Nick Blaemire, directed by Matthew Gardiner. Natascia Diaz who was stunning in The Threepenny Opera at Signature last season, heads the cast.

As for Shakespeare, the Folger (www.folger.edu) is doing Julius Caesar this fall while the Shakespeare Theatre (www.shakespearetheater.org) presents As You Like It, directed by the distinguished English director Michael Attenborough. Bringing the Forest of Arden to life, the theater has produced a podcast of actors reading Shakespeare's poetry while touring the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC. It's downloadable from www.shakespearetheatre.org/info/forest-of-arden. Following As You Like It is The Tempest. Later in the season, audiences can look forward to The Metromaniacs, a 1738 French farce translated and adapted by David Ives and directed by Michael Kahn.

Entrances and Exits . . .
Joe Colarco has joined Signature Theatre as Resident Director and Director of New Works, a title that means he will direct one or two shows per year as well as overseeing Signature's education program. No stranger to the Washington theater scene, Colarco's Washington directing credits include the mesmerizing world premiere of Norman Allen's Nijinsky's Last Dance and the production of one of the plays he has written, In the Absence of Spring.

Arts Manager par excellence Michael Kaiser who was President of the Kennedy Center from 2001 to 2014, has left the building to pursue one of his many other interests – overseeing young aspiring arts managers who are in the DeVos Institute of Arts Management program at the University of Maryland, in College Park. Taking Michael Kaiser's place, as of September 1, 2014, is Deborah Rutter whose last gig was leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

John Strand has been named Playwright-in-Residence at Arena Stage. Well-known and admired in DC for his writing and his adaptations, Strand is the author of The Originalist, a play about Justice Antonin Scalia, starring Ed Gero, which will have its world premiere at Arena later this season.

Tana Hicken who performed in 156 plays over the last 50 years, many of them in Washington, died recently at the age of 70. Studio Theatre's founding mother Joy Zinoman and several actors who had worked with the feisty and often eccentric Ms. Hicken assembled at Studio for a very loving tribute to their friend and colleague. The program included the following lines written by Ms. Hicken:

Fear overcome
Physically purposeful
Telling the story - a
Quarter with actor
Audience, story writer
And the world of the play. Hearing
The quiet of focus
A harmony-
We actors pipe the
Audience and each
Other into that world
Come & step outside yourself
We say – be one with
Another world.

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©Copyright 2014, Elyse Sommer.
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