Posts Tagged ‘DC entertainment’

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin: That’s All You Need to Know—Theatre

February 24, 2014

Mandy, Mandy, Mandy…What are you doing on “Homeland?”As my heart raced and then melted after he finished singing Some Enchanted Evening, I couldn’t help but think this. And this was just after the fourth number.An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” is everything you’d want from the two…but still you leave the theatre wanting to spend more time with them. The two have known each other since 1978 and it shows. It’s like they can read each other’s musical minds. With just a piano and bass for accompaniment, LuPone and Patinkin entertain for nearly two hours. And what entertainment it is.

As the program begins, the theatre is dark. Then the lights come up with the spotlight on the two, and they begin singing Stephen Sondheim’s Another Hundred People. Patti’s wearing some sort of black/navy jumpsuit with a scarf and Mandy’s dressed in similarly colored shirt and pants. It’s all quite casual and playful and simply wonderful.

It’s hard to get an intimate feel in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre, but somehow these two performers manage to pull it off. Conceived by Patinkin and Paul Ford, the program is sprinkled with remembrances of LuPone and Patinkin, with dialogue from musicals and just chit-chat between old friends and the audience. And often the chitchat turns into a beautiful number. While many of the songs are performed together, each gets a chance to shine in solos. LuPone brings the house down with “Gypsy’s” Everything’s Coming up Roses and Patinkin rips your heart with his rendition of “Passion’s” Loving You. When the two conclude “Carousel’s” If I Loved You, the silence from the audience is palpable. But the program is not all heartache and tears. They have a blast with Kander and Ebb’s Old Folks, and Patinkin goes off the rails in a great way with Sondheim’s The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues.

Tony-award winning choreographer Ann Reinking provides some interesting dance movements for the two using chairs or just their hands. It sounds simple, but it works and brings a bit more pizzazz to the whole production.An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin 1

LuPone and Patinkin sing more than 30 songs and somehow it seems greedy to want more. But I do. And so I ask again…Mandy, Mandy, Mandy…paying the mortgage aside…what are you doing with “Homeland?” Could a musical episode please be in the works? Until that happens, be on the lookout for “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” in your neck of the woods.

4 nuggets out of 4

Who is the Next Comedic Star?—Comedy

January 27, 2014

Who is the next comedic star? From where will the next Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld or Sarah Silverman come? It’s quite possible that this new bright comic will be found at the DC Improv Comedy School Comics Showcase.DC Improv Comics Showcase

Held in the DC Improv Lounge on a Friday evening, not just anyone gets to take the floor (there is no stage). These stars-in-the-making first have to hone their craft in the DC Improv Comedy School—an intense program taught by a professional comedian—someone who actually makes a living doing standup comedy. And what happens when you’ve finished the classes? You have your graduation, doing a five-minute set in the “Big Room” before a real paying audience of everyone’s friends and families. Sure, folks will laugh for their friends, but what about you?

I confess. I am a graduate…in fact, a two-time graduate with about five years between the two graduations. Take it from me, those five minutes can either feel like five seconds or five years. I actually got laughs, applause and got a whole host of new, funny friends. And it’s positively mind-blowing to think that you are performing on the same stage that played host to Dave Chappelle, Kevin Nealon, Jerry, Chris and Kathy, just to name a few (I even wondered if I was holding the same microphone as Kathy—that made me sweat just thinking about it). But I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to keep at it…to keep performing. For me, it was just too stressful.

But the folks I saw Friday, January 24, kept at it…and they were terrific. There were six performers, including my former classmate Leon Scott. All came with different points of view. Depending upon your taste, some were better than others—for me, Leon was one of the real standouts, but all were very good. With more gigs under their belts, who knows what can happen? And the whole evening just cost  ten dollars…quite the bargain for getting in on the ground floor of promising new careers.

The DC Improv also holds improv classes with a graduation performance before a paying audience. I took several of those classes and had the thrill of performing with my classmates.

So, if you’re looking for an inexpensive evening out with the chance to discover new talent, take a look at the DC Improv. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to take a class yourself.

http://www.dcimprov.com/comedy-school/learn-standup.html

202.296.7008, 1140 Connecticut Avenue NW, WDC 20036

(One block north of Farragut Metro on Red Line)

If/Then: Maybe Not—Theatre

November 13, 2013

If/Then,” the new musical starring Idina Menzel, comes to DC’s National Theatre with high expectations for Broadway. Based on previews, those expectations might need to be tempered.ifthen2

Directed by Michael Greif, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, “If/Then” is the story of 40-year-old Elizabeth, who has moved back to New York City following the breakup of her marriage. Her new life kicks into gear in a New York City park. But which life? And therein lays the tale.

“If/Then” is a form of the movie, “Sliding Doors.” If this path is taken, then this will happen. If the other path is taken, then that will happen. As the story first unfolds, it’s not readily apparent that two different stories are being told almost simultaneously. Once that is understood, you begin to relax and appreciate…or not…what is happening on stage.

There’s a reason Idina Menzel won a Tony for “Wicked.” She has a wonderfully powerful voice and that voice holds her in good stead as Elizabeth. She’s also a first-rate actress and the fact that you can feel and sense her emotions clear up in the balcony is testament to that. Unfortunately the score doesn’t provide enough great songs worthy of her voice. She has one clever number in the middle and a truly terrific number near the end of the play, but the rest of her songs are rather ho-hum.

I’m not certain why LaChanze was cast as Elizabeth’s friend, Kate. A  Tony award winner for “The Color Purple,” she really isn’t given much to do and her songs are not memorable. Anthony Rapp as Lucas is very good as Kate’s best friend from college. He, too, has a few songs, and while his voice is fine, is not anything you will remember once you leave the theatre. James Snyder is very convincing as Elizabeth’s love interest, Josh. At first his voice seems nice enough, but then he takes it to another level when he hits some high notes. His “My Kid” is a show-stopper.

The idea of showing us life’s “what if’s” is intriguing. The problem with “If/Then’s” execution is that we see not only Elizabeth’s two paths, but also fully developed stories for the two supporting characters in her life…in both paths. It adds a lot of time to the play and, frankly, her friends’ romantic stories aren’t very compelling and neither are their songs.

For a musical, there’s not a lot of musicality to “If/When.” The play is meant to be “real” which can explain the lack of dancing and the rather ordinariness of the songs.

Other than Menzel, the real stars of the show are the sets.  Mark Wendland’s designs are spectacular. The parks, the subway, the buildings…all are wonderfully imaginative.

Considering that “If/Then’s” creative crew– Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt–are Tony winners for prior work, this play is disappointing. Overall, “If/When” underwhelms and in its present form, I don’t see how it settles in to a long Broadway run.

“If/Then” runs through December at the National Theatre.

2 nuggets out of 4

 

Detroit: Visit to the Motor City Falls Short—Theatre

October 1, 2013

“Detroit,” the first play of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company season, is terrifically acted and has a great set, but ultimately its story falls short.Detroit1

Written by Lisa D’Amour and directed by John Vreeke, “Detroit” is about two couples who live next door to one another in a close-in suburb of Detroit. Ben and Mary have lived in the neighborhood for a while and Sharon and Kenny have just moved in. Ben is recently unemployed and is starting an online business from home, while Mary works full-time. It’s not clear what Sharon and Kenny do, but Kenny has worked in construction.

As the play begins, the couples are getting together for a barbecue. It’s very much like a first date with someone you don’t know very well. Conversation comes in fits and starts…too much laughter at a joke…that kind of thing. But awkwardly a friendship develops between the couples. More frequent get-togethers occur and gradually secrets about one another are revealed as the gatherings become more boisterous. But how much do the new friends really know about one another?

As noted earlier, “Detroit” boasts phenomenal acting. Emily K. Townley and Tim Getman as Ben and Mary are fabulous. Townley, a Woolly regular, is never bad, and she shines as the unsure, volatile older neighbor. Getman’s role is more understated, but he excels at letting us know there’s more emotion beneath his calm exterior. Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey and Danny Gavigan are terrific as the slightly mysterious, unpredictable younger couple. Their scenes with their respective same-sex neighbors are especially good.

Woolly has configured the stage so that you are looking at the back of the two homes including backyards. Additionally, multi-media gives you the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. The audience is on both sides of the stage (front and back). It does make you feel like you are sitting in on the conversations taking place—the only trouble is that often one of the speaking actors has his/her back to you.

So what is the problem with the play? Despite all it has going for it, “Detroit” feels very static and at some point I just stopped caring. The play’s notes say that “America’s middle class is disappearing, and these two couples begin the play suspended over the abyss.” I didn’t make that connection and the story…the words…they just didn’t engage me.

That said, time spent with the Woolly Company is never a total miss. In “Detroit’s” case, the acting makes up for a lot.

Runs through October 6.

2 nuggets out of 4

The Velocity of Autumn: Terrific in Any Season—Theatre

September 12, 2013

“You know you’re getting old when you start making sound effects for your body.”

Chris (Stephen Spinella)

Accepting the fact that you are getting older and dealing with that fact is the theme for the amazing dark comedy, “The Velocity of Autumn.” Written by Eric Coble and directed by Molly Smith, “The Velocity of Autumn” is Arena Stage’s new play and it is a winner.IMG00256-20130912-2024

The play stars Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella as mother and son, Alexandra and Chris. When the curtain opens, we find Alexandra barricaded in her Brooklyn apartment.  She’s threatening to blow up her Park Slope home, and, in truth, her home is an explosion waiting to happen. She knows her other son and daughter (only referred to but never seen) want her to move into some kind of elder care facility, fearing she’s too old to care for herself…and as she later confesses, she has experienced periods of confusion. Making an unexpected, hilarious entrance into her apartment is Chris. He’s come at the behest of his siblings to talk their mother safely out of her apartment.

And what a talk it is. Chris left Brooklyn 20 years ago, never to return. As he tells Alexandra, he didn’t feel free in New York. The more the two talk, the more Chris…and the audience…realize that son and mother have so much in common. Chris is an artist like his mom and has her sensibilities. Like her, he is afraid of growing old.

The two actors are astounding; they actually seem like mother and son. You can see Parson’s face visibly light up when she talks about her character’s love for art and her son. And as Spinella talks about suicide, his life out west, art and how he felt growing up, it feels very real…the audience is so quiet, you can literally hear a pin drop.

Eric Coble’s writing is phenomenal. The characters are completely drawn and the dialogue is chock full of witticisms that mean something.  When Alexandra says, “I don’t know how to be old,” you find yourself nodding in agreement. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a line about aging resonate more than when she exclaims, “I’m not me anymore, whoever me was…soon there will be less and less me.”

There are expectations that “The Velocity of Autumn” will make it to Broadway. If that happens, it is Broadway’s gain. But right now “The Velocity of Autumn” is in DC and you should take every opportunity to see it.

Runs through October 20, 2013

Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC  20024

4 nuggets out of 4

Hirshhorn Museum: Beliefs, Dogs and Hangers Wow the Senses

August 1, 2013

I never thought that Malcolm X and I would have much in common until I paid a visit to the lower level of DC’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. There, on a wall, in big, bold letters is his quote, “Give your brains as much attention as you do your hair and you’ll be a thousand times better off.” Wow! That sums me up in a nutshell. This quote is part of a remarkable exhibit, “Belief + Doubt,” by artist Barbara Kruger. Phrases in caps are mounted all over the lower level lobby—walls, doors, escalators, floors and bookstore. Made out of vinyl, the quotes are in black, white and red and come in a variety of sizes. They speak to our assumptions and doubts, magnified to the nth degree. The exhibit is really a feast for your eyes and brains and is on display through 2014.Belief

From the “Belief” area I ventured to other parts of the museum. A trip to the second floor, right off the escalator, brought me face to face with Dan Steinhilber’s white hanger sculpture—a virtual forest of hangers.  Part of the “Over Under Next” display, I don’t know why, but I found this display absolutely fascinating. It stopped me dead in my tracks. This exhibit runs through September 8.hangers (3)

Through his “Here and There” exhibit, Peter Coffin has a variety of artistic works on display, but for me nothing tops or will ever top his massive, creepy dog sculpture. This untitled work of art is mammoth and sinister looking. The canine’s blue eyes against its brown “skin” are very “Cujo”-like eerie. They seem to stare into one’s very soul.  And don’t get me started on the pointy ears. You want to touch this piece just to be sure it’s only art. But rules aside, you fear one touch would make it spring to life and devour you immediately. Coffin’s exhibit is on display until October 6.Peter Coffin's Untitled Dog

There’s nothing staid or old-fashion about the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. You discover something new every time you go inside. If you haven’t been, what are you waiting for? If you have taken a tour, perhaps it’s time for a return visit.

The Hirshhorn is located on the National Mall at the corner of 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW. Admission is free.

Anything Goes: It’s De-lovely—Theatre

July 2, 2013

Fun is in the air when the talented cast takes center stage at the Kennedy Center’s mounting of “Anything Goes.” Although written in the 1930s, Cole Porter’s music and lyrics are still beautiful, clever…and “oh, so easy to love.”Anything Goes

Most of the musical’s action takes place on a ship headed to England and is a story of star-crossed lovers and mistaken identities. With original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, “Anything Goes” takes a jaundiced look at celebrity, class and wealth. While the dialogue is purposely corny, the idea behind the dialogue hits the nail on the head and still holds true—Kim Kardashian, anyone?

But enough of the seriousness.  What makes “Anything Goes” special are the  inspired songs, the terrific choreography and the fabulous cast.  The number, Anything Goes, closes out Act One on a high, but Blow, Gabriel, Blow really hits it out of the ballpark (or in this case, the boat) at the beginning  of Act Two.

Rachel York as Reno Sweeney does a great job in portraying toughness and vulnerability. While York is a good dancer, her singing is a force of nature…it’s that wonderful. Edward Staudenmayer, as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, isn’t given much to do in Act One, but when he lets loose in Act Two’s The Gypsy in Me, watch out! It’s a show-stopping performance. Joyce Chittick , as the not so dumb as she looks Erma, is terrific. Her comedic timing is spot-on and she can dance and belt it out with the best of them.

Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes must be singled out for special praise. They absolutely dazzle. I wanted to wear every one of the actresses’ outfits.

“Anything Goes” is good, old-fashion fun. Just like they did in the ‘30s, you’ll leave the theatre humming.

The Kennedy Center Opera House through July 7

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Gideon’s Army: Mounting a Righteous Charge—Movie/Television

June 25, 2013

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.” How often have we heard these words on television and never given them a moment’s thought? Perhaps, like me, you believed, “Great…if I get into trouble and don’t have money for a lawyer, I’ll still be able to get one.”  As the sobering, but inspirational  documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” points out, if you are an indigent, you better hope that you run into trouble in DC and not in the South or other parts of the country, because not all public defender offices are created equally.Gideon's Army

“Gideon’s Army,” produced and directed by Dawn Porter, tells us that in 1963 the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon vs. Wainwright, that in felony cases people who could not afford a lawyer must be provided one.  As a result, public defender offices were created to defend poor people charged with serious crimes. Unfortunately, the conditions that many public defenders face on a daily basis have lessened the promise of that ruling. According to the film the DC culture expects the best from public defenders, whereas in other areas, the poor are just processed through the system.

Screened during the AFI Docs Film Festival, “Gideon’s Army” follows three public defenders practicing in three different offices in the South. Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick represent most public defenders in that part of the country—practicing extremely long hours for very low pay.  The caseload for each is unbelievably high—as many as 180 clients at one time. Against this backdrop Gideon’s Promise, formerly known as the Southern Public Defender Training Center, was founded by Jonathan Rapping, to provide training and support for public defenders. We learn from Rapping and the other lawyers that every year hundreds of poor people are crammed through a justice system stretched to the max. In addition, many innocent people spend years in prison.

While the three featured lawyers and their respective clients each have compelling stories, I found Travis’ personal story to be the most gripping. Although he has a girlfriend, he seemingly has no life. He lives next door to his office. His office wall is filled with his acquittals. And the losses? The names are tattooed on his back, so that, in his words, “they are always with me.” Right now his back has five names. Because he does much of his own investigative work he believes that he “is more like Matlock than F. Lee Bailey.”  Even though Travis seems to take his life as a public defender in stride, an anticipated meeting with his biological father throws him for a loop and gives us better insight into what makes him tick.

We watch as just the emotional support of Gideon’s Promise can mean so much to lawyers dedicating their lives to represent the poor. As someone who has served on several DC juries, I have witnessed firsthand the terrific work of  public defenders. I assumed all jurisdictions provided the same remarkable service. I know now that my assumption was wrong. The hearts and commitments of the lawyers are equal, but the support from the jurisdictions is not. One can only hope that changes. By highlighting the work of Gideon’s Promise, “Gideon’s Army” is doing all it can to make change happen sooner, rather than later.

“Gideon’s Army” can be seen on HBO beginning July 1.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Star Trek into Darkness: You Won’t Be—Movie

June 13, 2013

Non-trekkies, jump in…the water is fine.

I review this movie as an “average Joan,” with not too much “Star Trek” knowledge. In fact, I’m almost as non-Trekkie as they come. I’ve seen a few episodes of the original series and saw the movies, including the first re-boot, but that’s it. However, I’m living proof that you don’t need to know a lot in order to appreciate the high energy entertainment that is “Star Trek into Darkness.”Star Trek

The opening scenes with the crew are a tad confusing—volcanoes, other planets and beings—frankly, I didn’t know what was happening. But, luckily, none of that matters. Director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof are very smartly are showing us the dynamics of the Enterprise crew. If you are just nominally familiar with  “Star Trek” (or even lesser so), it’s an opportunity to learn more about each character. For those with an encyclopedic mind for all things “Star Trek,” it’s fun to learn more about each character’s back story.

To talk much about the plot would spoil the story.  “Star Trek” fanatics will puzzle over some choices and might ask themselves if cryogenics causes one’s accent to change. Up until that point, the story makes a lot of sense and raises some interesting questions…as did the original series. What makes one become malevolent? Is there a point where a person can still resist the pull to the dark side? Is someone completely evil? How far will you go to help a friend…a colleague?

“Star Trek’s” cast is more than solid. Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock have terrific chemistry with one another and they are still believable as the young adult duo. Simon Pegg provides just the right touch of levity to Scotty as does Anton Yelchin as Chekov. Veteran actors Bruce Greenwood (Pike) and Peter Weller (Marcus) lend an extra source of gravitas to the film. Zoe Saldana gives Uhura a shot of sass as Spock’s girlfriend.  Finally, behold Benedict Cumberbatch as the film’s chief villain. He lives up to every bit of hype he has received.

It’s fun to imagine what some of our most favorite characters might have been like in their earlier years. That’s what makes prequels so entertaining. However, prequels come with self-imposed obstacles. We, the audience, know how certain plot points should/will end. That’s not to say the storytelling can’t be done well.  It’s just that from an overall perspective, the story on the screen can’t be perfect. Such is the case with “Star Trek into Darkness.” It’s enjoyable, but not perfect.

3 nuggets out of 4

Now You See Me: Fun for the Eyes and Brains—Movie

June 6, 2013

Now You See Me” ups the ante on crime capers with some terrific special effects—without resorting to 3-D—to go along with a mind-bending, entertaining plot.Now You See Me

Directed by Louis Leterrier  with screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt and story by Yakin and Ricourt, “Now You See Me” is about four street magicians. Each has his/her own specialty and are brought together by an unknown source to perform inspired robberies under the guise of illusion before live audiences, the first of which takes place in Las Vegas.

The first robbery is so spectacular and daring that the FBI is brought in, headed by Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his sidekick, Agent Fuller (Michael J. Kelly), as well as French Interpol Agent Dray (Mélanie Laurent), to investigate.

Billed as The Four Horsemen—Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher and Woody Harrelson—are the illusionists. Morgan Freeman portrays Thaddeus Bradley, a magic debunker, who tries to help with the investigation and Michael Caine,  as the owner of the hotels where the illusionists perform, round out the cast.

Of the four illusionists, actors Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are the standouts. Eisenberg is always interesting to watch. He brings an air of intelligence to every part and this role is no exception. He is utterly believable as the fast-talking magician. Harrelson is terrific as the mind-reading hypnotist. It’s a hoot to see him go from sane to crazy/sinister in a nano second. He steals every scene he’s in.

While Ruffalo is a fine actor, his scenes with Laurent seem like something out of the 60s. He appears to have a bug up his a** because she’s a woman. Really? In this age? What’s even more problematic is Laurent. She’s very hard to understand.

Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman never disappoint. Freeman has the larger role and he lends just the right amount of mystery to his role.

“Now You See Me” is full of twists and turns and requires that you have your wits about you to fully appreciate what’s happening. So be sure to get caffeinated before entering the theatre. You’ll be glad you did.  Although the film dips a bit in the middle, it starts out spectacularly and finishes with a huge bang.

3 nuggets out of 4

 

 

 


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