Friday, November 30, 2018

Beautiful—the Carole King Musical
It might have taken four guys from Belleville, NJ, to  make Jersey Boys but only one woman from Brooklyn for Beautiful—the Carole King Musical
Sarah Bockel as Carole King opens the show (where it will also end) sitting at the piano for her debut concert at Carnegie Hall.  The story skips back and forth between her home in Brooklyn to her job in Manhattan to her dream house in the suburbs to a recording studio in Los Angeles, with  a fine cast of characters from Dylan S. Wallach who plays her first husband Gerry Goffin, to their best and most competative song writing friends —Alison Whitehurst as Cynthia Weil and Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann.  All this under the watchful eyes of James Clow as Don Kirshner and Suzanne Grodner as Carole’s  mother Genie Klein.  
 This  jukebox musical/broadway hits all the right nostalgic spots. Against eye-popping lights, the  multi-talented company of singer-dancers  move and grove as  the Drifters, The Shirelles, and the Righteous Brothers.
And yes, Carole did date Neil Sedeka in high school and Little Eva was her and Gerry’s babysitter for their kids. Gerry’s other woman, Janelle Woods, is a composite fictional character.

Beautiful—the Carole King Musicale is a treasury of vibrant sounds of over 50 years from a most gifted musician.  It’s one show that  like her recordings,  that  you might want to hear it all again.

AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE, WASHINGTON DC, TO DECEMBER 30, 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

KING JOHN
Folger Theatre

There is little doubt that King John was the worst king of England, bad in every way.  So bad that the response was his being confronted to sign the Magna Carta.  Leaving that historic fact of the story out, Shakespeare’s play King John shows him for a true rotter.
The Folger Theatre’s production could not be better.
For starters, there is a pre opening scene, where the twelve actors explain who they are and their relationships to the others in history.
Women stand out as have key power roles:   Kate Goehring as Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of John, and Holly Twyford as Constance, mother of Arthur, the son of John’s dead brother Geoffrey.  Both demonstrate strong wills in powerful passionate speeches that are standouts in the play.
The question is simple, who has the right to the throne, the son of the elder brother, or the next brother in line.  Eleanor stands for her son John, and Constance for her son Arthur.
What complicates things is that John owns half of the territory that is now France, and Arthur is backed by the French royals.
Brian Dykstra’s King John is powerful, cunning and cruel. He succeeds in challenging the French and making deals with  Louis the Dauphin  (Akeem Davis) by offering his niece  Blanche  (Alina Collins Maldonado) in marriage. 
John also obtains custody of Arthur (Megan Graves) whom he imprisons under the care of Hubert (Elan Zafir).  Torn between orders from the king and what his heart knows is right, Hubert will save the life of the the young prince in a move that  will lead to tragic end for all.
Kate Eastwood  Norris is superb in the complicated role that is of Philip Faulconbridge, bastard son of Richard the Lionhearted (and thus related to John).   
Multiple roles are played by Sasha Olinick as Cardinal Pandulph, the grisly looking papal Legate, Howard W. Overshown as Philip, the cunning King of France, as well as Brian Reisman as Robert Faulconbridge  and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Lord Salisbury
The twists and turns of all of this reminds of a condensed two hour television serial.  But all this happened in the 13th century, and Shakespeare wrote his play in the 16th century.   
But somethings—like the theme of greed for power— never change and neither does  the Folger’s excellence in presentation  of a rare but worthy play for our attention.

At the Folger Theatre until Dec. 2, 2018

SILENT NIGHT AT 
Washington National Opera

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th year of the 20th century, a hundred years ago, the World War I Armistice was signed.  It had been over four years after the Great War had begun.  
Washington National Opera’s production of  Kevin Puts’s and Mark Campbell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, takes us back to the first Christmas at the beginning of the conflict in 1914, to a battlefield near Belgium, where soldiers in French, German, and Scottish trenches begin recalling songs of home.
The story is true not only in recreating an actual event but in the emotions that it evokes of shared humanity, bitterness, conflict of duty,  loss of loved ones and just plain missing the family at home.  As an opera, it has  everything:   grand universal themes, love duets, choral pieces, and musical interludes with a libretto using multiple languages as appropriate (English, French, German, Italian, and Latin.)
Silent Night  also provides a range of possiblities for singers. The  lovers, Raquel González as Anna Sørensen and Alexander McKissick as Nikolaus Sprink, are opera singers.  The two are singing a duet like from Mozart or Gluck, when everything stops for the announcement that war has been declared.  
At a church in Scotland we see  Hunter Enoch as William Dale excitedly tell his brother Jonathan sung by Arnold Livingston Geis that war has broken out and encourages him to join.  Kenneth Kellogg as Father Palmer looks on knowing what this means.  Already we know that Jonathan is going to die on the battlefield.
In a Paris apartment,  we see Michael Adams  as Lt. Audebert, tell his pregnant wife Madeline sung by Hannah Hagerty that he must go despite her protests.
The scenes that follow are on a three level stage, with Scottish, French and German soldiers on each tier with Aleksey Bogdanov is Lt. Horstmayer,  Norman Garrett is Lt. Gordon, Christian Bowers is Ponchel. There are mounds of unburied dead from the previous skirmish, causing Jonathan anguish in attempting to bury his brother.  
With the sound of a bag pipe, soon a white flag appears and a truce is reached to call off the fighting for Christmas eve.  Nicholas had been called to sing at a holiday event for the top brass but he returns to the field with Anna, where they sing for the troops. That holiday truce ends with a morning shooting of  Ponchel and again the conflict starts with men questioning their humanity in time of war.  
Anna and Nicholas will escape the battlefield by going as prisoners to the French side even as angry leaderships -Timothy J. Bruno as the French General, Michael Hewitt as the German General and  Joshua Conyers as the British Major—discover the events and take actions to order these soldiers to the front line.  
Thus the opera ends as the war has only begun.
A note on this production: Silent Night has been described as balancing turmoil with introspection even as it never turns into sentimentality.  Accomodating many styles of music including a Scottish bagpipe and prayerful chants, it never uses it title hymn nor other Christmas melodies. While WNO is a  re-orchestration to fit this opera into their  more intimate space of the Eisenhower theater, there is no loss of intensity of the  war is on shared humanity.    
The singers are young from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.  Least we forget, so were the real characters portrayed in this story, those soldiers who died in World War I, were young.
From November 10- 25, 2018, in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.