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Monday, December 15, 2014

Book review: 'Finding Me,' a compelling horror story

Finding Me:  A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight with Michelle Burford/Weinstein Books

At the end, I cried with her.
 
Finding Me is the story of Michelle Knight, one of the three women locked up by a man who kidnapped them all in similar, separate circumstances, and kept them chained in a house for years in Cleveland, Ohio.

You may wonder: How can one person hold three people captive for so long? Easy, when the victims are bound, threatened, and chained with no access to the outside and strapped to poles in a basement.

I didn't intend to read the book, but there on the shelves of new books at my favorite public library, Fairfax County's, it stood, waiting for me to pick up and skim a few pages, which soon became many more.

It is a sad and painful story of man's inhumanity, about the loneliness which drives a man to commit crimes and kidnap women for sex and companionship, as much as he would steal a dog.

The book opens with Michelle's early memories of childhood and sleeping in a car with her siblings when her family had nowhere to go. As she matured, a family member repeatedly raped her, and she ran away, joining drug dealers in a satisfactory arrangement until she was spotted and returned to her family. 

When she disappeared for 11 years, locked up only a few blocks from her home, no one came looking for her which her kidnapper continually reminded her.

She was raped repeatedly in captivity, sometimes several times a day; starved; beaten; brutalized, threatened with a gun.  She lived without toilet facilities and used a bucket in the bedroom while chained.  It often overflowed with urine which spilled upon the floor.

She got pregnant four or five times, and each time, "the dude" (whose name she avoids using in the book) aborted her child by beating her, throwing her down the basement steps, and punching her repeatedly in the abdomen.

Michelle went eight months without a bath until Ariel Castro told her she stank and allowed her to wash off. Her hair was like concrete, strands glued together with semen and blood.

He brought her a puppy and broke its neck when she annoyed Castro. 

In 2003, the year after Michelle's kidnapping, a new victim, Amanda Berry, joined her, locked in the house. And then Gina DeJesus arrived in 2004.

On a discarded mattress Castro found in the city, Gina and Michelle slept on the floor, chained together, and Castro would have sex with one, while the other tried to tune out the sounds.  When bed bugs were found in the bed, he gave them plastic to cover it. 

He treated Amanda almost like a wife, permitting her child to be born in the home, assisted by Michelle, whom Castro threatened to kill if anything happened to the baby. 

"Jocelyn" was born in a plastic swimming pool, and Castro treated his daughter well, and as the years passed,  Michelle and Gina feared that when Jocelyn matured, "the dude" would violate Jocelyn, too. 

The little girl lived in the house with them all until she was six years old when police rescued the women, after neighbors responded to Amanda's pleas for help when she was able to scream when Castro left the house and a door unlocked on May 6, 2013. Four months later, Castro was dead from suicide in prison, police said.

At the end when she was hospitalized, Michelle sobbed often, overwhelmed by the enormity of her plight, embarrassed by her appearance in front of the hospital staff and the long hair on her legs, the years lost with her toddler son, Joey.  She weighed almost 47 pounds less than when she entered Castro's prison.

Throughout her ordeal, the happy memories of her son and thoughts about his life since her disappearance, and seeing Joey again kept Michelle going and gave her reason and hope to live.

Now, whenever I see a house boarded up, I wonder. 

We can become desensitized to circumstances which look awry.  We can ignore them and look away. 

Who wants to get involved?

It's none of my business.

We can take action and ask. 


patricialesli@gmail.com

 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jimmy Webb live at Bethesda Blues and Jazz

Jimmy Webb at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, Dec. 5, 2014/Photo by Patricia Leslie

He saved his best for last, "MacArthur Park," and at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club Friday night, he said it had been recorded more than 500 times, including three times by Waylon Jennings.
Jimmy Webb singing and playing "MacArthur Park" at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, Dec. 5, 2014/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Jimmy Webb, 68, whose songwriting skills top the charts, talked more than he sang in the 2.5 hour show (one intermission), about the artists he's worked with, about the background of each hit. For a few numbers, he invited the audience to sing along, but the evening, thankfully, did not become a "sing-along" and overwhelm the reason for attendance. 
Jimmy Webb at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, Dec. 5, 2014/Photo by Patricia Leslie

He was energetic and merry, solo with a piano on stage and without a program, which he put together while he played.

Unlike Bob Dylan on tour who sometimes won't sing his big hits, Webb sang most of his biggies: "Galveston," "By The Time I Get to Phoenix," "All I Know," "Worst Thing That Could Happen."
Jimmy Webb at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, Dec. 5, 2014/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 
"I don't write all sad songs," Webb said. "Bob Dylan would put out an album and you couldn't understand a damn word of what he said. We're good friends."

He recorded with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, to name a few, and Webb said he didn't know Jennings (1937-2002) real well: "He was a real character."

Jimmy Webb at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, Dec. 5, 2014/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Jennings would lay on a sofa with a hat over his face, and when Webb told him that Webb had won a Grammy, Jennings said:

"'What for?'"

"'Country Song of the Year.'"

"'Which country is that?'"

Webb said "at times I felt a bit miffed that the critics weren't taking me seriously." But later: "When you're famous, they make a big deal out of it [transgressions] and really hurt your feelings."

Jimmy Webb at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, Dec. 5, 2014/Photo by Patricia Leslie

When "Up, Up and Away" came out in 1967, Webb's manager called to tell Webb that KMOA in Oklahoma City (near where Webb grew up) thought the song was about drugs. "It was a song about balloons!" Webb exclaimed before he sang the song, inviting the audience to help him reach the high notes.
 
Judy Collins, "the fairy godmother of lost songs," picked up one of his songs which had languished for eight years in the back pages of his songwriter's notebook, "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress."

Collins is "larger than life and all feelings....Her voice is every bit [what it used to be] when she was 20 years old. She still tells racy stories," Webb said, some about old boyfriends. 

Jimmy Webb at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, Dec. 5, 2014/Photo by Patricia Leslie

But the person to whom Webb is most indebted is Glen Campbell, diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2011.

Like most who receive bad news, we wonder how our lives will be affected, and Webb is no different:  "I felt so sorry for myself, that I was losing a part of myself," and then he realized what he was experiencing could not compare to Glen's family. Still, Webb felt "an incredible sense of loss....I love Glen so much and he's the reason I'm up here because we had an incredible run."

When he was 14, Webb said he used to pray he would meet Glen Campbell and four years later, the composer almost lost it when he heard Campbell singing Webb's "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" on the radio.

Sometime later, Campbell called Webb and asked him to write another "town" song for him, and Webb sat down that afternoon and wrote "Wichita Lineman."

Campbell has always been an inspiration to Webb whose singing voice is similar to Campbell's. 

He closed his performance with the full-blown seven minutes and 21 seconds of "MacArthur Park," written with a girlfriend in mind (his or Richard Harris's? Working with Harris, by the way, was "a wonderful experience").

It was a memorable evening with a superbly talented artist who sang, played, and told it like it was, happy in Bethesda.  (A song about Bethesda?)

For more performances at Bethesda Blues & Jazz, check out its calendar.  This month the Chuck Brown Band, Urban Soul, and the Nighthawks are some of the groups which will perform, including the Glenn Miller Orchestra which plays "In The Holiday Mood" December 10, with dancing!

When:  Most nights

Where: 7719 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814

How much: Prices vary.  Buy tickets at the door or
online.


Future shows: Please check out the calendar.

Food and drink: The dining area has a $10 per person minimum which can be applied toward any item on the menu. Check out FAQ here. And here's the menu. I have found the food, magnificent: Beet salad ($12), tomato,  basil and mozzarella salad ($11) are delicious. Ditto, the appetizers like the crab cakes (about $12) and five coconut shrimp ($12).  The drinks are good and reasonably priced.  Nice wine selection.

For more information: 240-330-4500

Getting there: The Bethesda Metro station is about 1.5 blocks away, and parking is below the building (free on weekends). See directions.


To read about past shows, please click Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.

patricialesli@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Songwriter Jimmy Webb at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Dec. 5

Jimmy Webb
America's songwriter and the only person to win Grammys for music, lyrics, and orchestration, Jimmy Webb, will perform at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club Friday night beginning at 8 p.m.

Webb's "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" was the third most performed song for 50 years, according to BMI.  His compositions have been recorded by Elvis, Judy Collins, Isaac Hayes, Art Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Billy Joel, Linda Ronstadt, R.E.M., Carly Simon, and Frank Sinatra, to name a few.  He's the youngest man inducted into the National Songwriters' Hall of Fame and is now its chairman.

Billboard's Top 10 Jimmy Webb songs and recording artists are:

1.   "MacArthur Park" – Donna Summer, 1978
2.   "Wichita Lineman" – Glen Campbell, 1969
3.   "MacArthur Park" – Richard Harris, 1968
4.   "Worst That Could Happen" – Brooklyn Bridge, 1969
5.   "Galveston" – Glen Campbell, 1969
6.   "Up, Up And Away" – The Fifth Dimension, 1967
7.   "All I Know" – Art Garfunkel, 1973
8.   "Honey Come Back" – Glen Campbell, 1970
9.   "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" – Glen Campbell, 1967

10. "Where's The Playground Susie" – Glen Campbell, 1969

Click here for the link to Webb's appearance on David Letterman July 21, 2014 with 23 musicians and Will Lee on vocals singing "MacArthur Park."
An $8 million renovation transformed the 1938 art deco Bethesda Theater into the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club/Photo by Marc Rubin
 
What: Jimmy Webb at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club

When: 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5, 2014

Where: 7719 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814

How much: $35 at the door or online.  


Future shows:  Please check out the calendar.

Food and drink: The dining area has a $10 per person minimum which can be applied toward any item on the menu. Check out FAQ here. And here's the menu. I have found the food (beet salad: yummy) and drinks, good and reasonably priced.

For more information:  240-330-4500

Getting there: The Bethesda Metro station is about 1.5 blocks away, and parking is below the building (free on weekends). See directions.


To read about past shows, please click Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.

patricialesli@gmail.com

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Free Christmas concert Dec. 3 at St. John's, Lafayette Square

The Madrigal Singers from St. Albans and National Cathedral schools, Washington, D.C., will sing a Christmas concert December 3, 2014 at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square

The Madrigal Singers from St. Albans and National Cathedral schools will sing music of the season in a free noon concert on Wednesday at St. John's, Lafayette Square.  The 36 choristers attend grades 10 through 12 at the schools which are affiliated with the Washington National Cathedral.

According to Benjamin Hutto, who directs the singers and the music ministry at St. John's, the program will include popular tunes, medieval, sacred, and spiritual music:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Plainsong, sung in procession)
Exaltate Deo (Palestrina)
Dixit Maria (Hassler)
Ding, Dong! Merrily On High (French carol, arr. Wood)
Jesus, Good Above All Other (German carol, arr. Scott)
Stille Nacht (GrĂ¼ber, arr. Humphris)
Great Day (Spiritual, arr. Martin)
There Is A Balm In Gildead (Spiritual, arr. Poovey)
A Merry Christmas (Traditional, arr. Warrell)
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas (Willson, arr. Huff)

The presentation is one of St. John's First Wednesday Concerts, always performed without charge and lasting about 35 minutes.
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

St. John's, known to many Washington residents as the yellow church at Lafayette Square, is often called the “Church of the Presidents.” Beginning with President James Madison, who served from 1809 to 1817, every president has been a member of St. John's or has attended services at the church. A plaque at the rear of St. John's designates the pew where President Abraham Lincoln often sat when he stopped by the church during the Civil War.

All concerts start at 12:10 p.m. (with an exception in April), and last about 35 minutes. Food trucks are located at Farragut Square, two blocks away, for those on lunch break.

Who:  The Madrigal Singers from National Cathedral and St. Albans schools

What:  First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m., December 3, 2014

Where: St. John’s, Lafayette Square, 1525 H Street, NW, at the corner of 16th, Washington, D.C. 20005

How much: No charge

Duration: About 35 minutes

Wheelchair accessible

Metro stations: McPherson Square (White House exit), Farragut North, or Farragut West


For more information: Contact Michael Lodico, St. John's associate organist and choir director, at 202-270-6265 or 202-347-8766

Future dates and artists of the First Wednesday Concerts are:

January 7, 2015: Iris Lan plays the Complete Sonatas of Paul Hindemith on the organ

February 4: Lena Seikaly, jazz vocalist, with the Dan Dufford Trio performing works by Duke Ellington and friends

March 4: Jared Denhard, bagpiper, assisted by Michael Lodico, St. John's organist and choirmaster, performing Pipes and More Pipes

April 19 (Sunday), 4 p.m.: Spring Concert by St. John's Choir

May 6: The U.S. Air Force Strings accompanied by Benjamin Hutto performing a Handel organ concerto and other pieces

June 3: Benjamin Straley, organist at the Washington National Cathedral



patricialesli@gmail.com

Friday, November 28, 2014

Wyeth's 'windows' closing at the National Gallery of Art

Andrew Wyeth, Wind from the Sea, 1947, National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of Charles H. Morgan, c. Andrew Wyeth. 

The painting above, Wind from the Sea, given to the National Gallery of Art by Charles H. Morgan in 2009, is what sparked an exhibition.

It was drawn by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), one of the most revered of contemporary American artists, who, If he were still alive, would tell you he was not a realist painter, but an abstractionist, and the more you learn about him and see his work, the more you understand. 

He created Wind from the Sea two years after his teacher, mentor, and father, N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), illustrator of classic tales like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and 110 other books, died with his grandson in a car crash with a train not far from home.

Andrew said he painted what he lived, scenes drawn from summers in Maine, and his home at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where he was born and where he died.
Andrew Wyeth, Cold Spell, 1965, Private Collection.
The blacks, browns, whites and contrasts of winter never looked as romantic as they are in Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In which closes Sunday at the National Gallery of Art, the sole venue for the show.
 Andrew Wyeth, McVey's Barn, 1948, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT
Andrew Wyeth, Bird in the House, 1979, Private Collection
Andrew Wyeth, Untitled, 1983, The Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection

It is easy to be swept away by the wind and stillness which envelop you as you gaze upon Wind from the Sea which opens the show to the 60 Wyeth works of paintings, water colors, and drawings.  Until the National Gallery exhibition. some of the works have never been publicly displayed. 
Andrew Wyeth, Airing Out, 1969, Private Collection
Andrew Wyeth, Drying Room: first version of spare room, 1973. The Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection

The collection seems much larger than the 60 pieces which are arranged thematically in four galleries, perhaps owing to their subject matter, the expansiveness of the land, and the windows opening to the outdoors.

While you walk and view the galleries, you may think "aha!" You've found a window missing, and if you look again, there it is.

Some critics claim Wyeth is overrated, but a study of his angles, lines, shadows, winter lights, and contrasts prove them wrong. And his popularity among art enthusiasts is undeniable. Visitors can uncover complexities, geometric patterns, and the abstract in the compositions.

Over the artist's career which spanned some seven decades, he drew more than 300 works with windows, according to his son, Nicholas (b. 1943) who supplied the figure to Nancy K. Anderson, National Gallery curator. 

Upon my second (of five!) trips to the show, at the exit, I stood in the small gift shop set up for Wyeth visitors and surveyed the biography, N.C. Wyeth (David Michaelis, 1998), when a woman rushed up and talked non-stop about 30 minutes about the subject.  "He's much more fascinating than Andrew," she said. 

I read the book, and she was right about its excellence which drove me back last weekend for my second visit this year to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, about two hours north of Washington, just across the Delaware line, the home of many Wyeth works, and a conservancy.
On the Wyeth property at Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie

From a window inside N.C. Wyeth's studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. N.C.'s and Andrew Wyeth's studios are open to the public for a fee/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At N.C. Wyeth's studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, /Photo by Patricia Leslie
A close-up of the palette at N.C. Wyeth's studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie

 N.C. Wyeth's supplies at his studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In the near winter, you can stand and study the countrysides, rolling hills, barren trees, and structures, and marvel at Andrew Wyeth's ability to capture what may initially seem like simple things, but made compelling and bewitching by the artist.



From a window at Andrew Wyeth's studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Some of the artist's sketches on the floor at Andrew Wyeth's studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 A sign posted at an entrance at the Wyeths' home where Betsy and Andrew Wyeth raised their two sons, Nicholas and Jamie.  A portion of the house served as Andrew Wyeth's studio from 1940 until mid-2008, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Sketches of John and Robert Kennedy, drawn by Jamie Wyeth, Andrew's son, at Andrew Wyeth's studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The National Gallery quotes Andrew Wyeth:  “It’s what’s inside you, the way you translate the object — and that’s pure emotion. I think most people get to my work through the backdoor. They’re attracted by the realism and sense the emotion and the abstraction — and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion.”  They might have that effect upon you, too.

From a window at Andrew Wyeth's studio, Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The exhibition would not be possible with the assistance of the Altria Group and the support of the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts.

The catalogue and exhibition in Washington were produced, directed, and organized by Dr. Anderson, curator and head of the department of American and British paintings, with assistance and contributions from Charles Brock, associate curator, American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art.  The catalogue is almost 200 pages with color plates of the featured works and several essays, one about windows in the art of Wyeth, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), and Edward Hopper (1882-1967).

Andrew Wyeth is also the father of the artist, Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946).

What: Andrew Wyeth:  Looking Out, Looking In

When: Now through November 30, 2014 from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sunday


Where: Main Floor, West Building, National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission: No charge

Metro stations: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215

At Brandywine River Museum & Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania/Photo by Patricia Leslie

patricialesli@gmail.com

 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Epiphany stamp unveiled at St. John's, Lafayette Square

 
The Reverend Dr. Luis Leon, rector at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., says a closing prayer at the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp, Nov. 19, 2014/photo by Patricia Leslie

The Three Kings (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), whose silhouettes are represented in the new Christmas Magi stamp, bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the Christ Child at the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp at St. John's Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., Nov. 19, 2014.  During their procession, everyone sang We Three Kings of Orient Are/photo by Patricia Leslie

Members of the choir of St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., acted as the Three Kings at the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp, Nov. 19, 2014/photo by Patricia Leslie

The Reverend Stan W. Fornea, U.S. Navy Captain and Senior Chaplain at the White House Military Office, delivers the opening prayer at the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., Nov. 19, 2014/photo by Patricia Leslie

Nancy Mathis, mistress of ceremonies, welcomes guests to the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., Nov. 19, 2014/photo by Patricia Leslie
Louis J. Giuliano, member of the Board of Governors, U.S. Postal Service, tells the Epiphany story at the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., Nov. 19, 2014/photo by Patricia Leslie
After they unveiled the new Epiphany stamp at St. John's, the Reverend Dr. Luis Leon, St. John's rector (right) and  Louis J. Giuliano, member of the Board of Governors, U.S. Postal Service, commend the St. John's Choir at the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp, Nov. 19, 2014.  Greg Breeding designed the stamp, and Nancy Stahl was the artist/photo by Patricia Leslie
Dr. Benjamin Hutto leads the choir at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, in Epiphany Alleluias at the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp, Nov. 19, 2014. The organist was Michael Lodico/photo by Patricia Leslie
Outside St. John's Church under a heated tent, U.S. Postal Service employees sold the new Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp on Nov. 19, 2014/photo by Patricia Leslie
This U.S. Postal Service employee carefully stamped First Day cancellations on envelopes outside St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., site of the First-Day-of-Issue Dedication Ceremony for the Christmas Magi Limited Edition Forever Stamp, Nov. 19, 2014/photo by Patricia Leslie
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

patricialesli@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

'Little Mermaid' makes a big splash in Olney


Donna Migliaccio is "Ursula" in Olney Theatre Center's Disney's The Little Mermaid/Photo by Stan Barouh

It's a whale of a good time at Disney's The Little Mermaid, now playing at the Olney Theatre Center, a production sure to delight most family members (or the ones old enough to be undaunted by the yikes of the ugly sea
serpentress, Ursula).

And what good timing.  Just in time for the holidays.

Poor Ariel (Lara Zinn). The Little Mermaid is so dainty, feminine and innocent, compared to her mean and conniving Aunt Ursula (Donna Migliaccio), who steals the stage every time the Black Witch and her eeeeeels (Robert Mintz and Nurney) come onboard. That dastardly trio lives inside a giant red-eyed shark's cave way down under, the better to see you, my little pretty.

What is a musical without a dance and a girl in a long, twirling dress?  Joe Chisholm is "Prince Eric," and Lara Zinn is "Ariel" in Olney Theatre Center's Disney's The Little Mermaid/Photo by Stan Barouh

The Little Mermaid is Hans Christian Andersen 's tail of 1867 which was mostly forgotten until the Disney team brought it back from the depths and made it into a musical.

Ariel is the youngest of seven daughters of King Triton (Nicholas Ward) whose booming, operatic voice commands the stage whenever he's on board, unless preempted by his sister, Ursula.

Meanwhile, from under the sea Ariel spies a "human" tumbling into the water, a man who happens to be, just happens to be, a prince (!),  Prince Eric (Joe Chisholm), to be exact, and Ariel falls tail over fins in love and lust at first sight.  And is his lifesaver, to boot.

But to "get" to him, she must adopt human ways, anathema to her father, but welcomed by Ugly Ursula who grants Ariel her wish in exchange for Ariel's voice, that's all. 

Once you see Ursula in action, with her cackle and sweeping mannerisms, effectively complemented by statuesque hair of starched, long white worms, and her full, floor-length black gown piped in sparkling amethyst jewels and snakelike long stole which she waves hither and yon like an octopus ensnaring those who may resist, that Ms. Migliaccio has won two Helen Hayes Awards and has been nominated for ten more is no surprise.  (That sentence is almost as long as her stole.)  Her two eels are perfectly slithering green lizards on skating shoes (the likes of which are nicely utilized  by other cast members, too).

The second act bursts from the ocean's floor with an excellent number by the mad feathered bird, "Scuttle" (Clark Young), another show stopper, who flies and caws constantly in motion, and taps and sings with fellow birds in She's Got Legs.  It's one of the best numbers of the whole performance, not to be outdone by fine harmonies by the quartet (Ariel, Prince Eric, Titan, and Sebastian) in If Only, and a magic chef (Ethan Watermeier), responsible for lots of laughs and silliness.

The action in the second act more than makes up for a somewhat lethargic script in the first act, including, yes, the scene everyone longs for: the heroine in a twirling, flowing gown, dancing with a prince in a palace, the magical musical potion. (This is Cinderella Underwater with a voice to sink any glass slipper.)

Flounder (Sean McComas), Ariel's would-be lover, wins the award for most constantly moving character, since they all must conquer the waves, while waddling Sebastian (Troy Hopper) dips craftily into almost every scene, to dispense advice, that's all.

Staff stationed on either side of the stage shake long sheets of blue and green "ocean waves," tossing actors up and down "in the water."  In one of the most exceptional designs, Ariel "floats" to the surface near the end of the show, the audience watching from an "underwater window."

The sets (by James Fouchard) are not overbearing, and the boat assembly made quickly in the first act, and the palace with candles and windows are striking. Unconvincing and confusing are what may be painted cardboard cut-outs of "schools of fish" carried around in up and down motion by humans in blue.

The costumes (by Pei Lee) are shimmering and dashing, from the pretty rainbow dresses with matching headpieces worn by Ariel's six sisters when they dance and play, to their maid uniforms in the palace, to their beauty as they vie to become the prince's "bride." The sailors are even decked out in fetching black striped shirts with red scarves.

With the large cast and many different changes (Olney Artistic Director Jason Loewith said the cast and crew numbered 64, and it seems like more), the costume shop had to work feverishly, one suspects, to accomplish its masterstrokes.  

Adding depth and enjoyment is the Olney's omnipresent nine-member orchestra, "under the sea," led by Darius Smith, and an electric keyboard, played by Jacob Kidder, which reigned throughout much of the show, but never drowned out the actors.  Other members of the orchestra are Patrick Plunk, Tony Neenan, Andrew Houde, Patricia Wnek, Lauren Weaver, Frank Higgins, and Alex Aucoin.

Other cast members: Kenneth Derby, Matt Greenfield, Jay Garrick, Ethan Kasnett, Lance E. Hayes, Jennifer Cordiner, Jane Bunting, Suzanne Stanley, Taylor Elise Rector, Ashleigh King, and Gracie Jones.

And crew: Mark Waldrop, director; Tara Jeanne Vallee, choreographer; Tony Angelini, sound; Julie H. Duro, lighting' JJ Kaczynski, projection; and Andrea "Dre" Moore, puppets.

Go ahead and take the plunge and have yourself a very merry Christmas "under the sea."

What: Disney's The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Book by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater.

When: Now through December 28, 2014

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets start at $31.00, with discounts for military, groups, and students.  

Refreshments: Available for purchase and may be taken to seats.

Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400

For more reviews of Disney's The Little Mermaid at the Olney and other plays, click DC Metro Theater Arts.

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