Wednesday, August 21, 2013

'A Chorus Line' is a hit at the Olney

A Chorus Line at the Olney Theatre Center/Stan Barouh photo

This production is so hot it was extended less than a week after it opened.

And dance, natch, is what it’s all about at the Olney Theatre Center's biggest musical staged in its 75-year history.   

A Chorus Line has 24 performers and an eight-piece orchestra and all the flash and flames with melodrama and pizzazz and lots of high kicks that you expect.

We marveled at the possibility that all the performers might be local, not impossible with the regional wealth of talent, and many are.  Others arrive from national touring shows and Broadway, including Michelle Aravena who was "Tricia" in the 2007 Broadway revival and who is featured on the cast recording.

By now, most know the background of the story and the show's history as one of Broadway's longest-running musicals, the winner of nine Tonys in 1976 and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 

The story is based on real life experiences of a group of dancers struck by a sagging economy in the mid-1970s when there were not enough parts to go around for all to be gainfully employed in New York's theatre scene.

They tell their stories to each other, the heartbreaks, the rejections, the successes, and away we go. But, it's not only their stories but the viewer's stories, too, since we all struggle with life's ups and downs and compete for the top spot. Selling, or rather promoting, ourselves is de rigueur in today's world and to "follow your passion" like these dancers can mean near starvation.

The set is a dance studio, an audition with a full length (floor to ceiling, i.e., huge) mirror behind the dancers so the audience watches them perform and rehearse in front of the mirror (which makes the stage appear much larger than it is) as if…they are audience members watching a rehearsal and eavesdropping. Quite unique, and for the 1970s, it was revolutionary.

The show's initial 24 dancers are quickly cut to 17 who are the main focus of the play.  Artificial selection (?) shrinks them at the end to the final Great Eight, and if you don't know who "wins," it's fun to try and pick them out.  I was nowhere near close. 

Offstage and behind the audience, the show's director, "Zach" (Carl Randolph) calls out questions and makes comments to the dancers, one of whom, "Cassie" (Nancy Lemenager), has been his former "partner." Their spark has long died out, and the intermingling on stage and weak attempt to reconcile come across as stilted and artificial. Some sex is better than no sex, I suppose (on stage or anywhere else). (The notes say Mr. Randolph's first professional production was as "Bobby" in the national tour of A Chorus Line in 1982, but he doesn't look that old.)

The final scene takes a glorious turn when the rehearsal clothes come off, and gold and dazzle take over, and real show costumes come on.

The production's fast pace without intermission slowed a few times with laborious dialogues which, if shortened or entirely omitted, would improve enjoyment. But it may be the action which lulled me into expecting continuous movement and entertainment, rather like children who expect it non-stop.  The show seems far shorter than two hours.

Director/choreographer Stephen Nachamie refashioned the dancing for this production, and his notes describe his first experience with A Chorus Line 20 years ago when he was 18 and played "Mark."  He's directed many national and regional shows including the Olney's 1776, Camelot, and You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Stand-outs on the Olney stage are Kurt Boehm as "Larry," the show's "co-director," Colleen Hayes, as sassy "Sheila," Elyse Collier as "Judy," and the melodious voice of Jaimie Kelton as "Maggie."

You'll like hearing again "What I Did for Love, "One," and "Dance: Ten; Looks Three." Group harmonies are the best.

Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012), former pops conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra, wrote the music and won the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize.

Andrew F. Griffin will certainly be nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lighting Design which in a memorable scene showers two actors talking down stage while other performers dance in slow motion in subdued shadows for the backdrop, creating a surreal effect.
I predict more Helen Hayes nominees for Olney's Chorus Line:

Outstanding Resident Musical

Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production, Stephen Nachamie
Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical

What: A Chorus Line

When: Evening performances with weekend matinees and some Wednesday matinees now through September 8

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

How much: Tickets from $31. Click here.

Language: Street talk. The show is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Treats: May be taken to seats, including beer, wine, and other beverages which are sold on-site

Free parking: Plenty of it and just steps from the entrance

For more information: 301-924-3400

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

B.B. King and Peter Frampton: the thrills ain't gone

B.B. King sang the blues at Wolf Trap Sunday night/Patricia Leslie 
He may be almost 88 (September 25), but he sure don't look it.  He don't act it either.  "He," of course, is the only one, the inevitable, Mr. Showman, B.B. King, who wowed'em with a capital W at Wolf Trap where the house and yard were full.  And along on the ride was another musical star, Mr. Peter Frampton, who brought a surprise guest.
B.B. was fit and energetic and talkative (all he did was talk the first 30 minutes). With co-star Frampton and Frampton's Guitar Circus, they played their most popular pieces to the screams of fans who were mostly white, mostly over age 40. 
B.B. King sat on a chair while he played (well, look, some half his age have to sit on a chair) and said more than once: "I know I am getting old.  You can look at me and tell," but he didn't look or act it.  He seemed to really enjoy himself up on the stage, in the lights again.  He sang "I Need You So," "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Rock Me, Baby," "How Blue Can You Get?" and, with the audience,  "You Are My Sunshine"/Patricia Leslie
B.B. King held his signature piece, "The Thrill is Gone," until his last number when Peter Frampton sneaked on stage to join him and helped belt it out on the guitar.  With voices as crisp and throaty as yesteryear's, the men needed no back-ups or sound equipment to strengthen their sounds.  They were fine/Patricia Leslie
B.B. King, far right, bantered with the audience and said "Above 60, you're not old.  You're just getting there"/Patricia Leslie
Peter Frampton, 63,  seemed and sang happy "All Night Long" with his special guest at Wolf Trap/Patricia Leslie
To the screams of the crowd, Frampton brought out Roger McGuinn, 71, one of the masterminds of the Byrds, who started off his performance with "Mr. Tambourine Man" and sang "So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star" and "Eight Miles High"/Patricia Leslie
Some of Peter Frampton's greatest hits he let loose at Wolf Trap were "Show Me the Way," "Lines On My Face," "Baby I Love Your Way," "I'll Give You Money," and "Do You Feel Like We Do"/Patricia Leslie
Frampton's Guitar Circus at Wolf Trap Sunday night.  Besides Peter Frampton, band members are Adam Lester, guitar; Rob Arthur, keyboards and guitar; Dan Wojciechowski, drums; and Stanley Sheldon, bass/Patricia Leslie
The only disappointment of the evening was B.B.'s shortened version of "The Thrill is Gone" which mortified some fans who pleaded for more before he left the stage for the night at intermission (he said he was three minutes over his allotted time!), but when you get to be almost 88 and have won 17 Grammys (the first in 1971 and the last in 2009), you can pretty well do what you want to do, they say.  Even an abbreviated version of the classic alone was worth the price of admission and with all the "extras" (!), well, to understate the experience:  a memorable concert for the record books.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Rita Coolidge gave us 'Fever'

Rita Coolidge in a free concert at the National Museum of the American Indian, August 10, 2013/Patricia Leslie
Never know how much I love you, never know how much I care
When you put your arms around me, I get a fever that's so hard to bear
You give me fever - when you kiss me, fever when you hold me tight
Fever - in the the morning, fever all through the night.
In a free concert Saturday afternoon at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, Rita Coolidge charmed hundreds in the Potomac Atrium for almost 90 minutes, singing her classics in her gentle, distinctive voice, instantly recognizable and unchanged over the four decades she has been a star. 
Rita Coolidge in a free concert at the National Museum of the American Indian, August 10, 2013/Patricia Leslie
Among the numbers she sang were "Fever," "Your Love Has Lifted Me (Higher and Higher)," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "We're All Alone," "The Way You Do the Things You Do,"  "Only You," "Bird on a Wire," and "How Sweet It Is to be Loved by You."
Eric Clapton was on her mind in 1969 when she wrote "Superstar":
Long ago, and, oh, so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here, it's just the radio
Don't you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do

When she originally recorded "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love," she said she didn't understand what it was all about since she was not divorced.  But she discovered the meaning later.

The audience did not "sing along" until near the end of the show when Rita invited participation.  Do you ever attend concerts to hear the star perform instead of the audience?
Rita Coolidge and her band gave a free concert at the National Museum of the American Indian, August 10, 2013, which followed a concert at the museum's New York City location.  It was a rarity and welcome sight to see a woman, Mary Ekler, as a band member.  Thanks, Rita! Other band members were Randy Landas, bass and guitar; John McDuffie, guitar; Lynn Coulter, drums/Patricia Leslie

Rita Coolidge with Randy Landas in a free concert at the National Museum of the American Indian, August 10, 2013/Patricia Leslie
Ms. Coolidge, of Cherokee Indian ancestry,  saved the best for last: Amazing Grace, the Cherokee National Anthem. She briefly described the sad story of the Trail of Tears, the saga of 1838 when President Andrew Jackson forced the last 16,000 Cherokees to leave Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee and travel to what became Oklahoma, literally following in the footsteps of their brothers and sisters who had earlier moved. Thousands died on the journey, including 60,000 of the 130,000 Cherokees driven away. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 banished all Indians from east of the Mississippi River. (Click here to see their trails. And here for more information.)
Ms. Coolidge's powerful song and story brought the hall to a standstill. Babies quietened, talkative youth grew silent, and even the noisy guards on the upper floors ceased shouting at visitors standing along the stairwell to listen to the singer's message which evoked passions for peace, and emotions, including among those without known Indian heritage.

Rita Coolidge with Randy Landas on bass and Lynn Coulter on drums in a free concert at the National Museum of the American Indian, August 10, 2013/Patricia Leslie


It just looks like church, but it was the audience who came to see and listen to Rita Coolidge in a free concert at the National Museum of the American Indian, August 10, 2013/Patricia Leslie

The crowd gave Rita Coolidge and her band a standing ovation at the end of their free concert at the National Museum of the American Indian, August 10, 2013/Patricia Leslie

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Nats or jazz in the Sculpture Garden?

Friday is always time to "get down" and what better place than the Sculpture Garden's jazz night at the National Gallery of Art?  Alas, although he tried to pull women on the dance floor from their nests under the trees, a partner was not to be found, but who needs a partner? Tails out?  Or tells out?  Tales out?  Ale out? With tennis shoes, shades and a tie, available/Patricia Leslie

On tap at the Sculpture Garden was the Joshua Bayer Jazz Quartet which played some Count Basie/Patricia Leslie
Members of the Joshua Bayer Jazz Quartet/Patricia Leslie

 Members of the Joshua Bayer Jazz Quartet including Josh Bayer on the electric guitar/Patricia Leslie

God, don't you love these shoes?  What better place to wear them than to an outdoor jazz concert?  Just stay out of the grass/Patricia Leslie

Are these perfect to stand in the restroom line for 15 minutes or what? I am so glad I didn't wear flats!/Patricia Leslie

We could have gone to the baseball game instead and watched a rat, is that what that was?, trip the presidents in the race like what happened Tuesday night when Bryce hit the homer which took as long as  congressional vacations to land, but oh, no!  You were too cheap to pay $15 for $5 seats for the Phillies tonight so here we are!  Outdoors with free jazz at the Sculpture Garden and $30 we can spend on sangria.  Yes!/Patricia Leslie
Doc Scantlin's Palmettos (1920s and '30s big band) August 16
Dixie Power Trio (zydeco, Cajun and Louisiana funk) August 23
Bruno Nasta (jazz violin) and the U.S. Navy Commodores Jazz Ensemble August 30

What:  Jazz in the Garden Concert Series at the National Gallery of Art
When:  5 - 8:30 p.m. every Friday night through August 30, 2013
Where: Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Art, at the corner of Seventh, Constitution, and Madison, N.W. Washington, D.C.
How much:  It's free
Metro stations:  Smithsonian or Federal Triangle
For more information: 202-289-3360 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Munch extended through Sunday at the National Gallery of Art

Edvard Munch, The Vampire, 1895 (printed 1896/1902) lithograph and color woodcut with watercolor on thick china paper. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund and Gift of Lionel C. Epstein
© Munch Museum/Munch Ellingsen Group/ARS, NY 2013

A few precious days remain to see 20 of Edvard Munch’s prints and drawings in a special exhibition at the National Gallery of Art which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth (December 12, 1863).
Probably the most celebrated artist from Norway who drew one of the world's most recognizable works, if not the most recognizable, The Scream (1895), Munch said he used art to interpret the world and "explain life and its meaning to myself."
If you don't know anything about Edvard Munch, the etchings in the one-gallery show reveal his turmoil, depression, sadness, and anger at women who dominate the display. (They are in 18 of the pieces.)
Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm, 1895, lithograph sheet: 45.6 x 31.5 cm (17 15/16 x 12 3/8 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection
© Munch Museum/Munch Ellingsen Group/ARS, NY 2013
He was born in a farmhouse in Norway, the son of a doctor and a woman half his father's age.
When Munch was only five, his mother died of tuberculosis, and he and his four siblings were raised by their conservatively religious father (whose father was a minister) and aunt. It was an oppressive environment where the father often admonished his children about their behavior, saying their mother was watching them from heaven, upset by what she saw. (“She knows when you are sleeping, she knows if you’ve been bad or good…”) He told his children tales of horror, including some by Edgar Allan Poe.
Said Munch: “I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.”

Contributing to his lifelong angst was the death, when he was 13, of his beloved sister, Sophie, at 15, another victim of tuberculosis, who had become somewhat of a substitute mother for Munch.

His first major work, The Sick Child (1894) represents his break from impressionism and naturalism, and captures the pain and his immense sadness over his sister's death. The label quotes Munch: "Scarcely any painter has ever experienced the full grief of their subject as I did."
Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1894 (printed 1895), drypoint on thick cream paper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection
© Munch Museum/Munch Ellingsen Group/ARS, NY 2013

His love life was often in shambles.  Two married women drew Munch's ardor (because they were unavailable?), an obsession he experienced for several years, and, later, he spurned marriage with a long-term lover who finally gave him up after a shooting incident and married a younger man. 

Bitter and angry, Munch took to the drawing board.

Could he have been a misogynist? Carrying anger remaining from the death of his mother who "abandoned" him, grief which engulfed him at the time of his adored sister's death, and lovers who wouldn't love? They all "left" Munch.

As a viewer moves from print to woodcut in the show, one cannot escape the obvious:  Edvard Munch was extremely troubled by women and their desertion of him.

The entrance to the tribute show for Edvard Munch at the National Gallery of Art/Patricia Leslie
Nothing affirms this in the show quite as well as Love and Pain, later titled Vampire which is as the name suggests:

A woman engulfs a man in a haunting embrace with her arms and bloody red hair, the major color in the woodcut. Both anonymously faced subjects look down.

Is the man a child seeking comfort in his mother's lap? Or sympathy from a lover who seems to suck blood from his neck? Every man? Every woman? Is this a perpetual trap by women with their fangs out? (I am here to tell you it doesn’t work.) Munch was unsettled by the women’s “revolution” of the late 19th century and their growing independence.

In 1889 he moved to Paris where art by Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec excited and influenced him. Three years later, his one-man show in Berlin closed abruptly due to controversy.  Even then, "bad press was good press," and Munch relished the talk.

From time to time his father had helped him with living expenses but frowned upon the nudes his son drew and was known to have destroyed at least one of Munch's impressions, but, like many artists, Munch's works became "his children,” and he resisted letting them go.  Or selling them sometimes.

During his later years Munch drew many nudes from the models who visited him at his home near Oslo where he lived in solitude and feared the creeping Nazis and what they would do to his art which filled the second floor of his home.  Munch died in the house January 23, 1944, four years after the Nazis invaded Norway. 

Last year the most colorful of his Screams sold for almost $120 million.  Munch's works are the first by a Western artist to be exhibited at the National Gallery in Beijing.

The Nazis called works by him, Picasso, Klee, Matisse, Gauguin, and others, "degenerate,” and they removed 82 of Munch's pictures from German museums.  Munch illustrated life's sorrows and their emotions and pain.

Wikipedia quotes Adolph Hitler: "[These] prehistoric Stone Age culture barbarians and art-stutterers can return to the caves of their ancestors and there can apply their primitive international scratching."

Enjoy “scratchings” in “the cave” at the National Gallery of Art!

The exhibition curator was Andrew Robison, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Art.

What: Edvard Munch: A 150th anniversary Tribute

Admission: No charge

When: Now through Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., and from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., all other days

Where: Ground Floor at the West Building, the National Gallery of Art, between Fourth and Seventh streets at Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.

Metro stations: Smithsonian, L'Enfant Plaza, Archives-Navy Memorial, or Judiciary Square

For more information: 202-737-4215