Friday, June 30, 2017

I could have danced all night at the Olney (extended thru AG 6)

Brittany Campbell (Eliza Doolittle) and Danny Bernardy (Henry Higgins) dance all night in Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady/Photo by Stan Barouh

With a little bit of luck, you can, too! And still beg for more.

It's that much fun! And it's grand. Another huge hit at the Olney Theatre Center which brings the magic of My Fair Lady to the stage to enjoy and admire.

Chris Genebach (Alfred P. Doolittle) and the ensemble of Olney Theatre Center's production of My Fair Lady/Photo by Stan Barouh

The songs are all here, the ones you've grown accustomed to adore: I'm Getting Married in the Morning, On the Street Where You Live, I'm An Ordinary Man, Get Me to the Church on Time, glamorized by a 14-piece orchestra (hidden somewhere) and under the usual superb direction of Christopher Youstra and the baton of Andra Velis-Simon.

When Benjamin Lurye as Freddy Eynsford-Hill sang On the Street Where You Live, I was almost carried away to the top of the huge lilac branch hanging over half the stage to soar with Freddy. His knockout voice and stunning delivery are alone worth the price of admission. (Just you wait.)

Danny Bernardy is Professor Higgins who tries to teach Eliza (Brittany Campbell) a lesson or two about speech after he "rescues" her from life in the streets selling flowers.

Mr. Bernardy and Ms. Campbell are captivating with undeniable chemistry, enchantment pouring out of every step, critical to any show's success, the duo's confidence and strength adding to the production's allure.

Valerie Leonard's skilful performance and fast transition  from Mrs. Pearce to Mrs.Higgins and back again could be a lesson for every theatre student.

Chris Genebach is Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's dad, a scene stealer every time he appears to draw laughs and images of the mischief he is soon to make. (See if you can follow the fast-moving ladder and steps in-between.)

Another notable cast member is Todd Scofield as Colonel Pickering, a right jolly agreeable fellow and a nice balance to the rumpus kickers in the rest of the lot.

Ensemble members seem to love being here and dancing the night away which my notes reflect since "choreography, choreography, choreography" (by Grady McLeod Bowman in his Olney debut) is the refrain appearing throughout. 

Dialect coach Zachary Campion certainly succeeds for actors' speech patterns lack affectations and exaggerations.

The staging has been advanced to the 1920s when women got the right to vote in the United Kingdom, a twist to the original Edwardian timing by playwright George Bernard Shaw's whose adaptation of Pygmalion, Lerner and Loewe used as their basis for Lady.

Female suffrage receives a slight nod in the production, but the treatment is neither didactic nor annoying, barely noticeable, save some costuming by designer Pei Lee who dresses the characters in drab colors (browns, greys) until a perceptible lift is detected, and off we go to the races, but where did Lee find Eliza's last outfit? A trifling matter, especially when Eliza appears as a princess to descend the stairs, her brown skin beautifully contrasting with the ivory ball gown reminiscent of Michelle Obama's 2009 inaugural formal.

And those outlandish race hats!  Kate and William's wedding may have inspired Pei Lee.  Another scene worth the price of admission, especially combined with the marvelous sound effects Matt Rowe put together as the horses round the theatre's ring behind the audience and the ensemble closely follows their progression. 

However, brace yourself if you've seen My Fair Lady before and expect ostentatious Edwardian sets. They are not to be at the Olney. James Fouchard has created a "neo-minimalist" design like a chess board, and in Professor Higgins's library, there's a game of scrabble upon the wall.

At the end of the show a man told me he cried. He cried? I cried, too. And, at intermission. What's this? It's a happy show, but director Alan Souza got the best of us and our emotions at a dazzling performance.

I'll never get too accustomed to it. 

In the ensemble are: Ian Anthony Coleman, Warren Freeman, Julia Klavans, Christina Kidd, Alex Kidder (also, dance captain), Ashleigh King, Jimmy Mavrikes, and Christopher Mueller.

Other creative staff members are: Trevor A. Riley, production stage manager; Max Doolittle, lights; Ali Pohanka, wigs; Dennis A. Blackledge, director of production; Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director; and Jason Loewith, artistic director.

What: My Fair Lady

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

Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm; matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm; Wednesday matinee July 12 at 2:00 pm. Now through August 6, 2017.

An audio-described performance for the blind and visually impaired on July 5 at 8:00 pm and a sign-interpreted performance on July 13 at 8:00 pm.

How much: Tickets begin at $45 with discounts for seniors, groups, military, and students.

Ages: 10 years and above

Duration: Two hours, 40 minutes with one intermission

Available and may be taken to seats

Parking: Free, nearby, and plentiful on-site

For more information and tickets
: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pre-Ossoff at Hoover Institution

 From left, Bill Kristol, Jeff Bell, and Spencer Abraham at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Progressives have "a sense of inevitability," said Jeff Bell at "Political Parties in America: Trends and Truths in the Trump Era," a half-day event last Monday at the Hoover Institution,  

The day before the special election in Georgia (won by the Republican Karen Handel who surprised most with a larger-than-expected victory over Democrat Jon Ossoff, 51.9% v. 48.1%), politicos gathered for discussion, moderated by Bill Kristol, the editor-at-large of the Weekly Standard.
  From left, Jeff Bell, and Spencer Abraham at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Overall, the tone throughout the afternoon was moderate; President Trump's name was not mentioned as much as anticipated in a session filled with much presidential election history.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the afternoon came from Morris Fiorina, a Stanford University political science professor who addressed the audience as one of three participants on "Party and Faction, In Principle and Practice" with Harvey Mansfield, Harvard University professor of government, and James Ceaser, University of Virginia professor of politics, all Hoover senior fellows.
  From left, Doug Sosnik and Neera Tanden at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Fiorina presented charts and documentation on past presidential elections, information he gleaned from The Economist, he said. (His presentation would make a great program for political groups.)

Trump and Hillary Clinton were badly flawed, highly unpopular candidates, and Fiorina presented graphs to support his statements The only female voting segment Hillary Clinton won were women with post-graduate degrees. 

"Part of Trump's appeal was nobody knew where he was," Fiorina said. "He talked out of both sides of his mouth."
  Professor Harvey Mansfield at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The "situation is very dicey for each party" said Jeff Bell, former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and New Jersey Republican senatorial candidate, speaking on an earlier panel "The Republican Party Today" where he was joined by  Spencer Abraham, the last Republican U.S. Senator from Michigan (1995-2001) and former Secretary of Energy under President George W. Bush.
  Professor Morris Fiorina at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie

With the exception of Fiorina's remarks, Bell's and Abraham's discussion was the most riveting of the afternoon, and being first on the program helped.
Bell said there is "mutual suspicion between the [Republican] base and party elites," description heard throughout the day.

Senator Abraham may no longer be in the Senate, but he stays close to Michigan voters. 

Parties now are basically "data collection centers," which have become "a library of sorts," he said. "Elected officials are not all that happy with the brand.  The base is unhappy with the failure [of party leaders] to fight hard."
  Professor James Ceaser at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Abraham said that people "were much more vocally supportive of their president" when he was George H. (?) Bush and Bill Clinton.

On the other hand, "when the going gets tough," said Bell, "Republicans bail out." When Bush was "savaged," especially in his second term, the president's response was to ignore the attacks, unlike Trump who "is going in the opposite extreme defending himself" on everything.

From left, James Ceaser, Morris Fiorina, Bill Kristol, and Harvey Mansfield at the Hoover Institution/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Abraham said Trump's condescension towards the establishment is obvious. 

Bell said that the last Gallup poll before the 2016 election revealed Trump's positive rating at 34% and, negative, 62% (not too different from the CBS poll released June 20, 2017: 36% positive, 57%, negative).

Kristol noted the "huge gap" in turnout of Democrats versus Republicans in the June 13 Virginia gubernatorial primary.   

Bell thinks Republican "Ed Gillespie has a pretty good chance" to win the Virginia governor's race in November, and if the Democrats make Trump's impeachment an issue, "it's not all bad for Trump," an opinion Kristol shares.
Abraham said there were really four parties represented in last year's election: Two each for the Democrats and Republicans.  

Now there's a much greater chance other parties will emerge outside the mainstream, Bell said.  

He mentioned last month's French vote as an example (?). Abraham said Republicans feared Trump would run as an independent. Bernie Sanders was the insurgent candidate versus the establishment on the Democratic side, and "Sanders's wing" is gaining momentum.

Bell said: "The conservative movement didn't keep its finger on the electorate  very well.  Right now it's more about the progressive movement," while "the conservatives can't figure out what to do with themselves."

Abraham noted last year Trump carried 65% of the vote in many of Michigan's "old industrial cities" (Battle Creek, Port Huron, Monroe were some he named). 

"The white working class," he said, has a "sense of hopelessness about themselves, their children and their futures" which the people in Washington "not only don't get," but "they don't take it seriously." 

Answering a question from a member of the audience, Bell described a "disconnect between people who run the parties and the electorate."

For another questioner, Abraham thinks" a more confrontational Republican party is likely to emerge here," which will make Republicans uncomfortable, being averse to conflict.

With the exception of pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump's strength is his foreign policy, Bell said.

On the second panel were Neera Tanden, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress (often called a "left-leaning think tank") and Doug Sosnik, former counselor to President Bill Clinton who has also worked for Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), John Kerry when he ran for president in 2004, and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT). 
Tanden said the Democrats are " incredibly unified...extremely united with no leader in sight."  (Later, she named Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri as rising Democratic stars.  Someone during the day mentioned New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Sosnik said since 1972 the Democrats have moved further left, will move further left for next year's congressional races and will move even further left for the 2020 presidential campaign.

Political activism is the "greatest" Tanden has seen "in my lifetime." Leaders are not leading, they are following. Sosnik agreed he has never seen "this energy" either. The anti-Trump effect is having a positive benefit for the Democrats, but Democrats have to be convinced to show their "level of anger" by voting next year, said Sosnik.

The "president's problems impact his ability to govern," Sosnik said, and said opponents came out "like rabid dogs" to attack Bill Clinton when he was impeached in 1999. (Senator Abraham voted to convict him.)  

Kristol said that Trump should ignore diversions, but he does not.

Sosnik: "I thought [Trump] would become 'normalized'" once he took office, but "he's not." ("I used  to worry about it; now, I don't.") Trump is 71 and is not going to reinvent himself, Sosnik said.

After President Richard Nixon resigned and President Gerald Ford pardoned him, Kristol said it didn't take long for the matter to fade, and Ford "almost won" the 1976 election. (Jimmy Carter won with 50.08% of the votes and 297 electoral votes, and Ford drew 48.02% and 240 electoral votes.) Sosnik said with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson knew it would be the end of the Democratic Party as it was known then.

Tanden predicted nontraditional candidates will be running the U.S. 15 to 20 years from now, "not the suits in Washington."

Sosnik said that Bernie Sanders and Trump had more in common than perceived.

Sosnik said that Trump has "squandered" the most valuable time of his presidency, the first six months.  "He had no purpose to govern.  He had no theory, no organizing principle. He ran to win."

Tanden said  governing is harder work than running a race, and at the end of the day, the question remains:  Does Trump improve the lives of Americans?

About 50 attended.  A reception followed with the best broiled, spiced shrimp ever to fire up voters. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra wins the Stanley Cup!

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director, Marin Alsop

Well, almost. Maybe, they won the Symphony Cup.

The crowd was so enthusiastic and vigorous at Strathmore Saturday night, I thought I was at a Caps' game or the Nats, either one, take your pick, this was not a dry, sophisticated, ho hum, la-dee-daa audience, but one which fell head over heels for violin soloist Gil Shaham who played Ludwig van Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61, and, of course, for the second act, the orchestra performed Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, famously known as the "Organ Symphony" (and the reason for my being...there). 
Camille Saint-Saëns/All Music

Audience members leapt to their feet and screamed "Bravo!  Bravo!" so many times, it was like the last of the Caps' games, in the playoffs, in the Stanley Cup race when, at last, they finally made it past the Evil Monsters Pittsburg Penguins, and the Caps won!

No quite, but coming down to Earth, I was at the Baltimore Symphony which thrilled the audience, in love with their orchestra and conductor Marin Alsop like no other.

Last year was the orchestra's 100th birthday! Celebrate!  

And it did with a fine program to thrill any music lover, beginning with The Game commissioned of Christopher Theofanidis, who was on hand to introduce the work, a loud, energetic, delightful piece filled with horns and gaiety, perfect for a birthday commemoration.  Not one of those dull, stifling, silent pieces often associated with contemporary drama.  Baa humbug.

And to add to the celebration was the recognition of three retiring musicians who together have played for the BSO more than 100 years! 

It was the first I have seen scalpers outside a symphony hall pre-performance trying to sell tickets to a sold-out show.

Congratulations, Baltimore!  Let the band play on next season!  Bravo! Bravo! Just in time for subscribers to sign up.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Movie 'Obit,' a must for political junkies

Jeff Roth in Obit/Green Fuse Films, Inc.
Dear Junkies,

You'll love it.

As everyone knows (or, at least, the dwindling number who read newspapers), "obit" is short for "obituary," a place formerly reserved for neophytes at newspapers of yesteryear but, as portrayed in this clever documentary of the same title, a place where senior newspapermen go to produce their craft, turn out their stories, and capture the lives of notables in generally 800 words or less.

A handful of white male writers (okay, there is one white female writer) describe
individually "A Day in the Life of an Obituary Writer at the New York Times," how their subjects are chosen, how they find out details about the deceased, and how they put it all together before deadline.

They discuss reasons for choosing particular subjects. (Does the word "died" have to appear near the top of the story if the word is in the headline?)

They search the Times' morgue where 30 employees used to work, and now, there is one. (Sigh: technology.)

What was surprising in this era of "fact checking" was the lack of fact checking (unless I missed it, but Sheila says I didn't) by the writers who probe families for information about the deceased. They just accept everything that's handed off as the truth?

One writer says he presumed a dead man was a Democratic congressman from Illinois since the family was Democratic, however, the writer's presumption was wrong, which he learned the next day when the obit ran and he received a email notice of error. Which means a correction in the paper.

Also, I presumed that advances were prepared for all notables, but how could that possibly happen when there are so many?

They come and go, and what exactly defines a "notable"? (A Wikipedia writer I met a few months ago at Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's talk at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told me Wikipedia's writers and researchers frequently wrestle with this topic: Who are the notables? And where did they go?)

Anyway, I believe the NYT department head said they had about 1,500 advances done, with the oldest from 1931 and the person is still living! (Kirk Douglas? He's only 101.)

Advancing age and known illnesses (an editor picked up on an imminent death by a trailer running along the bottom of the television screen) mean an advance may be prepared, but the department is often surprised by "untimely" deaths, like Michael Jackson's and Prince's.

Moviegoers who are not political/news junkies will probably find Obit a bit dull, and even for a junkie like me, it dragged.

Nevertheless, it is a fascinating look inside the "old gray lady" whose large coterie of obit writers strike an outsider as chiefly down-to-earth types looking to write the best about life. 

An obit is not a story about death:  It's a celebration of life.

A film not to miss!

Congratulations to the female director, Vanessa Gould!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Free Bach Brandenburg concert, Wednesday, St. John's, Lafayette Square

Mary Bowden/Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Classical trumpeter Mary Bowden will join the 20 members of the U.S. Air Force Strings Ensemble Wednesday to play Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in a free noontime concert at St. John's Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square.

Ms. Bowden, who has accompanied Adele on tour, began fulltime college music studies at the age of 14. Gramaphone has called her "brilliant" and “radiant in new repertoire for trumpet,” an adaptation of "radiant" which appears in the title of her recently released first album, "Radiance."  

A worldwide performer, Ms. Bowden has placed first in many competitions.
 The U.S. Air Force Strings Ensemble

Air Force Strings is one of six musical ensembles of the U.S. Air Force Band. The Strings' portfolio includes wide-ranging styles from classical to rock, bluegrass, Broadway, and patriotic selections, played without a conductor. 

Also on Wednesday's program is "Serenade for String" by George Antheil (1900-1959), an avante-garde composer and inventor (Wikipedia).

The concert is the last of this year's First Wednesday Concerts series at St. John's.
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

St. John's was founded in 1815 and is known to Washington residents as the yellow church at Lafayette Square. It's often called the “Church of the Presidents” since beginning with President James Madison, who was president from 1809 to 1817, every president 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. 

Benjamin Latrobe, the "father of American architecture" who designed the U.S. Capitol and the White House porticos, created the plan for St. John's Church using a Greek cross.  

The church bell, which weighs almost 1,000 pounds, was cast by Paul Revere's son, Joseph, in 1822 and hung at the church that year where it has rung since. Wikipedia says two accounts report that whenever the bell rings on the occasion of the death of a notable person, six male ghosts appear at the president's pew at midnight and quickly disappear. (Who's counting?) 

Dolley Madison, wife of President Madison, was baptized and confirmed at St. John's which is "one of the few original remaining buildings left near Lafayette Park today,"
according to the National Park Service.

Following tradition, President Donald J. Trump and his family began his presidency on the morning of January 20, 2017 with private services at St. John's.

For those on lunch break, food trucks are located nearby at Farragut Square.


Another concert not to miss!
Who:  Mary Bowden and the U.S. Air Force Strings presenting Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 and Antheil's "Serenade for Strings"

First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m., June 7, 2017

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 director of music ministry and organist, 202-270-6265 or