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Monday, September 18, 2017

Olney sells out two extensions of 'In the Heights'

 The ensemble of In the Heights, co-produced by Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre/Photo by Stan Barouh 

Two extended shows of In the Heights now on stage at the Olney Theatre Center are sold out through October 22.

They were announced almost before the show started, yet they are not enough to satisfy demand.

Not to fear.  

At the Olney's web page lies a hint that more seats may become available if any are released 48 hours before a show (full price), and tickets may become available 30 minutes before a show if released ($20).  You have to check back to find out. (Like, bring a tent and hope Maria doesn't stop by.)
Robin De Jesús as Usnavi and ensemble members dance the night away In the Heights, a co-production of Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre /Photo by Stan Barouh

No doubt the playwright's success with Hamilton, now a Broadway smash, is a factor in Heights' popularity, too. 
In the Heights was Lin-Manuel Miranda's first New York musical which he drafted when he was only a college sophomore at Wesleyan University.  In 2008 when Heights opened on Broadway, it earned 13 Tony nominations, winning four (Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations).

Heights tells the stories of residents of Mr. Miranda's beloved Hispanic-American neighborhood, Washington Heights, who work to make ends meet, cope, and have a fling or two while, all along, they struggle to advance their stations. It's life!  

They sing, they dance, and man do they dance! It's action, action, action all night long with barely a breath to take.  That one person (Marcos Santana) both directed and choreographed Heights is astonishing.

In the lead role is Robin de Jesús, Tony nominee, who also starred in the Broadway production.  It's rare when he's absent from the stage to lead the cast in its kicks, steps, songs, flashes, and exuberance. Music lovers will enjoy variations from salsa, reggae, hip hop, merengue (a Dominican dance), rap, to traditional sounds and accompanying dance. 

Lighting by Cory Pattak is outstanding, and the hidden orchestra under the direction of Christopher Youstra exceeds expectations per usual.

In the Heights is a co-production with Roundhouse Theatre and includes creative team members: Quiara Alegría Hudes, book; Frank Labovitz, costumes; Milagros Ponce de Leon, scenics; Elisabeth Ribar, assistant stage manager; Matt Rowe, sound; Karen Currie, production stage manager; Dennis A. Blackledge, production; and Rebecca Kritzer, assistant choreographer, dance captain, and cast member.

Others in the cast include Scean Aaron, Eunice Bae, Danny Bolero, Sharlane Conner, Mili Diaz, Natascia Diaz, Linedy Genao, Vilma Gil, Rayanne Gonzales, Andre Hinds, Jesse Jones, Ashleigh King, Michael J. Mainwaring, Juan Drigo Ricafort, Melissa Victor, Marquise White, and Tobias A. Young.

Hamilton comes to the Kennedy Center next year.

What: In the Heights
Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

When: Now through October 22, 2017.

Talkbacks after 2 p.m. Saturday matinees on September 30 and October 7 with cast and crew members.

How much: (Hmmm...)  Please go here for more information.

Ages: Appropriate for all.  If language is "adult," it's inaudible.

Duration: 2.5 hours with one 15-minute intermission

Refreshments: 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, September 17, 2017

JFK photographs leave the Smithsonian today

 John F. Kennedy, 1961, by Shirley Seltzer Cooper (1919-1999)

In celebration of what would have been President John F. Kennedy's 100th birthday on May 29, 2017, the Smithsonian American Art Museum opened a collection of 77 photographs and other remembrances of the man whose spirit, intelligence, appreciation for the arts, and energy captivated America which has never been able to regain its sense of confidence and bravery since his death. 

Today is the last day for the display which is based on the book, JFK:  A Vision for America edited by Stephen Kennedy Smith, President Kennedy's nephew, and Douglas Brinkley, history professor at Rice University.

Most of the images in the exhibition are familiar to those who grew up with the ghost of JFK.  Below are a few of the less well-known pictures.
Kennedy for Congress headquarters, Boston, September, 1946, by Yale Joel/Life Picture Collection, Getty Images
In the galleries of the JFK exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
John Kennedy, center, with his father, Joseph, and brother, Joseph Patrick, Jr., Brookline, MA, 1919/John f. Kennedy Library Foundation
In the galleries at the Smithsonian American Art Museum where JFK's familiar quotations are painted on the walls. This caption from June 14, 1956 reads:  Our Nation's first great politicians were also among the Nation's first great writers and scholars...Books were their tools, not their enemies.
/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Campaigning in Amherstdale, WVA, April, 1960, one of 53 campaign stops candidate Kennedy made in the state in one month.  There he learned something about the lives of coal miners which helped form his anti-poverty legislation when he became president/Life Picture Collection, Getty Images
During an airport campaign stop in Amarillo, TX on Nov. 3, 1960, JFK tried to restrain his running mate, Lyndon Johnson, incensed by Republican pilots revving up their engines to silence Democratic Party speakers/without credit line
Waiting for results the day after the election at Bobby and Ethel Kennedy's home in Hyannis Port, MA on Nov. 9, 1960 are (behind JFK, seated) Bobby and Ethel (in a sweater dress.  Ethel, age 89, is still living.) /Jacques Lowe (the Jacques Lowe Estate)
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Andre Malraux, the minister of cultural affairs for France, arranged the first tour of the Mona Lisa to the U.S. from the Louvre for a three-week run at the National Gallery of Art. This was taken on Jan. 8, 1963/Abbie Rowe,John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
At the entrance to the JFK exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The U.S. State Department has sent the images to Australia, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Germany, Honduras, Kosovo, Poland, Romania, South Korea, Thailand, and Venezuela where they will travel throughout each country through 2018.

What: American Visionary:  John F. Kennedy's Life and Times

When: Closes Sunday, September 17, 2017. The museum is open from 11:30 a.m.- 7 p.m. every day.

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F streets, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20004

How much: No charge

For more information
: 202-633-1000 or visit the website.

Metro station
: Gallery Place-Chinatown or walk 10 minutes from Metro Center

Sunday, September 10, 2017

'Devil' sings Bessie Smith's blues at Mosaic (extended)

Miche Braden as Bessie Smith with Anthony E. Nelson, Jr., in The Devil's Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith/Photo by Stan Barouh

Bessie Smith fans, this one's for you!  The Devil's Music:  The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith now on stage at Mosaic Theater on H Street, in one of the most dynamic theaters in Washington, D.C.

The music of Bessie Smith (1894-1937) and parts of her life are the story here, told in song and sketches by Miche Brade who belts out the blues in her strong and passionate voice,  supported by a trio of consummate musicians: Jim Hankins on bass, Anthony E. Nelson, Jr., playing sax, and Gerard Gibbs, pianist who provide verbal, visual, and sexual backdrops.

Miss Smith's big hits are all here:  I Ain't Got Nobody, St. Louis Blues, Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do and ten more.

She enters from a center door atop steps to descend to  a crowded, though handsome set (by Brian Prather) of heavy Victorian design with lamps, plants, and liquor bottles, several which sit on a table and suggest the arrival of another much needed actor to join the dialogue, but it doesn't happen.

Before the show, theatergoers are warned by a sign at the entrance to the auditorium that the script contains adult language which is, indeed, coarse, and more hard-core than expected.

The simulated sex sax scene is off putting and denigrates the singer's reputation, even if she was as boorish as portrayed.

The music clearly is what this is all about and the show delivers on this most important element.
Bessie Smith by Carl Van Vechten on February 3, 1936/Wikipedia, Library of Congress

Designer Patricia E. Doherty dresses Ms. Braden in an elegant purple gown which flows with her swings and sashays throughout the evening, seeming to fill the stage at times.  The musicians' apparel (three piece suits and ties) is right in keeping with the vestments of the age.

Known as the "Empress of the Blues," Ms. Smith was "the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s....often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era" and "a major influence on other jazz singers," says Wikipedia.

Born in Chattanooga (which has a Bessie Smith Cultural Center), Bessie got her start around age 18 dancing for her brother's troupe before she climbed the ranks to become the highest paid black entertainer of the time. Her shows included 40 performers. Ms. Smith traveled in her own railway car.

Miche Braden is Bessie Smith in The Devil's Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith/Photo by Stan Barouh

Too soon, the Depression (1929-1939) suspended her stardom, decimating the recording industry, about the time talking movies effectively ended vaudeville show like Ms. Smith's. Her last hit, Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, was recorded in 1929, but she continued entertaining during the market downturn until her death from an automobile accident on a Mississippi highway in 1937.
Bessie Smith's death certificate/Wikipedia, State of Mississippi

Her grave in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania went unmarked until 1970 when Janis Joplin and a former Smith housekeeper, Juanita Green, bought a headstone for it. Ms. Smith's estranged husband was unsupportive of a gravestone for his wife, keeping the money contributors gave for one.

Bessie Smith was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.

What: The Devil's Music:  The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith by Angelo Parra. Conceived and directed by Joe Brancato with musical arrangements by Miche Braden. 
Todd O. Wren, lighting designer; C. Renee Alexander, stage manager

When: Extended through October 1, 2017.  Shows at 8 p.m., Thursdays - Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. on Sundays, 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees, and a student matinee at 11 a.m. this Thursday, September 14.

Where: Lang Theatre, Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20002

Getting there: Riding public transportation from Union Station on the streetcar is easy and free, if you can master the first hurdle, that of finding the streetcar behind Union Station. Signage in the station is inadequate. For those who wish to travel by private automobile, there are parking options: Advance valet parking is $15 for subscribers with vouchers; $20, without; or park in a nearby lot or for free on city streets Sundays.

Tickets to the show start at $20. Buy online, phone (202-399-7993, ext. 2), or at the box office.

Language:  Adult

About 85 minutes without intermission.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Last weekend for Theaster Gates at the National Gallery of Art

On display at Theaster Gates: The Minor Arts at the National Gallery of Art,  is part of an old roof from a Chicago church/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In the Tower at the National Gallery of Art's East Building, you can catch some of Theaster Gates' art if you hurry, for this weekend is the last for the show.

Wikipedia identifies Gates (b. 1973) as a Chicagoan who makes installation art and is committed to revitalizing poverty-stricken areas. Formerly, a curator for the Chicago Transit Authority, he identified and obtained art  for CTA's public space. (Hmmm....does Metro have such a position?  The evidence is lacking.)  He is an art director for the University of Chicago.

 Theaster Gates at the National Gallery of Art, Feb. 28, 2017/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Theaster Gates, b. 1973, New Egypt Sanctuary of the Holy Word and Image, which includes a towering library of hundreds of bound copies of Ebony magazine/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Theaster Gates, b. 1973, Inside New Egypt Sanctuary of the Holy Word and Image is Elegua in Winter/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Aided by his urban planning and arts education background, Mr. Gates sculpts and makes his art work by using discarded materials which often link to his past. That his father was a roofer influenced the artist when he took an old roof from a Chicago church and made it into a wall, on display at the Gallery.

Mr. Gates' eight older sisters (he was the only male in a family of nine children) made sure their little brother knew all about the importance of civil rights.
 Theaster Gates at the National Gallery of Art, Feb. 28, 2017, in front of his Game of My Own/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Theaster Gates, b. 1973, A Game of My Own (left) made from flooring from a school gymnasium/Photo by Patricia Leslie
  Theaster Gates, b. 1973, A Game of My Own (left)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
His renderings are provoking and demonstrate his sophistication and sensitivities to disparate elements of society. At a Los Angeles gallery this year, the asking price for one Gates' work was $750,000.
Theaster Gates, National Gallery of Art, Feb. 28, 2017 standing in front of his Something About Modernism and Death and the church roof/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Theaster Gates, b. 1973, Something About Modernism and Death/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Mr. Gates said Washington's exhibition enabled him to show the relationship between art, history, and "the stories of where I'm from." He is one of few living artists to enjoy an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. 
A catalogue is available.

What: Theaster Gates: The Minor Arts

When: The National Gallery of Art is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday. The exhibition closes on Labor Day, September 4, 2017.

Where: East Building Tower, Gallery 501, the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission charge: It's always free admission at the National Gallery of Art.

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215