Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Saints Day free concert Nov. 1, St. John's, Lafayette Square

Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455), The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24), National Gallery, London/Wikipedia

Maurice Duruflé, George Shearing, and J.S. Bach are some of the composers whose works will be played at a free lunchtime concert Wednesday at St. John's, Lafayette Square in honor of All Saints Day.

Brent Erstad, an organist and assistant director of music at St. John's who teaches at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, will play Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 537 (Bach), Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain (Duruflé), and There is a Happy Land (Shearing).

Also on the program are Elegy by George Thalben-Ball and Litanies by Jehan Alain. The performance is part of the church's First Wednesday concert series.
Brent Erstad/Episcopal High School

All Saints Day commemorates those who have died and have gone to heaven. It falls between Halloween and All Souls Day or Day of the Dead on November 2, the latter which recognizes those who have died and have not yet reached heaven. 

All Saints often commemorates the lives of loved ones who have died in the past year, including those known to members at St. John's who, throughout the year, provide names of the deceased to the church where they are read aloud in services.

The history of All Saints' Day can be traced to Pope Boniface IV, who in 609 AD consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs. In the next century, All Saints was given officialdom on November 1 by Pope Gregory III.
All Saints' Day at a cemetery in Sanok, Poland, November 1, 2011/Silar, Creative Commons, Wikipedia

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 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, known as the "father of American architecture" and the architect of the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House porticos, designed St. John's Church in the form of a Greek cross.

The church bell, weighing almost 1,000 pounds, was cast by Paul Revere's son, Joseph, in August, 1822, and hung at St. John's that November 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.
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

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

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 Wednesday, food trucks are located at Farragut Square, two blocks away.

Who: Brent Erstad, organist, playing an All Saints' Day concert

What: First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m., November 1, 2017

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 director of music ministry and organist, 202-270-6265 or Michael.Lodico@stjohns-dc.org or 202-347-8766

Other First Wednesday concerts all beginning at 12:10 p.m. and lasting until 12:45 p.m. are:

December 6: Music of the Season
by the Episcopal High School Chamber Choir

January 10, 2018: Music by French composers by Julie Vidrick Evans, organist

February 7: Soloists
from St. John's Choir

March 7: Preludes and Fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier by Mak Grgic, guitar, and Stephen Ackert, organ

April 4: The premiere of Paul Leavitt's Fanfare for Trumpet and Organ by Lisa Galoci, organist, and Chuck Seipp, trumpet

May 2: Music for Angels, including Craig Phillips' Archangel Suite by Michael Lodico, director of music and organist, St. John's

June 6: Music by Women Composers, including Margaret Sandresky's Dialogues for Organ and Strings by Ilono Kubiaczyk-Adler, organist, with the U.S. Air Force Strings


Sunday, October 29, 2017

NextStop Theatre targets 'Assassins'

Assassins is on stage at NextStop Theatre in Herndon/photo by Lock and Company 
Leave it to Stephen Sondheim to take an idea about assassins and write music and lyrics for a show. This is one you aren't sure is about assassins, but it is, with songs to boot.

Wikipedia says the play began off-Broadway in 1990 and opened in 2004 on Broadway, winning five Tonys.

The actors at Herndon's NextStop Theatre Company put on a big, provocative  show with lots energy and a desire to please, impressive for a young troupe in only its fifth year.

Their exaggerations and lampooning of guns, starting out with seven or eight lying on a table while a Secret Service agent stands immobile nearby (so etched in permanence I thought at first he must be a mannequin), is filled with coarseness and surprising bits of humor. (No one will leave humming, Walking on Sunshine.)

Action is swift. Director Jay D. Brock elicits strong portrayals about these detestable creatures, with standout performances by Bobby Libby as John Wilkes Booth (fierce in his opposition to President Lincoln and his creed) and Katie McManus, brash and obnoxious as Sara Jane Moore  who quietens her son (Logan Wagner) when she aims a gun at him, accompanied by soft, awkward laughs from some members of the audience.

Jaclyn Young bears an eerie resemblance to Squeaky Fromm (whose love for Charles Manson never ends). 

The subjects are not glorified but that the script gives them recognition is troubling. Their crimes are presented in vignettes in helter-skelter order. It's doubtful that audience members will recognize every character, like Samuel Byck (Alex Zavistovich), attempted assassin of President Richard M. Nixon, Giuseppe Zangara (Brice Guerriere) and Leon Czolgosz (Daniel Westbrook).

(I kept hoping JFK's murder would be omitted since I don't want to relive it over and over and over like the media presents.)

The timing of the show's opening weekend coinciding with President Trump's announcement that he would release documents related to JFK's assassination was prescient, however the producing artistic director, Evan Hoffman (who is also the sound designer) writes in program notes that he and Director Brock selected the title a year ago, and it has no relationship to the present administration.  
In no way do they seek to exalt the men and women portrayed or to castigate the current administration, Hoffman writes (Actually, that never entered my mind while watching the show. What I did think about was gun control and keeping weapons out of the hands of crazies, like assassins. The play's Broadway opening was delayed three years because of September 11.  How immune have we become to these horror stories, this production following so closely the tragedy of Las Vegas this month?  Not to fault the timing of the show which must "go on.")

"Our hope is by providing a relaxed and entertaining venue for the community to gather together and be immersed in stories highlighting diverse perspectives, that we can help break down barriers which divide."  What is the diversity here? That assassins think differently from you and me?

For gun control advocates, the play is a great selection to take on the road. That Americans continue to tolerate extreme violence and death and quickly discard these events from the public consciousness is almost as shocking as the sudden deaths presented. Who will be the next perpetrator to step up to the window and claim temporary fame? 

An excellent stage design (by JD Madsen) with flowing red velvet curtains as backdrop is clever and simplified, with emphasis on the American flag styled in flooring (meaning?) and platforms which have multiple purposes. A rectangular box at the front becomes a table, a seat, and the sound of gunfire when actors flip it on its side. 

Flashing lights (by Catherine Girardi) are not bothersome, but too-frequent and loud sounds of gunfire, especially when the chorus line aims the weapons at the audience (more than once) are jarring.

Marc Bryan Lilley is music director. Seven musicians make noticeable contributions with haunting solos by an electric pianist and percussionist. In vocals, group harmonies, naturally the strongest, are the best.

Playbill calls it a dark comedy but is it?  "Dark" and "bleak" certainly apply to "perhaps the most controversial Broadway musical ever written." That's up to the viewers.

Other cast members are the proprietor, Mackenzie Newbury; John Hinckley, Jr. Mikey Cafarelli; Charles Guiteau, Andrew Adelsberger; the Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald, John Sygar; Emma Goldman/Ensemble, Megan Adrielle; Gerald Ford/Ensemble, Jason Hentrich; Ensemble, Madeline Cuddihy and Colton Needles.

Also on the Creative Team are assistant director, Christie Graham; costumes, Kristina Martin; stage manager, Laura Moody;
props coordinator/ASM, Jade Brooks-Bartlett; costume apprentice, Marilyn Lopes; ASM, Quoc Tran; co-master electricians, Jonathan Abolins and Maeve Nash.
What: Assassins, book by John Weidman, based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr.

When: Thursday through Sunday nights and weekend matinees, now through November 12, 2017.

Where: NextStop Theatre, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA 20170 in the back right corner of Sunset Business Park, near the intersection of Spring Street/Sunset Hills Road. Right off the Fairfax County Parkway. A wee big hard to find on a first visit, so allow an extra 15 minutes.

Free parking: Available near the door.

Admission: Tickets start at $20 with group discounts and student rush seats (if available). Call 866-811-4111.

Duration: A little under two hours without intermission

Rating: R due to frequent vulgar language and phraseology.

For more information: 703-481-5930 or info@nextstoptheatre.org