Thursday, October 25, 2018

Reston's 'Hairspray' is lots of fun and action

From left, Jessica Walton, Bruni Herring, and Jalen Robinson in Reston Community Players' Hairspray/Chip McCrea Photography

I can think of only one other production I've attended  when some members of the audience stood midway through a scene to applaud and cheer. The captivated could not wait for intermission or the end to praise the actors 

That performance was by Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly!  in New York.  The second time I saw it happen was last weekend in Reston when Bruni Herring sang  "I Know Where I've Been" in Hairspray.

They stood on their feet and shouted "Bravo!"

Ms. Herring's knock-you-out voice left many in wonder and hopes her song would never end. Rather than teaching Spanish at Fairfax High School, Ms. Herring should be singing on Broadway.  

That and two more scenes (please read on) are well worth the price of admission alone to the new show by the Reston Community Players.

It is far better that the 1988 movie of the same name which gave birth to the 2003 Broadway show that won eight Tonys (including "Best Musical") and ran about five years. 

The huge Reston cast is happy to be on stage where their good times transition to the audience.

Hairspray is much more than a common tale about an outcast, overweight teen whose exuberance and self-confidence embolden her to cast her net farther than her body and self-image would typically allow

Underlying themes of fat shaming and discrimination are often understated here but convey their messages without beating you over the head with pronouncements. Fifty years later and the implications remind us of the significance of tolerance and acceptance. 

Sensitivity to these matters nor historical knowledge of circumstances, however, is not required to enjoy the show for the just plain fun it is

Tracy Turnblad (Dana Robinson) is an odd ball teenager (as are/were most of us) who is dying to be a guest on Corny Collins's (Benjamin Simpson) televised teen dance program.

Her energy and cheerful personality keep her standing, like she does in the clever opening scene which features her lying down in bed although she's standing up in a vertical design. (Convincing sets by designers and artists Sandy Dodson, Dan Widerski, Cathy Rieder and Sabrina Begley change almost as often as the dancers kick their heels.) 

Naturally, Tracy makes it to Corny's show (or we wouldn't have a play), and in one scene she imagines her heartthrob, Link (Jake Lefler) to be smitten by her. Backdrop actors become effective stand still shadowy silhouettes as Tracy and Link dance in Tracy's dream.

My favorite characters all played the same roles with different names, the mothers. Edna (David M. Moretti, yes, a man in woman's clothing) is Tracy's mom who steals the show. 

It's an hysterical start when Edna comes out with hair in rollers under a scarf, wearing dowdy clothing. (Hats off to costumers Lori Crockett and Ashley-Rose Dickey
whose plentiful designs and choices for 28 actors are varied and attractive.) No chance Edna is really a woman.

Edna's spouse is Wilbur (Richard Bird appearing in his first musical to huge success). A shimmering curtain serves as backdrop when the couple dance and sing   "You're Timeless to Me" in the second act, and they came back for more. 

Richard Bird, left, and David M. Moretti, as parents in love in Reston Community Players' Hairspray/Chip McCrea Photography

They are likable parents, unlike the antagonist, pushy mother, Velma (Katie Kramer) whose daughter, Amber (Maura Lacy) competes with Tracy for Teen Queen and, gulp, Link. (Ms. Kramer plays her sassy role with relish and is thoroughly believable and obnoxious. After all,  "It's all about us!" [Sound familiar?])

Another mother is Amy Griffin in triple roles as the bent (try L-shaped) masculine gym teacher, prison matron, and perfectly coiffed (white gloves, mousy brown-ugh-suit,and hat) "Prudy Pingleton" whose daughter is Tracy's best friend, Penny (Eva Gary).

When Penny develops a fondness for a black student named Seaweed (Jalen Robinson), her mom goes ballistic. (Gasp. It is 1962 in Baltimore,  two years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act.)

Another favorite scene was the prison with long (10-12') grey pieces of "steel" to house captives who shake their bars to the tune of "The Big Dollhouse." (May I suggest a play subtitle:  Big, Bold Women.) 

With sound much louder at times than a 10-person orchestra might suggest, the musicians sit in the pit under the direction of Kirsten Boyd on keyboards and add sizzle and swing to enrich the entertainment.

It's a jolly good show, one sure to shake you from  election eve (or later) doldrums, if you happen to be so stricken. 

The company boasted two sold-out performances on opening weekend.

Others in the cast are Sierra Aylor, Kurtis Carter, Teryn Cuozzo, Khyrin DeBose, Steven Eckloff, Madalyn Farmer, Alyia Gardmer, Hunter Gross, Khanner Hancock, Wayne Jacques, Tatiana Jones, Ashley Kaplan, Evie Korovesis, Henry Metcalf, Alexis Shellow, Brandon Steele, and Jessica Walton.

Creative team members include Jacob Ferchaud, producer; Erich DiCenzo, director and choreographer; Colleen Stock, stage manager;
Sara Birkhead, running crew and co-technical director
Sue Pinkman, wigs; Bianca Lara, make up; Mary Jo Ford, properties; Andy Shaw, lighting; Phil Natalini, sound; and Anna Michelle Jackson, assistant wigs.

Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan

Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman  

Music by Marc Shaiman 

Based on the film by John Waters

Rated: PG (a few "damns" and a "hell") with some low-profile groping

Ages: Appropriate for most ages

Who: Reston Community Players

What: Hairspray: The Broadway Musical

When: Thursday and Friday nights at 8 p.m. through Nov. 3 with matinees at 2 p.m., Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, 2018.

Where: Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA 20191

 Tickets: Buy online, at the box office at the Community Center, or call 703-476-4500 and press 3 for 24-hour service.  $28, adults; $24, students and seniors.

Duration: About 2.5 hours with one intermission.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Pollock's 'Mural' ending its Washington debut

At the National Gallery of Art is Jackson Pollock's Mural which has three dates: 1943, 1944, and 1947. (The National Gallery says 1943.) Mural was donated to to the University of Peggy Guggenheim which loaned it to the National Gallery of Art.  Pollock was born in Iowa, his parents' home /Photo by Patricia Leslie

One of the greatest paintings of the 20th century having its debut in Washington will come down this month after almost a year in residency at the National Gallery of Art.

The work is Mural and the artist is Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) who was commissioned by his benefactress, Peggy Guggenheim, to make it for her New York City townhouse.
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Mural, the University of Iowa/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Since Ms. Guggenhein provided no direction for the work other than the size, Pollock had free subject rein but suffered "artist's block." His wife said he had to rush to finish it in a single day although the National Gallery says recent analysis supports the artist's statement, that he worked on it the summer of 1943.

Before Pollock met Guggenheim in the mid-1940s, he worked in maintenance for a New York museum which became the forerunner for one established by her uncle, Solomon Guggenheim. Pollock, desperate for cash, had followed his brother, Charles, also an artist, from California to New York where they both attended art school and studied under Thomas Hart Benton. Ms. Guggenheim invited Pollock to show his work in her New York gallery, a contract critical to his initial success.
Jackson Pollock (1912- 1956), a close-up of Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950, National Gallery of Art also on view/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Pollock lived an alcoholic and died an alcoholic at age 44 in a single-car crash in East Hampton, killing one of his passengers, but the other, his mistress, survived. He was married at the time to the artist, Lee Krasner (1908-1984), also an abstract expressionist and one of only four women who has enjoyed retrospective shows at the Museum of Modern Art.  

Krasner was critical to her husband's success and rescued him and his art more than once. One art dealer noted:  "There would never have been a Jackson Pollock without Lee Pollock."  (Note to National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Gallery of Art:  Please consider a showing of Krasner's works. I counted 21 in NGA's collection; none on view. Thank you.) 

Mural is Pollock's largest canvas, almost 20 feet long and clearly one of his best. After seeing it, critic Clement Greenburg wrote, "I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced." 

It is one of Pollock's "drip paintings" (leading to his nickname by Time, "Jack the Dripper") which he made before his peak  years, 1947-1950. Not long afterwards, he abandoned "drips" and entered his "black" period, unpopular with collectors until Krasner helped steer him back to colors and figures.

In 2016 Mural's value was placed around $140 million. I think worth a look!

What: Jackson Pollock's Mural and more.

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 Sunday, October 28, 2018.

Where: East Building, Upper Level, Bridge, 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 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 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

An apple orchard grows in Yekaterinburg

An apple orchard hundreds of years old grows in the heart of Yekaterinburg with a kind resemblance to Monet's garden/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In the heart of Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, grows an apple orchard hundreds of years old.

This unique place (unknown in any large American city) has different names: "Museum of the Middle Urals Fruit Gardening,"   "Fruit Gardens Museum of Central Ural Mountains," or what the label on the side of the house in the orchard, says:  "The Museum of the History of Fruit Horticulture in the Middle Urals."

You get the picture: It's got fruit...and beauty, besides!
An apple orchard in the heart of Yekaterinburg. My guide and the curator/Photo by Patricia Leslie

This is the identification on the outside of the Kazantsev Manor house which I believe says the owner, Mr. Kazantsev (1875-1942) lived here from 1913-1942/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Whatever the name, it's an oasis in the middle of a bustling, industrial city (not far from the new Boris Yeltsin Center), and there are plans to uproot the very old trees, plants and farmhouse.

It seems that the owner, the government, plans to sell the property for more lucrative use (shades of the western world!).  It's a controversial topic which the curator (pictured) has been fighting probably the whole nine years he's been curator. He was a energetic fellow who talked non-stop to my guide (and I may have been lucky that I do not understand Russian).
Inside the Kazantsev Manor house/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Inside the Kazantsev Manor house/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Inside the Kazantsev Manor house. Note the record player!  I bought a marvelous CD here which I'll photograph the cover and upload.  True Russian music!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Some of the delicacies offered tourists at the History of Fruit Horticulture, Yekaterinburg/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Being a preservationist, I do hope the government leaves the property alone for entering the grounds takes you on a trip to another world, an earlier century where the greens and soothing environment can calm down almost anyone.  It reminded me of Monet's garden which I've never visited, but I've seen his work, and perhaps Monet came to Yekaterinburg to paint.  

I had wondered (and so did my guide) why my tour company would take me to an apple orchard, but when my expectations are low, I have learned, they are always exceeded, and they were!  

This is another world not to miss in modern-day Russia.