Friday, August 30, 2019

'Aretha' is alive in Herndon!

Kayla Gross is Aretha Franklin in NextStop Theatre Company's Beehive/Photo by Lock and Company

You just thought she had passed.  

Guuurrrrlllll...When you hear Kayla Gross sing Aretha and belt out those tunes, you'll think you've gone to heaven and are right there with the star, I promise you that

Landsakes alive, you're in Herndon at the NextStop Theatre, swayin' and wavin' and rockin' with the rest of 'em, to Aretha's hymns and a few more, like about 30 from all sorts of swingin' 60s singers which this show is all about.

It's not just Aretha!  No sirreeHow about Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Lesley Gore, the Shirelles, Supremes, Chiffons, Connie Francis, and more! How about that?  Let's go to the show!
The cast of Beehive now on stage at Herndon's NextStop Theatre Company/Photo by Lock and Company

The singing is big, brassy, and feisty (Lawdhavemercy! That Hilary Morrow can shake a tail feather!), and the name of the show is Beehive where those bees are buzzing just fine and flying around and having themselves a good time and carrying the audience right along with them, yes, they are. 

I loved this Beehive (which refers to big hair designed by Maude Salon and not insects).

It was a happy time, and the girls don't just sing.  They dance all night long and change costumes rapid fire, costume designer Sandra Spence made sure of that. 

All six actresses are way done up and beautiful in about 20 different outfits each, it seemed, and dominated by white go-go boots. (Applause to wardrobe assistants who helped with changes.)

If I have to name favorite performances, all of them made the cut, but definitely, the solos I would welcome hearing again, most strengthened by the ensemble, especially 
 Bethel Elias when it comes to Aretha.

Ms. Morrow's sexy, naughty "You Don't Own Me" set the pace which the others mastered with skill and pizazz

When Rebecca Ballinger comes out from behind a curtain in a semi-formal gown wearing long white gloves and a corsage to sing Connie Francis and "Where the Boys Are," she's better than Connie Francis singing "Where the Boys Are," and I'll wager there wasn't one person over a certain age in the audience who didn't go back decades remembering, remembering...

Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" led by Shayla Lowe was a crowd favorite, and then there was Allison Bradbury who sings Janis Joplin better than Janis Joplin, and she had no trouble electrifying the audience. (She plays guitar, too.)

Another favorite early on was "One Fine Day" with Ms. Lowe, Ms. Bradbury, and Ms. Ballinger.

Beehive's Creator Larry Gallagher smartly mixed the numbers up with fast and slow tunes.

The set (by Jack Golden) is what's expected, no more, no less: A performing stage with glittering, shimmering curtains, changing lights, elevation, and a utility pole or two on which to cling, slink and sing. Who needs set changes when magnetic actors and their songs lock our attention?

Marika Countoris is one of the music directors, joined by  Matthew Winslow Brown who plays keyboards and leads the orchestra of five other musicians who are a huge factor in the show's success

Fabulous choreography by Shaylyce Hemby match the beats and the effusive energy of these versatile singers.

At the start a few male audience members were asked to join the frolics on stage, but the majority's resistance convinced me they were genuine and not "plants." (One accepted the invitation for a few brief seconds for his "night in the lights.")

It's not all rosy at NextStop. Just before intermission the stage darkens and the unforgettable video of Walter Cronkrite is played to remind us that JFK was shot dead, as if we could forget. Please, leave it out. Girls just want to have fun. 

Despite that sad interruption, you may find yourself humming later a few bars of whatever tunes you remember the most. For me, it's You Don't Own Me which is still making the rounds in my head.  

Opening night was a sell-out and set the stage for the remainder of the run, once word gets to the street about the sheer entertainment Beehive is, the most enjoyable I've seen at NextStop.  

Director Monique Midgette can put this one in her "win" column, for sure. 

Other creative team members are Brittany Shemuga, lighting; Kevin Alexander, sound; Alex Wade, properties;
Laura Moody, production stage manager; Quoc Tran, rehearsal stage manager and assistant, lighting; Rachel Appel and Kelly McNesby, assistant stage managers; Suzy Alden, scenic painter; Rachel Holcomb, master electrician; Kristin Hamby and Jeremy Jackson, sound mixers;

In the orchestra: Mitch Bassman and Allen Howe, tenors;
Andrew Velez and Mark Davis, trumpets; Rick Peralta, guitar; Jonas Creason, bass; T.J. Maistros and Kendell Haywood, percussion.

What: Beehive by Larry Gallagher

When: Now through September 22, 2019, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.;
Sunday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 12 and 19 at 8 p.m.; Saturday matinee, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m. Check dates and times.

Where: NextStop Theatre Company, 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. Lots of great restaurants nearby.

Lighted, free parking: Available near the door.

Admission: General admission tickets start at $40. Buy online or through the box office at 866-811-4111.

Duration: About 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Rating: G

Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats

For more information: 703-481-5930 or


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Egypt's 'Queens' rule D.C.

                                                                                                                                                                            /Photo by Patricia Leslie
Who doesn't want to go to Egypt?  Land of ancient mysteries, pyramids, the afterlife, kings and queens, the Nile, a rich past.

You don't have to go all the way to Egypt to catch a glimpse of its history and learn about its women rulers who governed the country for hundreds of years. Many of their remnants have come to us in Washington, courtesy of the National Geographic Museum, Egypt, and world-renowned museums which have loaned 300 objects for a stellar presentation, Queens of Egypt.

About 1400 years from the New Kingdom (16th through 11 centuries BC) though the last queen and pharaoh, Cleopatra VII (69-30 BCE) are covered. Sculptures, jewelry, a tomb model, a 3-D theatre, courtroom documents and more tell the stories and unfold the dramas in 12,000 square feet at the National Geographic Museum.

The show has so many compelling pieces it's hard to pick just one as favorite.  Perhaps it's the reality that these women ruled thousands of years ago, and they didn't have to wait for laws and courtroom sagas and currents movements to give them rights and acceptance.  They were way ahead in "the game."

Below are some of the Queens' pieces I found most intriguing and interesting, but there are too many to show here.  Please visit and tell me what you think.
A statue of Idet and Ruiu which is unusual to find two women shown side by side since it's mostly couples sculpted when two figures are made together.The women's relationship is unknown although Idet seems the more important since she's seated on the right and is called the "lady of the house." Limestone, probably from the Theban Necropolis, c. 1480-1390 BC, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie

"Ramses the Great" (Ramses II), the builder of Abu Simbel whom the label calls "perhaps the most famous ruler of ancient Egypt," is seated here between two patron deities of Thebes, the god Amun on the left and the goddess Mut. All the figures (men and women, gods and mortals) are the same size symbolizing their equality. Ramses's stature enabled him to connect the mortals with the gods "preserving cosmic balance." Granite, Temple of Amun, Karnak, c. 1279-1213 BC, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Researchers believe this fragment likely came from one of the standing colossi at Amenhotep III's temple in Thebes where a series of huge statues stood in the court. More large statues were built during Amenhotep III's reign than during any other pharaoh's rule.  Granite, c. 1390-1353 BC, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Mut, whose name means "mother," was revered in Egyptian society, according to the label, because "she was a supportive and dutiful wife, a powerful queen, and an honored goddess," in other words, "a role model."  She and her spouse, the god, Amun-Ra, were king and queen of the gods in the New Kingdom. Limestone,  c. 1292-1250 BC, unknown provenance, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A youg boy called Amenmes is identified by his lack of clothing and his "traditional side-lock."  His skin is redder than women's because of men's roles outside the home. Unknown provenance, c. 1500-1450 BC/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A rare likeness of Isetnofret, the second Great Royal Wife of Pharaoh Ramses II, who son, Merenptah, became pharaoh. Her name is inscribed on the statue's right shoulder. Two protective cobras adorn her forehead ("a double uraeus."). Sandstone, c. 1279-1213 BC, Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the exhibition/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Ernesto Schiaparelli found fragments of Queen Nefertari's sarcophagus in her burial chamber in 1904, but the tomb was empty, stripped by grave robbers.  No Egyptian queen's tomb has ever been found intact/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Model of Nefertari's Tomb. Built shortly after 1904 when Mr. Schiaparelli discovered Nefertari's tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Queens. Drawn on a 1/10 scale, the paintings from her tomb walls were carefully copied and reproduced. Wood, made by Francesco Ballerini, Edoardo Baglione, and Michelangelo Pizzio, early 20th century, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Although Mr. Schiaparelli found Queen Nefertari's tomb empty, he did find fragments of the pink granite stone sarcophagus and her wooden tomb in her burial chamber, all destroyed by grave robbers.  Also, he discovered a box lid (in bottom left corner, above) belonging to the queen which likely housed the shabtis (on the right in the picture.  See more shabtis below.)./Photo by Patricia Leslie
#4 This limestone fragment (called an ostracon) depicts Sethherkhepeshef (with his hands raised in worship), one of Pharaoh Ramses III's sons. The fan in his left hand indicates high status. The sketch may be intended as decoration for his tomb. Limestone and red paint, Valley of the Queens, c. 1186-1155 BC,
Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A carved relief of Pharaoh Ramses III, the last great pharaoh of the New Kingdom. During his long reign, invaders often attacked Egypt which depleted the treasury, leading to Egypt's gradual decline. The first recorded labor strike occurred in the 29th year of his reign. Here he offers wine to a seated goddess, and his mother, Queen Tiy-Merenese follows him. Although his mother may have lived in the harem at times (little evidence of harem life is found anywhere), she more likely resided in her own palace, according to the label copy. Limestone, c. 1185-1155 BC, Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Around 1155 BC, Ramses III was murdered by one of his wives, Queen Tiy, working with a gang of 38, but the crime failed to install her desired heir.  A transcript of the court proceedings of the  conspirators' trial is recorded on this papyrus scroll.  They suffered their deed harshly/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This is the goddess Sekhmet with the body of a woman and the head of a lion whose cobra head symbolizes her power.  Her craving for blood and her wish to end mankind drove the gods to trick her into drinking red beer which turned her into a gentle cat goddess, Bastet. (Cats are gentle?) Rituals were held every year to make sure Sekhmet/Bastet remained "gentle."  Granodiorite, c. 1390-1353 BC, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
For formal occasions, hair styles among elite women of the 18th dynasty (1353-1336 BC) often included wearing human hair wigs on shaven heads. The less well-off had to wear itchy "date-palm fiber" wigs. The label notes that wigs changed fashion faster than clothing or jewelry. The limestone female in #1 above wears a Nubian-styled wig and a disc earring. Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie

A bronze hairpin is #2. from c. 1539-1075 BC, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy. A closeup of #3 is below.
Combs were often decorated with animal motifs like this member of the cat family. Wood, c. 1539-1292 BC, Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Worker shabtis, placed in tombs, were intended to look like the deceased. The shabtis were responsible for manual labor for the dead in afterlife. See Queen Nefertari's shabtis above. Wood or limestone, c. 1292-1075 BC, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The coffin of Ruru which was later used by a man. Wood and paint from the Valley of the Queens, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The coffin of Asetemhat is plush with symbols of several gods: Nut, goddess of the sky; Osiris, god of the underworld; and Anubis, god of the dead, who mummifies Asetemhat;  Stuccoed wood and paint from the Valley of the Queens in Thebes, c. 722-525 BC, Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy/Photo by Patricia Leslie
These mummies close the show which has so captivated guests, the Queens' stay has been extended from September 2 to September 15, 2019. After that, Queen Nefertari and her belongings will depart for her next adventure at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City/Photo by Patricia Leslie
                                                                                                                                                                   /Photo by Patricia Leslie

A free, color booklet of 24 pages is available.

What: Queens of Egypt

When: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily through September 15, 2019. The last ticket is sold at 5 p.m.

Where: National Geographic, 1145 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

Tickets: Adults: $15; seniors, military, students: $12; children ages 5-12, $10; children under age 5 are admitted free. No charge for contributing members. 

Closest Metro station: Farragut West or Farragut North

For more information: 202-857-7700