Q&A with Michael Kahn

The Shakespeare Theatre Company began planning for what’s now the ongoing Leadership Repertory of “Richard II” and “Henry V” nearly a year and a half ago. We recently talked with Artistic Director Michael Kahn, who directed “Richard II,” about the plays and the process. “We planned to do this for some time and were in the early stages during the presidential election,” Kahn, who is tackling “Richard II” for the second time here, said. “We wanted to look at leadership, what makes a good king and leader, how does he behave in a crisis? “Richard doesn’t know how to be a king until he’s lost his crown, Henry has to overcome the dissolute reputation of his youth to lead men into battle. And more important, it’s about the humanity of leaders, and that issue is paramount in both plays.” Kahn directed “Richard II” with Richard Thomas a number of years ago at Lansburgh. “What makes this different?” he said. “Well, I’m a bit older, and you learn more, I’ve learned more about myself and Richard both, I hope.”

Kennedy Center Enters Its “Golden Age”

Marc Kudisch sounded psyched. “We’re all eager to bring this play to Washington,” Kudisch, who’s appeared at Signature Theater here and who’s a veteran of big Broadway musicals, said in a phone interview from Philadelphia. “Washington is such a great theater town and they audiences here are so responsive, they’re so sharp so I for one can’t wait to see what happens.” Kudisch is part of the cast of “The Golden Age” by Terrence McNally, which kicks off “Nights at the Opera,” a three-part, five-week presentation by the Kennedy Center in which three of McNally’s plays, all of them with opera themes or focuses, will be performed concurrently on three Kennedy Center Stages. In addition to “Golden Age,” the festival also includes “The Lisbon Traviata” and “Master Class,” which will star Tyne Daly as the legendary diva Maria Callas. But “Golden Age,” which just completed a world premiere run at the Philadelphia Theater Company, is by far the most newsworthy of the three offerings, given that it’s a new play by the prolific McNally, and that it continues and perhaps completes his theatrical passion for opera. Kudisch, who’s had some experience with opera and shares the fascination, actually has made his mark in today’s Broadway musical theater, although that’s not what he set out to do. Originally from Hassenback, NJ, “I came to New York as a dramatic actor, I’d never seen myself as a singer, had no intention of doing musicals, I did off-Broadway a lot,” he said. Then came Birdie. “I got cast as Conrad Birdie, in the Tommy Tune revival of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and toured with it,” he said. “That sort of set me on my way.” And then some: “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Bells Are Ringing,” “The Wild Party,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “9 to 5,” Sondheim’s dark “Assassins,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “A Little Night Music,” the Signature’s cutting edge musical “The Witches of Eastwick” and as Vincent Van Gogh in “The Highest Yellow.” “You can really tell how the people that are creating, writing, and composing musicals today are going in new directions,” Kudisch said. “In some ways, that’s what “Golden Age” is all about, except that the characters are Rossini and Bellini and the creative artists who inhabit the world of opera in Paris in 1835. They’re thinking about the same things, new music, how it will be greeted by critics, other artists.” “Golden Age” is about back-stage doings at the premiere of Bellini’s opera “I Puritani.” Rossini will be heard from and we also hear the Puritani quartet, the four singers who are the stars of the opera, one of them played by Kudisch. “It’s a very personal thing for McNally, and we and he learned a lot from the run in Philly.” Kudisch thinks the festival is a great idea. “You get a chance to see what I think is some of McNally’s best work,” he said, “and it’s a focus that tells you a lot about his career.” “Golden Age” will be at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater March 12-April 4. “The Lisbon Traviata” will be at the Terrace Theater March 20-April 11 and “Master Class” will be at the Eisenhower Theater March 25-April 18. Upcoming performances: - There's new material from playwright Neil LaBute, who tackles contemporary American contentions with gusto, clear-headedness and the impact of a punch in the mouth. LaBute’s latest, “Reasons to be Pretty,” comes to the Studio Theater, which has become a go-to theater with LaBute’s work, and completes his trilogy exploring our obsession with looks and physical beauty, which began with “The Shape of Things” and “Fat Pig,” both hits at the Studio. “Reasons to be Pretty,” directed by David Muse, opens March 24 at the Mead Theater. - Could there be a more provocative and tempting title than “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews”? Especially if you’re Jewish, or follow all things Warhol. The D.C. Jewish Community Center has you covered on both issues, with the very same one-man show written and performed by Josh Kornbluth, the popular San Francisco-based monologist who had a hit with “Citizen Josh,” through March 21. The show is based in part on a ground-breaking exhibition of silk screen portraits of prominent Jewish figures by Warhol in 1980, an exhibition which can be seen in the DCJC’s Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. “Good for the Jews” runs through May 2. - “Porgy and Bess,” George Gershwin’s landmark, truly American opera, opens the Washington National Opera’s spring portion of its 2009-2010 season March 20-April 3, with such stirring American classic songs as “Summertime” and “Porgy.” Read Vera Tilson's interview with "Porgy and Bess" conductor John Mauceri here.

John Mauceri

  -Almost from the moment I entered the room to meet conductor John Mauceri, having heard that I was a musician, he sat me down at a desk to show me the particular score of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” which he will be conducting for 12 performances starting on March 20 for Washington National Opera. An enormous amount of research, clearly a labor of love, was evident in what he showed me. The history of “Porgy” signified a remarkable moment in American music. Just acknowledging that it was a real opera has taken a long time. It became popular initially by calling it musical theater and reducing it from three acts to two. He said that most of his life has been committed to what we don’t have access to, and because music exists in the art of translation, you have to take it from the page to performing it. He knew that there was much in Gershwin that we didn’t know because much was unpublished. Gershwin wrote over 20 shows. He said that we know the songs but not the shows. One of the hallmarks of a fine musician is a passion for detail and finding a composer’s original intent; changing markings and changing tempos can make a significant difference. Mr. Mauceri is clearly a scholar, as well as musician. The list of music that he has restored to original intent is breathtaking. He played a section of “Porgy” by a conductor who had not seen Gershwin’s original score and one with different markings. The effect was startling. Cheryl Crawford, of the Theatre Guild, initiated the effort to turn “Porgy and Bess” into a musical theater piece. The three acts were turned into two and the piece became a success. The Theatre Guild finally donated all its material for archival purposes to Yale University where he found what he needed. As much as possible will be used in the coming performance. I can’t wait to attend the show.

DC Goes Green

  -As global warming has clearly been a hot topic (no pun intended) in recent news, this year D.C.’s own Environmental Film Festival will return for its 18th annual season. Boasting a queue of 155 films, the festival will have showings at over 50 venues around D.C., including museums, embassies, libraries, and local theaters. And, although this showcase has grown to be the best of its kind in the U.S., it doesn’t fall short on local flavor. Speaking of which, make sure you show up with an appetite; food is a big part of the festival this year, with films that cover everything from organic produce to world hunger to sustainable farming practices. To kick off the festival, make sure to attend the launch party, set to take place on March 10. The event will have music, film clips, raffle and a silent auction. If you’re feeling really lucky, you could win a trip to Ecuador or London! $10. Warner Building Atrium (1299 Pennsylvania Ave.), 6:30 p.m. “The Green House: Design it, Build it, Live it.” If you’re looking for local inspiration to go green, look no further. In the world premiere of this film, you will see the design and building of a house in McLean, VA from groundbreaking to the finishing touches. The hook? It’s completely carbon neutral. March 17. $10. E Street Cinema (555 11th St.), 7 p.m. The film “Colony” chronicles the mysterious disappearance of bees and beehives all across the country. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this startling trend is captured through the stories of veteran beekeepers and newbies alike, struggling to save the bees and their business. But it’s not just the beekeepers that are in trouble — bees are essential in sustaining our own food supply. March 18. $10. AFI Silver Theater (8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD), 7:15 p.m. “Nora!” is the story of one of Washington’s own, chef and restaurateur Nora Pouillon. Nora was doing organic before it was on everyone’s plate; in 1999 her restaurant, Restaurant Nora, was certified not only organic but also biodynamic. Now, it is a popular spot for environmentalists and politicians alike. Since its inception, only 3 other restaurants have become qualified organic. Feast on that! March 23. Free. International Student House (1825 R St.), 7 p.m. Classical music is endangered, but not due to apathetic listeners. “The Music Tree” is a captivating film that highlights the plight of the Brazilwood (pernambuco) tree, highly coveted for its red dye. The tree’s wood is also used to create violin bows and other instruments. Recently however, exploitation of this species has pushed it to the edge of extinction. The film features several prominent violinists and cellists who are dedicated to protecting the pernambuco, as it is essential to the sound and quality of their music. These musicians, among others, have established funds aimed to preserve the trees, and so far 500,000 been planted. But will these efforts be able to save both the trees and the music? March 26. Free. Carnegie Institution for Science (1530 P St.), 7 p.m. For more information and complete film listings, visit www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.

Hirshhorn’s Homage to Josef Albers

At the Hirshhorn Museum, “Innovation and Inspiration” is a perfect title for the exhibition focusing on the work and teaching of Josef Albers. Albers is known for his work on color theory, and I for one have never felt color fits into any theory, as it is so subjective in effect. Nevertheless, Albers had and continues to have an enormous effect on the way color is perceived in everyday use. If you look at his color exercises you see the colors we see around us in everyday life, whether in the home, or office, or other public spaces. Albers is far more influential than Martha Stewart! Albers’ dynamic early graphic work had nothing to do with squares within squares, and in the pieces on view he experimented with type usage. He also used work that implied dimension through linear perspective, something Albers would not wholly abandon. In addition a few landscape lithographs that are unremarkable represent his earliest work. There is also a self-portrait by Albers that is pure Kokoshka. It is surprising to see even a glimpse of expressionism in the exhibition! Assemblages by Albers incorporating glass and metal/wire/paint/nails/mesh/imitation pearls from the ’20s look contemporary. “Window Picture” has beautiful, rich, expressive color. “Grid Mounted Squares” is glass/iron/wire and again uses deep color, quite unlike later Albers. Modestly sized, these works are like modern stained glass windows. What follows of Albers work is mostly his endless “Homage to the Square.” I have been looking, and sometimes not been looking, at Albers for almost 50 years, and there is sometimes a surprise. Yet I often feel about the squares the way I feel about hearing someone playing scales on the piano. It’s useful, but rarely exciting. There is no doubting Albers’ importance in his role as teacher. Albers was a Bauhaus member from 1920-1933. Fleeing Hitler and coming to the U.S. to the incredibly important art campus at Black Mountain College (North Carolina), Albers was a founding director. Some of the greatest figures in mid-century art in America found their way to Black Mountain, either teaching or in its student programs. By art, I mean those working in all disciplines: John Cage, Stefan Wolpe, Willem de Kooning, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson and many more. One of the most important schools of poetry is the U.S. is known as Black Mountain poetry. In 1950 Albers became chair of the Department of Design at Yale University. Albers’ students, including Rauschenberg, Noland, Nevelson, Bolotowsky and Judd fill the last two galleries with paintings, constructions, and sculptures. I have never seen Kenneth Noland and Robert Rauschenberg hanging next to each other so amicably! Not to be missed are some wonderful works by Anni Albers, wife of Josef. (Through April 11.) [gallery ids="99079,99080,99081,99082" nav="thumbs"]

Spring 2010 Performance Preview

What does Washington's performing arts scene have in store for the first spring of the decade? Our resident theater experts weigh in with their top picks. Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies,” Arena Stage at Lincoln Theatre Maurice Hines, a legendary Broadway song and dance performer stars in and choreographs this production, which is a pure, atmospheric act of serendipity of the man (Duke Ellington), the place (The Lincoln Theatre, where Ellington first performed), and show (a stylish, spectacular showcase of the “beyond category” music of an American master and legend). (1215 U St., April 9 to May 30.) “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival,” Theater J The third installment of the “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival” is being staged by Theater J, this one focusing on “Voice of the Woman,” with six one-night events by female writers, including Hadar Galron’s “Mikveh.” For more information, go to www.theaterj.org. (1529 16th St., May 5 to June 7.) “American Buffalo” and “Reasons To Be Pretty,” Studio Theatre Two new productions of plays by two top American playwrights. “American Buffalo,” David Mamet’s classic, blunt, tough-talk tale of three Chicago grifters and thieves, will be directed by Joy Zinoman, the Studio’s founder and outgoing artistic director, but it also has the prime-time actor Ed Gero heading its cast. (May 5 to June 13). Neil Labute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” is the third play in which the acerbic master observer of contemporary American life takes our fascination with how people look or don’t, the others being “The Shape of Things” and the hugely successful “Fat Pig,” all performed at Studio. (1501 14th St., March 24 to May 2.) The Terrence McNally “Nights At The Opera” Festival, Kennedy Center Three of McNally’s plays dealing with opera, including his latest, “Golden Age,” a bristling back-stage drama about the premiere of Bellini’s “I Puritani.” (Through April 4.) There’s also “The Lisbon Traviata,” about two men’s obsession with a Maria Callas recording of “La Traviata.” (Through April 11.) Finally, there’s a play about Callas herself in “Master Class,” starring Tyne Daly as Callas, no slouch in diva roles herself. (March 25 to April 8.) Visit www.kennedy-center.org for details on dates, times and theaters. “Thurgood,” Kennedy Center A new play about the pioneering civil rights giant and Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, starring Laurence Fishburne. The production was written by George Stevens, Jr., founder of the American Film Institute, film and television director, producer of the Kennedy Center honors, Georgetown resident, and author and son of Oscar-winning director George (“Shane”, “A Place in the Sun”) Stevens. (June 1 to 20.) The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, Kennedy Center It’s the 15th time around for this landmark festival, with three nights of jazz focusing on women artists and musicians May 20-22 on the occasion of Williams’ 100th anniversary year of her birth. (May 20 to 22.) “Clybourne Park,” Woolly Mammoth Theatre The original and caustically sharp voice of playwright Bruce Norris is heard again in “Clybourne Park”, where Norris’ work has been performed before. This time, Artistic Director Howie Shalwitz directs this off-Broadway hit, in which a Chicago neighborhood suffers demographic and ethnic explosions several times. (Through April 11.) “Hamlet,” Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center That would be the opera version, composed by Ambroise Thomas. “Hamlet” will close out the 2009-2010 WNO season, which includes a famous Ophelia mad scene, as it should. A Kansas City Lyric Opera production in French. (641 D St., May 19 to June 4.) “Fiddler on the Roof,” National Theatre The Jerome Robbins-created musical about a shtetl milkman named Tevye who cares about tradition has by now become a tradition itself, and this time it’s headed up by playwright-actor Harvey Fierstein (“Torch Song Trilogy”), who carries on a play-long debate with Jehovah, mostly in song. On the other hand, it’s a show that still works, it still has something to say (and sing) to contemporary audiences and it will do so. (1321 Pennsylvania Ave., April 13 to May 9.) “Anoushka Shankar,” Sixth and I Historic Synagogue The Washington Performing Arts Society is known for the world-wide, top-drawer musical and dance talent and groups that it brings to places like the Kennedy Center and the Music Center at Strathmore, but its footprints can also be increasingly found in smaller venues. This time it’s the downtown Sixth and I Synagogue, where the accomplished and high-pedigree sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the renowned Ravi Shankar, will perform “Sudakshini,” a musical journey from North and South India with richly varied musical influences and sounds. (600 Eye St., April 17.) - Gary Tischler --- Laura Benanti, Kennedy Center Let her entertain you. Benanti won a Tony for her role as Louise in the most recent Broadway revival of “Gypsy,” and she’s part of the excellent Barbara Cook’s “Spotlight” series at the Kennedy Center. (Terrace Theatre, April 30.) “Sycamore Trees,” Signature Theatre Ricky Ian Gordon is one of the most interesting and prolific contemporary composers (he’s worked in genres from opera to musicals to ballet), and he’s a recipient of Signature Theatre’s American Musical Voices Project Award. His new work for the company, “Sycamore Trees,” has highly personal and bittersweet roots, as it follows his family from the Bronx to the suburbs in a search of a better life. (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, May 18 to June 20.) “Genius3,” The Washington Ballet at Sidney Harman Hall TWB’s “Genius3” program promises to live up to its name. Twyla Tharp’s giddy “Push Comes to Shove” and George Balanchine’s coolly modernist masterwork “The Four Temperaments” are about as far from each other in style as you can get, but each is a knockout in its own way. Add Mark Morris’s “Pacific” and Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut” and you’ve got the makings of a terrific evening of dance. (610 F St., May 19 to 23,) “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall Morality and money were two of George Bernard Shaw’s favorite triggers for drama, and the two clash in high style in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” The Shakespeare Theatre mounts the story of a young woman who discovers her education was paid for by her mother’s ill-gotten gains, and it’s a work that still has plenty to say about the choices we make — and their price. (610 F St., June 8 to July 11.) “A Man of No Importance,” Keegan Theatre You’ll enjoy this chamber-sized musical, based on the Albert Finney film, about a Dublin bus driver who yearns for beauty in both romance and the theatre. The show should be a good fit for the Irish-focused Keegan Theatre. (1742 Church St., June 10 to July 11.) “Tempest,” Folger Consort The stars have aligned for this production, a combination of Matthew Locke’s 17th-century music for the play with dramatic selections performed by actors, including Sir Derek Jacobi and Lynn Redgrave. Countertenor David Daniels is part of the ensemble. (Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capitol St. N.E., June 10; Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda, June 11.) “Zaide” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” The Barns at Wolf Trap The Wolf Trap Opera Company has a well-deserved reputation as the place to catch young American singers at the start of great careers, and the company’s choice of repertory always offers surprises. This year’s rarity is Mozart’s little-heard “Zaide” (with its shimmering aria, "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben"), and it’s got a gimmick: audiences will choose an ending for this unfinished work. Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” received a beautiful and hypnotic staging a number of years ago, and we can look forward to the company’s new production this summer. (1645 Trap Road, Vienna; “Zaide”: June 11, 13, 15, 19; “Dream”: August 13, 15, 17.) “Babes in Arms,” American Century Theatre “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” “Babes in Arms” has one of Rodgers and Hart’s best scores (“Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Johnny One Note” are among its many gems), but this 1937 tale of youngsters with show-biz dreams is rarely staged. American Century Theatre offers a series of concert performances of the classic musical — and they’re free. (2700 South Lang St., Arlington, June 24 to 27.) - Robert Sacheli [gallery ids="99083,99084,99085,99086,99087" nav="thumbs"]

The Two Sides of Rich Bloch

Rich Bloch is a 60-something labor arbitration attorney, serving most notably as a neutral arbitrator for the National Football League and other professional sports organizations. Rich Bloch is also a professional magician and a performer. Both things are true. Bloch likes to keep the two things separate. He does not do magic tricks for 300-pound linemen and their agents. Nor does he bill himself as a lawyer-magician when he’s performing at the Woolly Mammoth with his show “Best Kept Secrets,” where story-telling, humor and performance blend with Bloch’s finely honed magical abilities and, for want of a better phrase, bag of tricks, which includes card tricks, the famous Harry Anderson’s Last Monte, the world’s fastest tricks, and the assistance of his wife Susan, who is actually a Georgetown University law professor. “To me, they’re two different worlds, they really are,” Bloch says. He and his wife live on Cathedral Avenue. He has two grown children, both of them attorneys. Also present are a number of pets, cats, a sheepdog, and a giant macaw who reportedly does card tricks. “Both of the things I love to do — being an attorney, practicing the kind of law I do and being a magician — have enormous rewards, but you can also get frustrated. When that happens, you just pass through a door and go into the other world. “I simply tell people that 80 percent of my professional life is being an attorney, and 80 percent is being a magician.” Now that’s magic. Bloch has been a practicing — and it takes enormous amount of practice, too — magician for several decades, and done well at it. He’s highly respected in a boundless community where magic and all the stuff that goes with it — tricks, equipment, professional secrets, show business and uniforms — are an important part of life. He’s performed on cruise ships, in Las Vegas and regularly at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, where he’s been a five-time nominee as Stage Magician of the Year. Bloch first got interested when he was seven, which was in New Jersey in a time when cities and towns had magic shops. “I was seven, my father had passed away, and my mother, a remarkable woman, was on the road a lot as a traveling saleslady,” he said. “There was this shop on the corner, and it was a fascinating place, run by this old man, and, because it seemed I had to, I said to him you’ve got to hire me as an assistant. He said, ‘what kind of experience do you have?’ And I said, experience, I’m seven. But then, I remembered I had heard about a magician named Ted Collins, so I said my dad was Ted Collins. He said, ‘that’s impressive,’ and he hired me. And I was walking out, so I asked him his name, and he said, ‘Ted Collins.’ Magic. “It’s a very special world,” he said. “But it’s more than just tricks and mystery. That’s once reason I’ve been doing this hour and a half show, that’s what it is. And that’s a different world.” The Woolly Mammoth Theater is known for its edgy new plays, and draws a very different sort of audience than might be found at magic shows. “It’s a challenge, but that’s what I wanted to do, to entertain, to perform, to involve people in the magic show,” he said. “I love the small space, the intimacy and how you can interact with the audience, make them part of the show. I don’t do huge illusions, you can’t, but I do a varied repertoire of magic. I have a lot of equipment, and I wear a white tuxedo suit, one with a lot more pockets than most suits.” “It’s taking things to the next level for me, and I think the response has been really good,” he said. “Good for me. It’s not the same. It’s not just about tricks, but it is about magic and it is about magic and me.” In conversation, Bloch is self-deprecating, funny, really smart about his two roles and about magic in culture. He’s given considerable thought and feeling to what he does, and what a magician does. “There is a difference between tricking people, deceiving them, and in creating illusions, moments of make-believe that seems real because it is,” he said. Bloch, one thinks, makes magic magical. “Best Kept Secrets” will be performed at the Woolly Mammoth Laboratory Theater March 31, April 1-4 and June 9-13.

The Duke Comes Home

Serendipity is a word with a lot of letters and a lot of flavors in it. It’s like a stew, a soup, an omelette, about things being brought together by luck, skill, chance, fate and nature itself. There’s a lot of serendipity going on in and around “Sophisticated Ladies,” a big, splashy, stylish love letter to and about Duke Ellington, the man and the music, which commences its April 9-May 30 run presented by Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theatre at 13th and U Streets. There’ll be a lot of ghosts hanging about and rich memories on hand for many of the participants in this productions, not pale, silent, wandering ghosts, but the kind where women in sassy evening dresses and old bling and big heels sashay down a staircase, where the music is so rich as to make you swoon from the sweetness, where a man in a white tuxedo might sit at a piano like a royal person, and where you might hear familiar songs and the splashing of tap shoes on wood. All of that. Mostly, there’ll be Duke Ellington, and he’ll be everywhere in the building, where, downstairs in the old Colonnade, the Duke first started playing and getting known, and he’ll be in the rest of theater, which first saw the light of night in the 1920s, and he’ll be in the big mural and in the places where he used to live and he’ll be for sure in all the songs that make up this musical paean to all things beyond category and the Duke. The ghosts and memories will be there for choreographer Maurice Hines, who starred in the original Broadway production in 1981, when he joined his brother, the late Gregory Hines. They’ll be there for Mercedes Ellington, the Duke’s granddaughter, who also performed in the original production as a Juilliard-trained dancer alongside the great African-American dance diva Judith Jameson. For that run, the neighborhood itself might just revert to what it once was: the place where Duke Ellington made his mark. That’s what “Sophisticated Ladies” is all about, it’s the Duke’s life as a journey through songs, music and dance, as directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, based on musical direction by Mercer Ellington from the original show. “This is a joyous celebration of Duke Ellington and D.C.,” Wright says. “Duke Ellington is D.C. This is where he grew up and where his career began.” “I’d never actually seen the Lincoln Theater until I got involved in this,” Hines says. “It’s a perfect place. You can feel the atmosphere. But I remember the original, too. My brother Gregory was the star of the show, I was trying out at the Kennedy Center, and things got complicated. ‘You gotta get into the show,’ he said. Eventually I did, and we performed together in it. What an experience.” Their father was a drummer, and he knew Ellington, who was by that time a “beyond category” American music legend. “I remember one time dad took us back stage and there was this man in a white tuxedo and a man was putting on a cape over him, and he was sort of above us and he looked down and saw us. ‘Why, you must be the Hines boys, yes, you are,’ he said, and it’s one of those things you never forget.” Hines says that this was an opportunity to focus renewed attention on Ellington and his musical achievements. “I think we’ve kind of neglected his work in recent years,” he says. “That’s not right. His music is embedded in American culture, it goes beyond race, beyond everything.” Mercedes Ellington — her father was Mercer Ellington, who led the Ellington band and suffered from being under the blinding light cast by his father — was an assistant choreographer as well as a dancer in the original production. She serves as an artistic consultant on the Arena Stage production, often talking to the younger members of the cast about the life and times of Duke. “For the longest time,” she said in an interview, “I didn’t know what to call him. My mother said, ‘Don’t call him grand-dad. Ask him.’ So I did and he sort of looked at me, and said, ‘Hmm, let me think about that.” And finally he said, ‘I’ll tell you what, why don’t just call me Uncle Edward?’ He didn’t want people to know he was old enough to have a granddaughter.” Mercedes Ellington often went on tour with the band, including the hugely popular Ellington visit to the Soviet Union. “We were in Leningrad and being trained in dance, it was wonderful for me to see the dancers there,” she said. “He was absolutely mobbed by women everywhere he went. It was astonishing.” “I saw him before he died and he had all these flowers and cards in his room, from everyone — Sinatra, Count Basie, absolutely everyone. He had just about everything wrong with him but you don’t imagine him not with us. I read about his death in the papers on the flight home.” “I’ll tell you what he did,” she said. “People stopped thinking about color, race, all of that, when they heard his music, when they saw him perform. He was sophisticated, he went beyond jazz, he composed symphonies, operas, great complicated wonderful pieces of music. He had style, great style, and he was a little vain, sure, but he had this way about him, this charisma. He made people think differently.” The song list for the show alone is enough to make you want to dance, swoon, swing: “Mood Indigo,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Satin Doll” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.” Hines, in addition to doing the choreography, will perform too. He’s never stopped cutting albums, performing, tapping, winning Tonys, doing “Happy Feet” with Earth, Wind and Fire, being Nathan Detroit. “You know what tap dancing is about that,” he said. “It looks easy. It’s hard but it’s as smooth as anything.” There are two young teenage boys in the cast of performers. It’s not hard to imagine Hines remembering himself and his kid brother, when they were young, tapping out a beat on a floor, remembering the sound of four feet tapping. “Sure I do,” he said. “I miss him every day of my life, I think about him all the time.” In a way, everybody will be there down on U and 13th at the Lincoln Theater, the people who walked the Colonnade back in the day, the Duke at the piano, the big band playing, fathers and daughters and granddaughters and all of that, those sophisticated ladies parading. There will be ghosts there, it will be all serendipity. "Sophisticated Ladies" runs April 9 to May 30 at the Lincoln Theatre. 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‘American Buffalo’: A Slice of Chicago Style

For Joy Zinoman, Studio Theatre’s upcoming production of “American Buffalo” has elements of both a homecoming and a leave-taking. David Mamet’s 1975 play has its roots in Chicago (it premiered at the city’s Goodman Theatre), and for Chicago-born Zinoman, the work holds a special resonance. “I’ve always loved the play,” she says, noting that it appeared “at a seminal time for me”— the period when Studio Theatre was just beginning. Now, as Zinoman prepares to step down from her role as the theater’s artistic director, it will be the final production she’ll direct. Zinoman programmed “American Buffalo” as part of this season’s trio of “Money Plays” at Studio, joining “Adding Machine: The Musical” and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” as works that explore themes of commerce and capitalism. For Zinoman, “American Buffalo” is “the best play ever written about American business.” More than three decades after its debut, the work has also taken on new levels of meaning. “Now it is a play about fathers and sons, loyalty and friendship. It reminds me of a certain Chicago style. It’s gritty, real, and unpretentious.” The plot of “American Buffalo” centers on a crime that doesn’t happen, the heist of a supposedly valuable buffalo-head nickel. As Don, the owner of a secondhand shop and his young protégé, Bobby, spin out their plans to recover the coin from a customer who bought it, they’re joined by the volatile Teach, who offers to pull off the job himself. The scheme devolves into betrayal and violence, with shifting loyalties and suspicion undermining the trio’s relationships. Dark, often profane, yet deeply funny, “American Buffalo” has entered the canon of classic plays of the last century. It’s also a work that offers rich roles, and Zinoman has put together “three amazing actors” to bring them to life. “I’m incredibly excited to work with Ed Gero,” says Zinoman of the well-respected local actor who plays Don. Bobby will be played by Jimmy Davis, who Zinoman had seen in a role light years away from the typical Mamet man: Juliet in the Shakespeare Theatre’s all-male production of “Romeo and Juliet.” At his audition, Zinoman “found his originality intriguing,” and he was selected for the part. Teach is “one of the great American roles,” says Zinoman, and she’s landed an actor who, according to his mentors, “was born to play this part.” “I almost fell down dead” when viewing the video submitted by actor Peter Allas, she recalls. A Chicago-born son of immigrants, she describes him as “rehearsing his whole life” for Teach. It didn’t hurt that in his video the actor who created the role of Don in the play’s first production read opposite him. A Washington audition clinched the part for Allas, and it’s clear that Zinoman is looking forward to the sparks the three actors will create. More than three decades after “American Buffalo” burst onto the scene, the play’s themes have deepened and new contours have emerged — just as the nation’s economic roller coaster rides during the same period have shifted how we look at money and business. “I think it’s a real, human story about petty criminals and their schemes to make money and the greed that drives and divides,” says Zinoman. “It’s also about honor, morality, and friendship.” It’s a play that explores “how good people can get to violent, greedy, and life-destroying places in the name of business.” She hopes audiences “will come with an open mind” and see “American Buffalo” “freshly, as a new play.” “I hope they’ll come to laugh,” she says, since much of Mamet’s work in the play is funny. “And the language is just delicious.” For all satisfaction Zinoman finds in this directing assignment, “American Buffalo” is also a particularly emotional experience. At the play’s first production meeting, she recalls, the director and her long-time design and technical team “found ourselves weeping” with the realization that this would be the very last time they’d work on a show together in the same way. (Zinoman steps down as artistic director on Sept. 1 this year.) “Everyone is highly aware of the significance [of the production] for us, and we appreciate being able to do it together.” So what’s next for Joy Zinoman after the Studio Theatre? “The first next” is a four-month European sojourn in Italy and France, a chance to “create a real breathing space between this great, unbelievable life at Studio Theatre and what is next.” Teaching at the theatre’s conservatory will still be part of Zinoman’s life, and she’s considering offers from other quarters as well. “What’s great,” she concludes, “is a sense of jumping off a cliff.” It’s certain that wherever Joy Zinoman lands after that leap, it will be an interesting place to be. “American Buffalo” plays at Studio Theatre May 5 through June 13. For more information, go to [www.studiotheatre.org](http://www.studiotheatre.org).

In the Realm of the Buddha at the Sackler

At the Sackler Gallery, a wonderful exhibition of Tibetan art, “Lama, Patron, Artist: The Great Situ Panchen,” as well as a spectacular recreation of a Tibetan altar, have just opened. Situ Panchen was an 18th-century Tibetan version of the Abbé Suger, engendering the Encampment style that incorporated aspects of Chinese landscape and color. There are incredible paintings (thangkas) and bronzes in the show that have an amazing spiritual intensity. Though Tibetan Buddhist art is very much related to Chinese and Indian Buddhist art, it is somehow able to magnify its implosiveness. Situ Panchen was an artist himself, and for that reason he was probably very interested in shaping the art that was produced for monasteries that were part of the Karma Kagyü sect he belonged to. Because Situ Panchen was a Rimpoche (reincarnated Lama), his life is chronicled, unlike most Tibetan artists. We know that Situ Panchen began to paint even before he had been schooled in painting. At the age of 15 he undertook instruction in iconometric proportions. One of the Karmapa Lamas, the leader of the Tibetan Buddhist sect that Situ Panchen belonged to, was also a noted painter. The Encampment style of painting had emerged in central Tibet in the late 16th century. It was called by that name because the Karmapas lived in portable encampments, or moveable monasteries. There had subsequently been political problems that had resulted in the suspension of the style. Situ Panchen re-empowered the style. Looking at Tibetan painting as a whole, the Encampment style stands out as being freer and having an extra element of fantasy. It also uses a sweeter and softer green and has some amazing landscapes, thanks to its Chinese infusion. In the midst of skies there are conjoined figures. It is symbolic, but at some level it is also sexual. Perhaps it is truly visionary sexuality. In the show there are also some staggering sculptures of Lamas, some of the greatest portrait sculpture ever. The Tibetan Shrine, with the contents of the Alice S. Kandell collection, makes an enormous impact. Though viewing individual works of art is preferable in the museum manner of the Situ Panchen show, the power of the actually quite-small chapel is possibly greater. I took students of mine, not well versed in art and not at all in Tibetan art, to see the show and chapel. They had a hard time looking long at anything. They stood and gazed into the fantastic array of Bodhisattvas and Demons and Lamas for many minutes, getting it. One student remarked it was just like his (Ethiopian) church. The chapel was truly enlightening. (Through July 18.)