Spring 2010 Performance Preview

November 3, 2011

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
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Fall Foliage

July 26, 2011

It’s finally autumn. At least that’s what the calendar says. Despite our region’s exceedingly hot and dry weather, the days are shortening and the leaves have begun to change color. In fact, there are only a few weeks until the autumn foliage reaches its peak. This season, the peak is expected to be shorter than usual because of the dryness during the growing season. Hopefully our recent rains will plump up the leaves a bit.

So it’s time to pile the family into your fuel-efficient minivan and hightail it to Skyline Drive to look at the leaves. Right? Just drive straight out route 66 and hang a left on Skyline Drive.

That might be a good plan if you feel like sitting in traffic going five miles an hour along the drive. To be sure, the vistas can be astonishing, and it’s understandable that each driver wants to savor each eyeful. But it can be the Shenandoah equivalent of the gridlock along the Tidal Basin when the Cherry Blossoms bloom. And once you’re on the drive it isn’t so easy to exit in all that traffic. So should you give up on your plans?

The answer is a resounding no! There are numerous ways you can enjoy the spectacular vistas
without crawling along with the kids clamoring to go home. The foliage can be enjoyed from the ground (walking, biking, ATVing, hiking or driving), the water, and the air. The options are near endless. There are myriads of websites and publications to help you find your own wonderland.

By Screen

As we do live in the electronic age, I’ll give a nod to armchair enthusiasts. The National Park Service web site updates the color changes and leaf volumes at various park hotspots weekly (Check it out here). There is an accompanying link to the Leaf Color Cam. With the cam, you can observe real-time color change in multiple areas in the park. Talk about virtual autumn. Grab your Octoberfest beer and your laptop—or better yet, your internet-wired big screen TV—and you’re set.

By Foot

For walkers, hikers and campers, the Shenandoah Valley offers a rich system of trails maintained by national, state and volunteer agencies. Many of these trails join with the Appalachian Trail and can be accessed from within or without the National Park. The National Geographic Society publishes a multi-county map of the Shenandoah Valley replete with hundreds of trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty.

As beautiful as it is looking at the panorama of autumn from the Skyline Drive, walking through the woods with the leaves changing and coming upon an amazing lookout is a magnificent way to appreciate nature. With minimal work you can find a trail to suit your stamina and senses. There are trails for meanderers, skilled technical climbers and everyone in between. Here are a few suggestions that are off the beaten path.

William Melson is geologist emeritus at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. I spoke with him the day after he led a group of local Shenandoah residents along an easy trail atop Powell Mountain, one of the tallest peaks (2000 ft) in the Massanutten range in Woodstock, VA. At the top of the peak is the Woodstock Observation tower, from which one can see for miles into the Shenandoah Valley and take in the snaking seven bends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River cutting through the valley landscape. Just a few hundred feet past the trailhead for the tower is Melson’s trail. It goes 70 miles in either direction, is an easy walk, and takes you to the spot below the observation tower where the hang gliders jump off. Both trails can be previewed at: www.HikingUpward.com/GWNF/WoodstockTower

Closer to DC, Melson recommends the Bull Run Conservancy Trails off of Rt. 66 in Broad Run, VA. Trails range from .2 to 1.75 miles, and many of them connect so you can create a trail of your own. Maps of the conservancy site are available online.

Folks who have spent most of their lives in the Shenandoah Valley and around the George Washington National Forest know what a jewel Fort Valley is. It is a 23-mile valley to the west of, and paralleling the Skyline drive, surrounded on both sides by arms of the Massanutten Mountains. At the northern end is Elizabeth Furnace, site of one of the most productive pig iron furnaces in the 1800s. The southern end is notable for the site of Camp Roosevelt, the first Civilian Conservation Corps camp created during the depression. Recreation sites and campgrounds are located in both places and trails of all kinds originate in the recreation areas.

I interviewed residents of the Shenandoah Valley, National Park Service personnel, and veteran
hikers. Each individual had his or her own favorite trail, but they all then went on to mention the website HikingUpward.com. I used it to find a trail in the George Washington National Forest. It is a terrific site for locating hiking trails in the Shenandoah Valley. It has detailed topography maps, trail descriptions, hiking tips, guides for identifying flora, pictures along the trail, driving directions and hiking directions. You can click on an area of the map, and it will show the hikes in that area. Truly a remarkable hiking site that is free to the public to use.

By Sea

If driving and hiking don’t pique your interest, you might seriously consider enjoying the outdoors
from a canoe. Out on the water, nature surrounds you on all sides. The sounds are limited to the bubbling and rushing of the water, the calls of the birds and waterfowl, the sounds of the animals in the surrounding forest and your own laughter. Eagles, hawks, herons and ducks are bountiful. The trees form a colorful cathedral over the narrower parts of the river. The recent rains have raised the water levels in the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River, and it’s running somewhat fast with plenty of small rapids. Information regarding river outfitters is available on the web. If you decide to canoe, make sure you bring along a change of clothes in a waterproof bag. The water has cooled, and if you should capsize…well, it could be a bit chilly!

By Air

If the goal of traveling along Skyline drive is to appreciate the vast vistas of the mountains giving way to deep valleys, then the best view is from the air. However, unless you own your own small aircraft, the options are limited. There are two licensed balloon operators who work the Shenandoah Valley: Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloons, and Balloons Unlimited. Both fly just after sunrise and two hours before sunset—the daytime air is too turbulent. It is a bit pricey ($200 per passenger), but it is an amazing experience.

The liftoff is so gentle, and the ascent so gradual, that even those patrons who are afraid of heights will be overwhelmed by the beauty. Except for the roar of the propane burner needed to lift the balloon, it is absolutely quiet above the landscape. The colors dazzle. Add a little bubbly, and it turns into quite the experience.

And finally, there are those truly intrepid adventurers who not only want to see the panorama, they want to be a part of the experience. They strap on their hang gliders or paragliders, launch from a rocky outcropping, and ride the thermals with the birds. It takes time (and money) to become a safe and successful hang glider or parasailer. The equipment is expensive and there are not many schools locally. Start planning now for an adventure next autumn. Until then, the hang gliders can be watched launching from the outcropping below the Woodstock Observation tower. They are a beautiful sight to behold.

However you decide to appreciate the miracle of autumn, definitely put it on your calendar for a week or so down the road. Check with the NPS website for the predicted peak days. Once the peak is past, the leaves will drop and the branches will be bare. Then we can all begin to complain about the winter to come.

Photographer Roshan Patel, whose images grace the ‘Fall Foliage’ special, is a wildlife photographer based out of Williamsburg, VA. His focus is on environmental education and bringing perspectives of local ecosystems to the public. He is currently working on a project highlighting biodiversity in Virginia.To see more of his photography, visit his website at www.RPPhotoGalleries.com [gallery ids="99207,103460,103456,103449,103453" nav="thumbs"]