A Theatre Lover's Guide to DC/Capital Area Theatres - November Offerings

The fall temperatures may be getting colder, but the DC area theatre scene is heating up with many musicals, including a new "intimate" production of a 1927 American classic, a Tony-Award Winning family saga, and so many choices - well - take a look for yourself at what this diverse theatre community has to offer in November. This is a great time to celebrate the upcoming holidays with your family, so bring the kids, grandparents, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins to see that Orphan girl and her dog, a Disney heroine, and enjoy an early Christmas, and many more shows to bring in the cheer and joy of the holiday season. We have so much to be thankful for this month, so come to our nation's capital and celebrate the joy of theatre with us!

Kennedy Center's Production of Ragtime opens at the Neil Simon Theatre on November 15th.

In April of this year, as a 19-piece orchestra filled the Eisenhower Theatre at the Kennedy Center with the original orchestration by William David Brohn of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahen's stunning, riveting opening number of Ragtime, fond memories flooded my mind of sitting in front row of the mezzanine- dead center - in The Ford Center for the Performing Arts (now - The Hilton Theatre) on opening night - January 18, 1998 - and being so moved by this same gorgeous opening number. Now I was experiencing the same excitement as eleven years ago that made the audience leap to its feet - me with them - and serenade the cast and creators of this amazing musical. I knew that this was the right time and the right intimate and powerful production of Ragtime to introduce my favorite musical of all-time to a new generation of Broadway theatre goers.

I was invited to interview Broadway legends composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrensa press sneak peek on October 7th, and it was such an honor to schmooze with them about this wonderful moment, as they returned to the same rehearsal hall where it all began in 1998. Listen in as Stephen and Lynn talk about this new production that will open at The Neil Simon Theatre on November 15th. Can you only imagine how incredible the score will sound with 28 musicians at the Neil Simon?

OPENING IN NOVEMBER - MUST-SEES

Of Mice and Men, from November 5th to November 29th, at Keegan Theatre, at Church Street Theatre, in Washington, DC.

This month, straight from its tour in Ireland, Keegan Theatre is presenting their production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Directed by Kerry Waters Lucas, the show stars Keegan's Artistic Director Mark A. Rhea as George and Danny Gavigan as Lennie. These are two amazing actors, and in the very intimate Church Street Theatre, the power of this piece will envelop and grab you. Mark A. Rhea told me, "We are presenting the show as Steinbeck intended.  Not a lot of bells and whistles to get in the way.  It's about his words and Kerry and the production team have kept true to that."

Other cast members include Dan Martin as The Boss, Kevin Adams as Carlson, Matt Boliek as Candy, Drew Kopas as Whit, Lee Matthews as Curley's Wife, and Paul Andrew Morton as Crooks. A Keegan Theatre production always teeters with your emotions, draws you instantly into the show, and leaves you totally drained. I expect to be put the through the ringer when I attend Of Mice and Men, and with this cast, I'm sure I will! 

Showboat, from November 10th to January 17, 2010, at Signature Theatre, in Arlington, Virginia.

It's the show that "keeps rolling along," and now the big question among local theatregoers is "How are they going to top that amazing production of Les Miserables they did last year?" Like everyone else, I can't wait to see what Director Eric Schaeffer will do with it, and after looking at the cast, and the technical and the musical directing team, (most of them worked on the 8-time Helen Hayes Award winning production last year) we are in for a great time.

Here's how Signature describes the show on their site: "Spanning the years 1880 to 1927, this lyrical masterpiece concerns the lives, loves, and heartbreaks of three generations of show folk on the Mississippi. Show Boat is a sweeping tale of enduring love and devastating hatred, illuminating through unforgettable music the cruelty of prejudice - and the beauty of romance." If you want to read about the history of the musical and all the Broadway revivals, click here.

Eric Scaeffer talked about the new Signature production in a BroadwayWorld article: "The first great American musical is probably the last musical anyone would think Signature would explore in our 20th anniversary season, but there is no better tribute than presenting a new production of Show Boat as our 100th production." "This production, featuring new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, promises to be a wonderful re-imagining of this great classic as only Signature can do." "Show Boat is not about a boat - but about the sense of change in America among the social classes and, more than that, how race influences our lives and music." He went on to say that Show Boat may be the granddaddy of musical theatre, "it will feel like it was written yesterday."

The amazing 25 member cast is lead by Helen Hayes Award winners Harry Winter as Captain Andy and velvety-voiced Will Gartshore as Gaylord Ravenal, and includes Stephanie Waters as Magnolia, Kimberly Schraf as the bitchy Parthy, Jim Newman as Frank (Julie's husband), Delores King Williams as Queenie, Bobby Smith as Frank, Sandy Bainum as Ellie, and Rachel Boyd and Anna Nowalk will alternate as Young Kim. The ensemble includes Mardee Bennett, Yolanda Denise Bryant, Matt ConnerSusan Derry, Helen HedmanSam Ludwig, Sean Maurice Lynch, Kevin McAllister, Aaron Reeder, Helen Helen Hayes Award winner J. Fred ShiffmanChris Sizemore, Wharton, and Hannah Willman. All are great actors and great singers, and we are in for a great boat ride.

I am looking forward to hearing VaShawn McIlwain, who is playing Joe. VaShawn is a DC actor/singer extraordinaire, and is a Duke Ellington High School graduate. I heard VaShawn sing it at Signature Theatre's Open House this past August, and this guy can really "make those river waves roll!" And then there's the gorgeous Terry Burrell, who will be playing Julie, the tragic mulatto chanteuse. I've been a fan of Terry's since I saw her in Eubie, DreamgirlsThe World Goes Round, and her hysterical take on Muzzy Van Hosmere in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Terry knows this role well, having sung it in London at the Prince Edward Theatre in 1998, and last year played the role of Julie again at North Shore Music Theatre, in Beverly, Massachusetts. So, I can't wait to hear her sultry voice ring through the MAX Theatre, as she sings,"Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "Bill". I'll soon be recording an interview with VaShawn and Terry while my Snow Ball Mic "keeps rolling along".

Annie, from November 12th to January 24, 2010, at Toby's - The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, in Columbia, Maryland.

Want to find a show to bring the kids and grandkids to where they can sing along and yell out, "Sandy!"? Then bring 'em to Toby's Columbia location, and not only will you get a great all-you-can-eat-buffet brunch and/or dinner, but you'll get to see and hear some of the best talent in the DC area in an "in the round" production of this really happy and toe-tapping Tony Award winning musical by Charles Strouse. They'll have a great time!

I can't wait to see Tina DeSimone as Miss Hannigan. She was born to play Miss Hannigan, and Tina is sassy and brassy. She's got lungs, and she's a great dancer, and has choreographed many of Toby's recent productions. Her "Little Girls" will probably scare the heck out of every kid and adult in the audience. As Daddy Warbucks, David Reynolds, whose voice ain't chopped liver either, will add his usual grace and charm as the multi-multi-millionaire, and Deb Buonaccorsi, will be all-time great Lilly. She's a belter, and I can't wait to hear her sing "Easy Street". And of course, we can't forget the kid with the red curls who will be played by Adalia Jimenez. I can only imagine how many kids tried out for this role, so I'm sure she'll blast the heck out of "Tomorrow".

The production is directed by Shawn Kettering, and choreographed by Mark Minnick. Douglas Lawler, who is ending an extended run as the pianist/straight man in MetroStage's hysterical production of The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!), provides the musical direction. The ever shy Mr. Bowles should feel more at ease here, not having to "act", and now can enjoy working with all those kids. Good luck Doug!

White Christmas, from November 19th through January 10, 2010, at Toby's Baltimore, in Baltimore, Maryland.

It's coming back to the Marquis Theatre in NYC, where I saw it last year when the snow flakes were accumulating like crazy inside and outside, and I'll admit I sang "White Christmas" with the audience and cast at the end of the show, and yes, I enjoyed all the snow flakes falling all over the audiences (I would have hated to clean that mess up after and between shows!). Let's be honest, in these difficult economic times, we could use a good old fashioned, pick-me-up musical before and during the Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa season, so take the kids, and grandparents, and everyone you like, and drive up 95 to Toby's Baltimore location, where you, like Annie above, can nosh on some great food (the roast beef and turkey are great here), and feel merry and happy and joyous, as you sing along to many gorgeous Irving Berlin tunes. Even if you're not a Christmas celebrator, you'll have a terrific time. This location has a proscenium stage, and looks like many of the theatres in NYC, and this is where Toby Orenstein puts on her "spectacles".

Director Darren McDonnell has a wonderful cast, lead by hoofer/funny guy Larry Munsey as Bob Wallace, two-time Helen Hayes Award winner and hoofer/singer/really funny guy (think Donald O'Connor) David James as Phil Davis, Janine Gulisano Sunday as Betty Haynes, Jane Boyle as the outrageous Martha Watson, Sam Huffer as General Waverly, great hoofer Ray Hatch as Mike Nulty, Jason Cabrera as Ralph Sheldrake, Julia Lancione as Judy Haynes, and Kaila Friedman and Jackie Kempa will rotate in the role of Susan Waverly. Pamela Wilt is the musical director, and the show is being choreographed by Paula Lynn. How can you resist a show that has a bouquet of Irving Berlin classics like "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)", "Blue Skies", "I Love a Piano", and, of course "White Christmas"?

Barbara Cook Spotlight: An Evening With Christine Ebersole, on November 14th, at The Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre, in Washington, DC. 

When I checked the Kennedy Center website today, the words SOLD OUT appeared in front of Christine Ebersole's November 14th concert. It didn't surprise me. I've seen Christine perform her cabaret in New York and with James Naughton at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland. It's Christine's one-of-a-kind gorgeous voice and bubbly personality that always makes a Christine Ebersole concert or cabaret such a wonderful experience. I hope the Kennedy Center will add a 9:30 PM performance like they did when Jane Krakowski appeared here last month. If you already bought your tickets - I'm jealous!

Camelot, from November 18th through January 3rd, at Olney Theatre Center, in Olney, Maryland. 

Why do a new production of Camelot now? Director/Choreographer Stephen Nachamie responds, "In 1960, Camelot became synonymous with the brief 'shining moment' that was the Kennedy administration, and the comparison with our current administration has been duly noted by the press. In choosing the show and framing the storytelling, Artistic Director Jim Petosa and I discussed the relatively new Obama administration and the 'audacity of hope' in changing the world that exists. King Arthur's hopeful quest to create a new order of chivalry, to create a more common ground between the privileged knights and the people of Camelot, and to end wars by using 'might for right' instead of 'might for might' are still extremely relevant."

Chris Youstra is on a winning streak. His musical direction can be heard at Sweeney Todd at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia, and at Studio Theatre's phenomenal production of Adding Machine: A Musical. Now, the much in demand Mr. Youstra is working his magic on Alan Jay LernerFrederick Loewe's lush score at Olney Theatre Center's production of Camelot, and that alone is a reason to see it. I love the score, and "If Ever I Would Leave You," and "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" are two of my favorite songs from musical theatre. and

What a great cast! Broadway vets Todd Alan Johnson (Aida) and Aaron Ramey (Curtains, Young Frankenstein and Throughly Modern Millie) are playing King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. respectively. Joining them are Patricia Hurley (Queen Guenevere), Bill Largess (Merlyn), and Evan CaseySharen Camille, James Chatham, Caitlin Diana Doyle,Maria Egler, Jarid Faubel, Carrie A. Johnson, Deborah Lubega, Don Kenneth Mason, Thomas McNeal, Michael Nansel, Carl Randolph, Kirstin Riegler, Andrew Sonntag, Ryan Speakman, and Kara-Tameika Watkins. Take the whole family to see Camelot. They'll have a royal time! (Mordred). The talented ensemble is:

The Fantasticks, from November 20th through January 10, 2010, at The Lincoln Theatre at Arena Stage, in Washington, DC.  

I'm trying to remember when this show wasn't in NYC. This legendary musical with book and lyrics by Tom Jones (who is directing the NYC revival) and music by Harvey Schmidt, ran for 42 years at The Sullivan Street Playhouse, and its latest revival has been running at The Jerry Orbach Theater at The Snapple Theater Center in NYC since July 29, 2006Now, Arena Stage is presenting a "re-imagined" production at the historic Lincoln Theatre.

"Try to Remember" a time when The Fantasticks wasn't captivating audiences. The memorable score enlivens the heart of this passionate musical that charmed Off-Broadway for a record-breaking 42 years. In a twist on the classic story of boy meets girl, Matt and Luisa are led by El Gallo from the wistfulness of 'when life was slow and oh so mellow' to the reality that 'without a hurt the heart is hollow.' Rising star director Amanda Dehnert places this timeless fable in an abandoned amusement park, a perfect playground for the story's emotional carnival". The production will have musical direction by George Fulginti-Shakar, who won the Helen Hayes Award for his sassy and 'dressed-up' work for Cabaret at Arena Stage.

The cast is truly fantastick! Sebastian LaCause plays El Gallo. DC theatregoers have seen Sebastian in Arena Stage's production of She Loves Me and in The Kennedy Center's Carnival. Addi McDaniel plays Luisa, and comes from the Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks. Timothy Ware plays Matt, while Michael Stone Forrest, a multi-Helen Hayes Award nominee for 1776 at Ford's Theatre and for playing the crazy barber in Sweeney Todd at Signature Theatre, plays Huckabee. Jerome Lucas Harmann plays Bellomy, Terrence Currier, longtime Arena Stage resident actor, who I loved as Grandfather in Imagination Stage's recent production of Heidiplays Henry, Nate Dendy will be The Mute, and has appeared The Fantasticks at Trinity Repertory Company. Local actor Jesse Terrill, who was in Marat/Sade at Forum Theatre, She Loves Me, and Born Yesterday at Arena Stage, rounds out the cast playing Mortimer and The Handyman).

The creative team includes Set Design by EuGene Lee, Illusion Design by Jim Steinmeyer, Choreography by ShaRon Jenkins, Costume Design by Jessica Ford, Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler, Sound Design by Timothy Thompson and the Stage Manager is Martha Knight.




More On: Neil Simon, William David, Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, a press sneak peek,

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Joel Markowitz Joel Markowitz grew up in Buffalo, NY. At a young age, between shoveling snow and eating hot Buffalo wings, he fell in love with theatre, particularly musical theatre. Moving to the DC area after graduating from Syracuse University, Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Social Group, where he leads groups to performances in the DC area, and theatre weekends in NYC and Philadelphia. This year, The Ushers is celebrating its 21st anniversary. Joel also coordinates Broadway Bound Meetup groups in the DC, Baltimore, and VA areas.

In May 2011, Joel became the Editor and Senior Columnist for Maryland Theatre Guide, after writing his popular column Theatre Schmooze, and recording interviews with DC, Philadelphia, and New York actors, directors, and composers for DC Theatre Scene for 5 years. Joel is also a regular contributor on the weekly NYC radio program ?The Lunch and Judy Show? where he talks with host Judy Stadt about theatre in NYC and the DC area. Joel is a fan of Stephen Sondheim, William Finn, Jason Robert Brown and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. His favorite musicals include Ragtime, The Secret Garden, Spring Awakening, Gypsy, The Light in the Piazza, Sweeney Todd, The Last Five Years, and In The Heights. He is a huge supporter of children's theatre. Joel is also a Buffalo Sabres fan, so you may see him at hockey rinks, as well as at stage doors, where he schmoozes with the stars.



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