HARRIET TUBMAN AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: Captivating Children’s Theatre

HARRIET TUBMAN AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: “It’s Like History Class, With Music”

This production is part of the 2020 Acts of Faith theater season.

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis, in collaboration with Kingston Marley Holmes (age 11) and Emmitt Christian Holmes (age 5)

At: Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn; 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, RVA 23230

Performances: January 24 – March 1, 2020

Ticket Prices: $21; contact the theater for discounted group rates or to apply for a free Community Tickets Grant for nonprofit organizations.

Info: (804) 282-2620 or virginiarep.org

Virginia Rep opened its 2019-2020 Children’s Theatre season with a magical musical, Tuck Everlasting, based on Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel about a family that finds immortality in the waters of a remote spring in the New Hampshire countryside and the grieving young girl who befriends them. The second production of the season is Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, a spirit-filled production with book and lyrics by Douglas Jones (who was in the audience opening night), music by Ron Barnett, direction by Katrinah Carol Lewis, and an energetic, tightly-knit ensemble of six who made the hour-long production speed by. “It felt like just ten minutes!” was Kingston’s estimate.

The content of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad seems to be targeted primarily towards the older kids, say ages 9 and up, but even Emmitt was alert and committed – especially when he realized the audience was encouraged to snap, clap, and sing along. For parents, teachers, scout leaders, and other adult types, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad is enjoyable, entertaining, and informative. The author, Jones, and director, Lewis, do not talk down to the younger audience members, and at the same time they avoid the trap of some children’s shows of including double entendre’d jokes and language designed to appeal to the adults. Well done.

I described the production as “spirit-filled,” and I intentionally meant that in two ways. The production includes several well-known African-American spirituals, including “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “ Go Down Moses,” “Wade in the Water,” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Most include or encourage audience participation, and the text weaves in detailed but uncomplicated explanations of the hidden meanings of the words of these songs. The program, which doubles as a poster, includes a QR code that links to a 2-page PDF resource on Spirituals.

There is also a lovely 6-page PDF study guide with a brief bio of Harriet Tubman, a glossary of terms, critical thinking questions and conversation starters, interesting facts, activities, and a page about theater cues. You can find and print the guide here: https://va-rep.org/tour/guides.html

In a second sense, the program was spirit-filled with the ensemble’s acting and energy. Marjie Southerland (whose most recent local credit seems to be as Angela in the workshop productions of Warm, at The Firehouse Theatre last August) has the title role of Harriet Tubman while Elisabeth Ashby, Dan Cimo, Dorothy Dee-D. Miller, Gregory Morton, and Durron Marquis Tyre take on all the other roles: Tubman’s father, brothers, abolitionists, book publisher, passengers on the underground railroad. Southerland holds down the lead with confidence and sometimes a little well-placed humor, but this is truly an ensemble effort with everyone carrying their weight as well as a tune.

And finally, the program was spirit-filled through the words and memories of Harriet Tubman. And that is why, in spite of the lively music, and Emily Hake Massie’s simple, rustic, and serviceable set design, and Anthony Smith’s foot-tapping musical direction, and Sara Grady’s attractive period costumes (Kingston was particularly taken with Durron Tyre’s top hat) I found my eyes leaking from time to time. Tubman’s own words, spoken by Southerland, read from the text of Sarah H. Bradford’s biography about her, and resurrected in song, maintain the power to change the world, one life at a time. That is something the youngest audience members might not yet understand, but it was, for me, the singular purpose of this work, and in that it succeeded.

As far as the target audience was concerned, Emmitt declared Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, “Good! It was awesome because of the actors.” And Kingston said, “It was like history class but fun, with music!” Walking to my car afterwards, Kingston and Emmitt debated the pros and cons of live theater versus television and movies. Live theater, Kingston concluded, “is more captivating.”

Mic Drop

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Check the Virginia Rep website for additional information on:

Sensory Friendly Performances suitable for patrons with Autism and other sensory or social disabilities. For these performances, changes will be made in lighting, sound, seating arrangements, and length of performance to create a more welcoming environment. A Sensory Friendly performance will be offered at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 22. See the website for more details: http://va-rep.org/sensory_friendly.html

Audio Described Performances in collaboration with Virginia Voice, in which actions, expressions and gestures are described during gaps between dialogue throughout the performance for patrons with low vision or blindness. Patrons are also invited to participate in a tactile tour before the performance. An Audio Described performance will be offered at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Refer to the website for more details: https://va-rep.org/access_for_the_blind.html

Virginia Rep also offers a free Community Tickets Grant for nonprofit organizations who have a demonstrated need for complimentary tickets;  groups must fill out a short application that can be found at: bit.ly/CommunityTix

Performance Schedule

Evening performances at 7:00 p.m. on select Fridays, check the website for dates

Matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday

Matinee performances at 10:30 a.m. on select Saturdays, check the website for dates

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Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Photos were not yet available at the time of this publication.

LATIN BALLET: Legend of the Poinsettia 2020

‘THE LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA: LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA 2020

A Dance Review and Seasonal Observations by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road, Glen Allen, VA, 23192

Performance Were: January 9-12, 2020

Ticket Prices: $10 – $20

Info: (804) 356-3876 or http://www.latinballet.com

The Legend of the Poinsettia is, for many, a local holiday tradition, much as The Nutcracker ballet has become in communities across the USA. This year I attended a Thursday morning production. Because it is designed for school field trips, the program has been truncated and lasts only one hour. I am familiar with the full-length two-act version and was impressed that the field trip edition is seamless, and if you didn’t know what was omitted, it didn’t feel as if anything was missing.

I noted that the indomitable Miss Frances Wessells, who normally dances the role of Abuelita, the grandmother, was absent. I understand that she is saving her appearance for the final performance on Sunday at 3:00pm, and at age 100 (yes, she officially became a centenarian last August!), she can choose to dance whenever and wherever she wants!

There was no soloist, singing “Ave Maria” as well as several other selections. Also, the life-sized nativity, where the Virgin Mary usually takes up residence for most of the second act, remained empty.

Other differences were not cast related. This year’s production has done away with the traditional, and sometimes bulky, set and replaced it with stunningly beautiful projections of background scenes, buildings, window boxes, the night sky, whatever is needed to enhance and promote the storyline. The program doesn’t list a credit for the projections, but Antonio hidalgo Paz is credited for lighting design and technical direction with Steve Kohler as technical assistant.

Dominion Energy sponsored the program as well as some of the schools present. But while the weather was sunny in Richmond and Glen Allen, some schools from Fredericksburg were forced to cancel due to snowy conditions just a little father north of the Glen Allen venue. Those present ooh’d and ahh’d when the curtain went up, and again when the company’s men – Jay Williams, Nicolas Betancourt Sotolongo, and Glen Lewis, performed flips and handsprings across the stage. But this is Latin Ballet, and I felt that the young attendees’ responses were subdued – either because this was their first time attending the theater experience or because their teachers and chaperones had cautioned them to be on their best behavior. And they were – on their best behavior, that is.

At the end, company member Jay Williams invited audience members onstage for a mini-hiphop class, which offered many aspiring performers the opportunity to show off their best moves. The young audience members seemed to enjoy meeting the cast, taking pictures, and getting autographs nearly as much as the performance itself.

            The Legend of the Poinsettia tells the story of Little Maria (with Sydney Smith and Kaia Davis-Martin, who performed on Thursday morning, alternating in the role).  After the sudden death of her mother, who was teaching her how to weave a colorful blanket, Maria finds herself in need of a gift to present to the Baby Jesus on Epiphany Day on January 6. Epiphany or Three King’s Day (Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos) celebrates the 12th day of Christmas and the legend of the three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Christ Child. This provides a great excuse for those who did not take down their Christmas trees on January 1 to just say you were waiting to celebrate Epiphany.

The narration, given in English and Spanish, also emphasizes that this is also the story of “the true spirit of giving.” Not only is there entertainment and a moral, but there is also history, as the program explains how the poinsettia came to be a symbol of Christmas after Joel Roberts Poinsett, first ambassador from the US to Mexico in 1825, imported clippings and cultivated the plants that came to bear

As I have written previously, The Legend of the Poinsettia is a family-friendly, multi-cultural, multi-generational festival featuring dances, music, and colorful costumes from Columbia, Mexico, and Spain. There are cultural offerings from Mexico (the origin of the legend and of the poinsettia plant), Colombia (King’s birthplace, which also celebrates the nine nights before Christmas with las novenas including songs, prayers, and nativity scenes), Venezuela (the home of the gaitas or festive songs that blend the Spanish and African cultures), the Dominican Republic (home of the bachata, a mixture of Cuban bolero and son), Puerto Rico (home of the Christmas parrandas or musical festivities) and Spain (home of flamenco and the Christmas novenas). A blend of solemn candle lighting and prayers with festive singing and dancing is the common thread that ties together the many cultures and traditions, concluding with the miracle of the poinsettia plant, represented by dancers in red and green. The Spirit of the Poinsettia, floating around the perimeter of the stage in a voluminous read gown from which individual poinsettia “plants” emerge, may remind some of the Mother Ginger figure in The Nutcracker who hides a dozen small children under her huge gown.

Tickets are still available for a weekend of family-friendly shows

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Photos from Latin Ballet website; photos of Jay Williams working with the children by Julinda.

 

 

RICHMOND BALLET: Why Do We Love “The Nutcracker”?

RICHMOND BALLET: The Nutcracker – a Holiday Classic

Reflections on a Ballet by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts | Carpenter Theatre | 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: December 13-23, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25-$125

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

Why is The Nutcracker a holiday tradition – what do nutcrackers have to do with Christmas? According to German folklore, nutcrackers bring good luck and protection to your family and home. It represents power and strength, guarding your family against danger and baring its teeth to ward off evil spirits while serving as a messenger of goodwill.

The Nutcracker character originated with Prussian author E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story, The Nutcracker and The King of Mice. In the story, the Stahlbaum family has an annual Christmas party and their children, Marie, Fritz, and their sister Louise, receive gifts from their godfather, Drosselmeyer, a clockmaker with a talent for making mechanical toys. The story, filled with

about the triumph of good over evil. In 1844 French author Alexander Dumas père, adapted Hoffman’s story, changing Marie’s name to Clara. The family became the Silberhauses. This was the version that became a ballet, created in 1892 by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa (French) and Lev Ivanov (Russian). The Petipa and Ivanov choreography became the model for many of our contemporary productions.

The Richmond Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker was conceived by the company’s Artistic Director, Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell with artistic direction and choreography by Winslett and scenery and props by Caldwell. (The magical tree was designed by Alain Vaës and the lush costumes are by David Heuvel.) This year marks Winslett’s 40th production of the holiday classic for Richmond Ballet. From time to time, she makes changes and refreshes the ballet, which keeps it as interesting for the dancers as it is for the audiences.

The Richmond Ballet Nutcracker is a beautifully mounted production that appeals to both children and adults. There is, of course, dancing. While the “star” of the show is Clara, danced on Wednesday by McKenzie Fisher, who shares the coveted role with Kyla Williams, there is plenty of dancing by the adult company members.  There is a lovely duet for the Snow Queen and King (Melissa Frain and Ira White) and later Lauren Archer and Trevor Davis, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced the “Grand Pas de Deux.” After spending the fall semester teaching dance history, it was hard not to think of the changing roles of men and women in ballet from the Classical period (of which The Nutcracker is a prime example) to the Romantic period (when women became more prominent). I was torn between watching Davis spin Archer with mechanical precision – almost as if she were one of Drosselmeyer’s inventions — and gasping in awe as she ran and leaped, landing precariously and gloriously atop his shoulder. Repeatedly.

This ballet is also filled with character dancing, from the halting waltz by the grandparents (Susan Massey and Marcelo Outeiro) to the mouse battle with Anthony Oates as the Mouse King. The second act has something for everyone, dancing flowers and angels, and specialty dances (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese,  Russian, and more. Izabella Tokev and Fernando Sabino were mesmerizing as the Snake and Her Charmer, and the Russian dancers, Patrick Lennon and Logan O’Neil with Matthew Frain as their Dancing Bear is always a favorite. The Trépak, based on a traditional Ukranian folk dance has the men jumping in the air, then spinning on the floor like break dancers, while the bear adds a touch of humor, wearing red shoes to accent his furry costume, and moon walking off the stage while blowing kisses to the audience.

But wait, there’s more. The costumes are stunning, providing a visual delight, along with the huge, colorful set and props like the magical Swan Sleigh that glides across the stage carrying Clara and her Little Prince (Nicholas Blankenship).

And, finally, there is Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. It is familiar from the opening notes through the Finale and is probably the first classical music many children are ever exposed to. There are magical melodies associated with each scene that evoke memories of previous productions and prompt associations with idealized visions of Christmases past, present, and yet to come. The icing on the cake in this kingdom of sweets is that the music is played live, by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erin Freeman and a 30+ member Snow Choir, directed by Lisa Fusco.

The Nutcracker wraps young and old in a warm, familiar fantasy. It means Christmas and traditions and family, and a complete letting go of the stresses of everyday life for two hours of joy.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Richmond Ballet Facebook Page

 

Alvin Ailey
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CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: 43rd Annual “Nutcracker”

THE CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: The Nutcracker

Observations on the Nutcracker, 43rd Annual Production by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Atlee High School Theatre, 9414 Atlee Station Rd., Mechanicsville, VA 23116

Performances: December 14, 15, 20-21, 2019

Ticket Prices: $12-24

Info: (804) 798-0945 or http://concertballet.com/ or concertballetofvirginia@yahoo.com

I’ve seen many of the Concert Ballet of Virginia galas, and even the pared-down excerpts of The Nutcracker, but this is the first time I’ve seen their full-length version of the holiday classic.

Synopsis: The Silberhaus’ host their annual Christmas party, attended by their children Clara and Fritz and an assortment of family and friends. Clara receives a pair of dancing slipper and her brother received a sword and a mechanical rat – which he and his friends promptly put to use terrorizing the girls. A family friend, the mysterious Drosselmeyer, arrived late and gives Clara a Nutcracker that has magical powers. When all the guests have gone home, Clara comes to retrieve her Nutcracker, but it comes to life and takes Clara on a Christmas adventure filled with soldiers and horses, battling mice, a Snow Queen, a Sugar Plum Fairy, a Cavalier, and other fantastic characters.

The familiar score by Tchaikovsky and traditional choreography after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov as conceived by the late deVeaux Riddick captured and held the attention of the audience made up predominantly of families with young children. The story of Clara and her mischievous little brother Fritz is filled with humorous scenes that a young audience can relate to, and the magic of the mildly menacing family friend, Drosselmeyer, keeps the story interesting.

The variety of the “Divertissements” in Act II (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian, and Mother Ginger – here called Mother GingGong – along with acrobatic clowns and waltzing flowers) allows for a display of diverse genres and the multiple abilities of this community dance company (all unsalaried), “operating within the framework of a professional dance company.”

The scenery, by artistic director Scott Boyer and costumes (by a full team consisting of Erline Eason, Cecil Carter, Jill Driskill, Patricia Morris, Kay Allen, Mary Beth Rhyne,  Ann Reid, Corinne Abernathy, Kim Gangloff, and Tracey Latham) were a beautiful treat for the eyes. They even engineered snow falling gently on the Snowflakes corps de ballet scene.

The Nutcracker is often a young dancer’s – or audience member’s – first exposure to ballet, and this production, while lacking in virtuoso technique and clarity and definition of line, is a visual and musical treat that just might stimulate the interest of new young dancers and future balletomanes.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Concert Ballet of Virginia Facebook page

Concert Ballet NutcrackerConcert Ballet Nutcracker2

 

Alvin Ailey
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Whistlin Women
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CINDERELLA: Not Your Childhood Bedtime Story

CINDERELLA: Rogers & Hammerstein’s Musical Comedy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Marjorie Arenstein Stage

Performances: November 29, 2019 – January 5, 2020

Ticket Prices: $36-63

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

Don’t expect a traditional Cinderella from this production with music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrica by Oscar Hammerstein, II, and book by Douglas Carter Beane. Originally written for television, Cinderella aired live on CBS in 1957 with Julie Andrews in the title role. Beane wrote a new book for the 2013 Broadway adaptation that includes some plot twists and introduces new characters – adding hilarity as well as a new political and social slant that makes the plot more interesting for adults without sacrificing the wide-eyed fascination and delight of younger audience members.

SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know the details of the adaptation, STOP! Skip to the final two paragraphs, then read the rest after seeing the show.

In this version, Cinderella’s father has died, leaving her at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters. Susan Sanford plays the role of Madame, the selfish and self-centered stepmother. She is, being Susan Sanford, deliciously droll and completely over the top. Madame is so committed to being mean that she has a mini-meltdown when Cinderella says something kind to her at the prince’s ball while playing a game called Ridicule (imagine a mix of musical chairs and Words Against Humanity).

Audra Honaker plays Charlotte, the less favored sister – and Madame takes every opportunity to make sure she knows it. Honaker plays the role with a gravelly voice and a crude attitude (imagine a young Rosie O’Donnell, before she fell out of favor) pulling up her ballgown, removing one shoe, and sitting on the palace steps in the female version of manspreading. She goes for the physical humor and hits the mark nearly every time.

Havy Nguyen plays the favored and more conventionally attractive sister, Gabrielle. Gabrielle is more refined, not as loud, and kinder. Surprisingly, Gabrielle is sympathetic to Cinderella’s plight, and the two form a sisterly bond, sharing secrets and commiserating over their common oppression by Madame’s heavy-handed control.

Gabrielle isn’t really interested in the prince, because she is in love with Jean-Michel, a new character, played by Durron Marquis Tyre. Jean-Michel is a social activist, holding court in the marketplace and shouting outside the palace gates, trying to get the attention of Prince Topher (Edward L. Simon) to convince him to help the poor and disenfranchised citizen who are being evicted and losing their homes and land. Tyre’s character is a rabble-rouser in the marketplace, but shy and somewhat tongue-tied around Gabrielle. For their first date, he plans to take her to a soup kitchen to feed the poor.

Speaking of the poor. . .Prominent among the town’s characters is Marie, a beggar woman who is described as crazy but harmless. Of course, she turns out to be Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Katrinah Carol Lewis brings glamour and a larger-than-life presence to this role. With her magic wand and the help of some theatrical smoke, she transforms Cinderella from rags to riches, a pumpkin into a carriage, some mice into horses, and a fox and a racoon into a coachman and footman. The most amazing bit of magic, however, is the transformation of Marie’s beggar’s rags into a gown worthy of a fairy godmother, and Cinderella’s ragged dress into a ballgown – twice! A magic wand, some theatrical smoke, a few twirls under the special lighting effects, and the transformations happen in seconds right before our eyes. It’s the magician’s quick dress change trick, and it never fails to amaze me. (There were occasionally a few hints when a hem shifted, revealing an under layer – but this still didn’t spoil the fun, just as when, about five minutes into the show, Prince Topher apparently fell short in tossing his rope to topple a giant, and we caught a stage hand crawling out to retrieve the errant lasso.) Unless I missed it, I didn’t see any credit given for magic or special effects.

No, I didn’t forget the leading lady and her Prince Charming – or rather, Prince Topher. (The Town Crier’s recitation of the Prince’s ten or twelve formal names is another amusing running joke.) Quynh-My Luu and Edward L. Simon are both new to Virginia Rep.  Luu makes a lovely Cinderella, with a strong voice and a likeable personality. She doesn’t overdo the kindness, maintaining a balance between humility and empowerment. Simon didn’t make as strong an impression as I thought a prince should. When we first meet him, he has just turned twenty-one and is in search of himself before taking the throne. Like Cinderella, both his parents have died, and he has been raised by Lord Chancellor Sebastian, who has also been running – and corrupting – the government while waiting for his young charge to come of age. Jay O. Millman is a somewhat stronger and more forceful presence than his prince, which seems unfortunate.

In this version, Cinderella doesn’t lose her shoe when rushing home from the ball, but deliberately leaves it on the palace steps a few days later, after attending a banquet the prince holds in order to lure her back to the palace. In both cases, Cinderella has a midnight curfew. She misses the first by a few minutes, leading to a humorous chase where the footman and coachman partially transform, revealing furry tails sticking out from their livery uniforms before they fully return to their furry four-footed selves.

Friday’s performance was before a full house, and there were many children of all ages present. From my vantage point in the last row of the orchestra, I was able to glance, from time to time, at some of the young people, who seemed to be thoroughly engaged. (The production starts at 7:00pm, rather than 8:00pm, and runs just under 90 minutes.) Some of the smaller ones sat on a parent’s lap or, if they had an aisle seat, hung over the armrest; VaRep might consider investing in a few booster seats for occasions like this.

During intermission, one friend mentioned that it took her some time to get used to an Asian Cinderella, as she was used to a Disney version with blonde hair and blue eyes. I didn’t hear anyone else say anything about the “color-blind” casting, with white, black, and Asian actors portraying fictitious characters, but then, I wasn’t focused on that aspect of the performance.

There are nearly 30 musical numbers in this two-act show. Among my favorites are “The Prince is Giving a Ball” in Act I and  the quartet by Ella/Cinderella, Charlotte, Gabrielle, and Madame in Act II. I also enjoyed Matthew Couvillon’s choreography, with strong roots in both ballet and social dancing. Brian Barker’s scenic design is surprisingly constrained: a stand of thick trunked trees and a full moon for the outdoor scenes, the edge of a cottage for Cinderella’s house, a few wagons and far stands for the town square, and a wide, elegant balcony and stairway for the palace. BJ Wilkinson’s lighting doesn’t hold back on glitz and glitter, and Anthony Smith is the musical director of a small orchestra with a big sound. (Thankfully, the orchestra is in the pit and there are no holes for the dancers to tiptoe cautiously around.) Laine Satterfield’s direction kept things moving along at a rapid clip; there were no lulls for the younger audience members to get bored or distracted, or to allow the adults to notice the passage of time. I didn’t do any research prior to the show, so I didn’t know how funny it was going to be. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a delightful family show that unapologetically includes a message about treating all people well without becoming too preachy or pedantic.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Photos not available at the time this review was written.

Cinderella.1

Alvin Ailey
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13: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

13, THE MUSICAL: The Second Cast; A Second Look

An Addendum to Yesterday’s Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220

Performances: October 26 – November 17, 2019

Ticket Prices: Single tickets start at $42

Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org

Yesterday (October 25) I wrote about 13, The Musical after seeing the first cast. Today (October 26) I returned for the second opening night with a different cast – except for, I think, two actors.

The original view may be viewed at:

https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/10/26/13-what-could-possibly-go-wrong

When Cadence Theatre’s Artistic Director Anna Senechal Johnson announced that there would be two entire casts for 13, THE MUSICAL and that there would be two opening nights, I decided to attend both. The board with the actors’ headshots had to be changed, and there were two sets of programs printed. Preparation for this musical, more than 40 performers (actors and band members ranged in age from 12 to 17) required changing the headshot board and printing two sets of programs to accommodate the two casts – the Appleton and the Indiana (named for the town and state where our young leading man must move after his parents’ divorce). It must have felt like the theater company was preparing to give birth to twins.

For the first five minutes, I started to compare the performances of the two sets of  main characters, but about 10 minutes into the show I realized that the characters had taken over. While the chemistry was different, and different actors brought their own nuances, I can honestly say that the experiences were equivalent to seeing the same show twice with the same cast.

Physically, Brandon McKinney and Evan Dymon are quite different (in stature, facial structure, and more) but both portrayed lead character Evan with naivete, bravado, and compassion. Bridget Sindelar may have had a slight edge over Violet Craighead-Way as far as vocal range or power, but both made me root for Patrice and cheer her independence and self-identity.

The differences between Donathan Arnold and Cohen Steele are even more striking than the differences between McKinney and Dymon. Arnold is tall, slender, and black while Dymon looks farm-strong and he’s white.

I think Caroline Johnson portrayed a somewhat more prissy and less conceited Kendra than did Audrey Kate Taylor, while Jolie Smith and Anjali Sharma were equally strong as the mean girl. Both were able to maintain a sneer throughout a rigorous cheerleading routine, but Sharm’s tripping of best-friend-and-arch-enemy Kendra was perhaps a tiny bit more subtle than was Jodi Smith’s action for the same scene.

Ethan Dunne Stewart and Marcus Dowd, as Brett’s friends and hangers-on were a bit more outrageous, if possible, in their role as back up singers than were Owen Buckenmaier and Jake Barger, but both pairs of hangers-on were among my favorite characters.

Since much of the story line is sung, it is important that the lyrics can be clearly heard, and from my position (second row, right on Friday night and second row, front on Saturday) there where a few times that the vocals got lost for a moment or two and I never did understand the much repeated line of the finale.

My first impression remains the same: 13, THE MUSICAL: is a fun and energetic piece of theatre that is this wholly engrossing. Both casts of teens exude energy and professionalism; they make you care about what happens to Evan, Patrice, and Kendra (the bar mitzvah boy, his new friend, and the popular girl) and their friends. As if anticipating the audience reaction, the authors have the cast sing about their growth, their decisions, their triumphs and failures over the course of the school year

 

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Jay Paul

13, The Musical
Josh Chapman and Violet Craghead-Way
13, The Musical
Anjali Sharma
13, The Musical
Autumn Papczynski
13, The Musical
Evan Dymon, Brenna Duffy, and John Chapman
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13: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

13: A Teen-aged Musical

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220

Performances: October 26 – November 17, 2019

Ticket Prices: Single tickets start at $42

Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org

The musical 13 with its high-energy cast of teenagers starts off at a level 10 and pretty much stays there for the duration. The first – and so far only – Broadway musical to have a cast made up entirely of teenagers, the Richmond casts of 13 ranges in age from 12-17. Yes, casts. That was not a typo. Cadence Theatre’s Artistic Director, Anna Senechal Johnson, worked with two casts that will alternate throughout the run. I assumed this was because of the youthful ages of the cast, but in speaking with Johnson after Friday’s opening night program – a second opening night will be held on Saturday for the second cast – it seems that the dual casts are also a way to fulfill the company’s mission and “commitment to development and training for young actors all over Virginia.” Indeed, several of the young actors – and their parents or guardians – commute to Richmond for this show from as far as Northern Virginia and Maryland.

Written by Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish and Robert Horn (book), 13 chronicles several months in the life of Evan, played on Friday by Brandon McKinney. Evan is looking forward to his bar mitzvah, when he gets hit with not one but two major blows: first his parents divorce, then his mother informs him they are moving from New York City – the only hone he has ever known – to a Smalltown, USA, or Appleton, Indiana, to be precise.

Evan befriends Patrice (Bridget Sindelar) before finding out she is a social outcast, and in a heart-wrenching scene, he un-invites her to his party so that the popular kids will attend. Patrice is played by Bridget Sindelar, whom my daughter Soleil immediately recognized as Pinocchio from the VirginiaRep children’s show last season. [https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/03/31/pinocchio-bright-and-shining-son ]. Sindelar nails the character of Patrice, but more importantly, her singing is strong and here range impressive.

Evan’s action catches the attention of Patrice’s best friend, Archie (Ethan Phelps) – a classmate with an unnamed debilitating condition (muscular dystrophy, according to a synopsis of the script) that requires that he use crutches to walk. This makes him an object of ridicule to the popular kids, but that doesn’t stop him from plotting and planning to manifest his deepest fantasy. Archie has a crush on Kendra (Audrey Kate Taylor) and quickly enlists Evan to help jock-boy Brett (Donathan Arnold) secure a date with the ever-popular Kendra, with the ulterior motive of inserting himself in the role of leading man. The boys hatch a plan that at first seems successful – but if that were the case, the play would have ended here instead of continuing to its conclusion.

The lively music under the direction of Anthony Smith is played by a live band, most of whom are onstage in front of us but some of them are placed behind the audience. There is energetic choreography – 13 even included a tap dance – by Jasmine Mckenzie that is created and performed with a sense of ordered chaos that perfectly captures the teen-aged characters. A simple cinderblock set by Emily Hake Massie hides a few surprises that are revealed when doors swing out to create new spaces. Sarah Grady’s costumes are contemporary, with most of the cast – especially the ensemble – dressed in neutral shades like gray, but Evan sports a red plaid shirt, and other leading characters break out of the gray mold with bits of color.

Patrice/Sindelar is full of wisdom, but also has some of the funniest lines in the show. When introducing Evan/McKinney to the town of Appleton, she points out the highlights, like the Walmart and Dairy Queen, but also drops lines like, “The inbreeding takes up a lot of our time.”

Brett/Arnold is the cool, handsome quarterback, and is stereotypically vain and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. His buddies Eddie (Owen Buckenmaier) and Malcolm (Jake Barger) are loyal, hilarious sidekicks. When trying to help Brett prepare to ask Kendra (Audrey Kate Taylor), the prettiest girl in Dan Quail Middle School, they metamorphose into R&B backup singers. Although why the star quarterback and most popular boy on campus needs help getting a date is beyond me. Taylor plays her role with wide-eyed innocence and it’s irritating when she doesn’t seem to catch on to her friend’s betrayal.

Teen-agers can be some of the meanest people on earth, so it is no surprise that there is a Mean Girl in 13. Lucy (Jolie Smith) is supposed to be Kendra’s best friend, but she wants Brett for herself, and does everything she can to get Kendra out of the way: bullying; tripping her during cheerleader practice; giving conflicting advice about how to behave around a boy; and starting a vicious rumor. I suppose why 13 year old students are dating is irrelevant, but one scene hinges around Evan asking his mother to buy movie tickets to an R-rated movie for Evan and his popular friends. The sneer Smith wears whenever Kendra is around is so convincing I began to actively dislike Lucy.

Mia Meadows and Hannah Riggs share the lead in the closing song in a breakout surprise, after performing in the ensemble and the cheerleading squad for most of the play. Brenna Duffy stood in for Zoë Brown on Friday, taking over Zoë’s duties as Rabbi. Because of the huge size of the cast – when doubled – I will let the words of the press release fill in the missing notes:

Returning to the Cadence stage in the Appleton Cast are Violet Craghead-Way (Fun Home), Caroline Johnson (Appropriate), Grace Connell (Appropriate), and Sophia Bunnell (Violet). Returning in the Indiana Cast are Brandon McKinney (Fun Home; Caroline, or Change), Donathan Arnold (Caroline, or Change), and Alex Csaky (Fun Home). Making their Cadence debuts in the Appleton Cast are Evan Dymon, Josh Chapman, Cohen Steele, Anjali Sharma, Ethan Dunne Stewart, Marcus Dowd, Emma McClain, Autumn Papczynski, Molly Nugent, Sam Hurst, Raif Winn, Brenna Duffy, Gracie Farrell, and Lauren Brabrand. Debuting in the Indiana Cast are Bridget Sindelar, Ethan Phelps, Audrey Kate Taylor, Jolie Smith, Owen Buckenmaier, Jake Barger, Molly Rose Meredith, Mia Meadows, Bekah Blackburn, Sawyer Williams, Jack Hensley, Mia Krivanec, Zoë Brown, Madelyn Diradour, and Sarah Kathryn Makl. Performing with both casts will be Hannah Riggs and Christopher Stone. Mason Timberline will be joining the cast as the pianist/Master Conductor.

So, it appears I was led along this theatrical musical journey by the very capable Appleton cast. On Saturday I will go back to see how the Indiana cast conducts themselves along this same path, and I’ll report back to you.

13 is a lively, upbeat show tackles real-life teen-aged problems: popularity; peer pressure; bullying, and more. And every single one of the teens onstage has a cellphone in their pocket; they frequently take them out for a selfie or to record some controversy or other. There is even a one-page Study Guide included in the program that asks some interesting questions, such as “How has technology changed social expectations for adolescents?” and “What does the musical, 13, teach us about friendship and prioritizing personal relationships.

 Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Jay Paul

13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Brandon Mckinney. Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Brandon McKinney. and Bridget Sindelar.Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Audrey Kate Taylor and Donathan Arnold. Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Photo by Jay Paul.
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TUCK EVERLASTING: Don’t Be Afraid of Being Truly Alive

TUCK EVERLASTING: It’s a Family Affair

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn; 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, RVA 23230

Performances: October 18-December 1, 2019

Ticket Prices: $21

Info: (804) 282-2620 or virginiarep.org

Virginia Rep opened is 2019-2020 Children’s Theatre season with a magical foray into the world of Tuck Everlasting. The musical, based on Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel about a family that finds immortality in the waters of a remote spring in the New Hampshire countryside and the grieving young girl who befriends them, was performed on Broadway in 2016. Virginia Rep shared this co-world premiere of this Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) Edition with Nashville Children’s Theatre. (The Nashville premiere was actually in September 2018, so I don’t quite understand how that makes this a co-world premiere.) Pushing that question aside, Tuck Everlasting is a beautifully conceived play that thoughtfully poses serious questions about life choices while resonating with audiences of all ages. The story was new to me, as I had not read the book, had not seen previous productions of the play, and had not seen either the 1981 film by One Pass Media or the 2002 Disney film. Now, I cannot imagine how I missed out.

Unlike many Children’s Theater productions that seem geared towards the youngest audience members from around 4 to 10, Tuck Everlasting is a bit more sophisticated, and seems most appropriate for pre-teens through adults. This is also a production you can feel confident in attending without a child, although I recommend you bring along at least one.  Part of the joy of Tuck Everlasting is watching the faces of the young audience members. My minor cohort on opening night was Nicole, just two days from turning 11, the same age as our story’s protagonist. For most of the show, which runs about 75 minutes, with no intermission, Nicole sat wide-eyed, on the edge of her seat. Just what held her attention – and mine? I’m glad you asked.

Lucy Caudle, a ninth-grader at Maggie Walker Governors School who was recently seen as Alexa in the Virginia Rep production of Atlantis, took full ownership of the lead role as 11-year-old Winnie Foster. Winnie’s father died less than a year ago, and her conventional mother demands that she wear mourning clothes for a full year. But Winnie has gotten wind of an itinerant fair coming to their small New Hampshire town of Treegap, and she wants to go. Caudle genuinely captures the longing and frustration of her character in musical numbers like “Live Like This” and “Good Girl Winnie Foster,” but also in her face and posture. She frequently looks upward and outward into the future or stands with her weight on the balls of her feet, ready to sprint off on the next long-awaited adventure.

It is her need for adventure that sends her off into the nearby woods – woods owned by her family – where she meets Jesse Tuck, younger son of the mysterious and reclusive Tuck family. Taylor Witt, a DC-based actor new to the Virginia Rep stage, makes a charming Jesse, the free-spirited younger brother who exasperates both his older brother Miles and his parents Mae and Angus. Witt emanates non-stop energy and even on opening night seemed to strike just the right chemistry with Caudle.

Todd Patterson is Miles, the older brother who is the voice of reason, but with a dark secret. In a touching scene, Miles finally reveals the source of his deep-seated anger to Winnie. Patterson does a marvelous job balancing the layers of his character’s personality and the reveal is skillfully timed.

Casey Daniel Payne, also making her Virginia Rep debut, added a bit of humor as Mae Tuck. She had grown resigned to her fate and the years have taught her to take pleasure in the small things like not having to keep a clean house, because no one comes to visit. I took particular notice of Walter Riddle as Agnus, the head of the Tuck household. Having kept his family safely secluded for more than 80 years, Agnus appears unruffled by impending disaster and spends his free time fishing. Riddle appeared natural and easy in the role of the father figure, reluctantly dispensing words of wisdom to Winnie and treating Mae with respect and affection that seemed somewhat startling for the time period, the late nineteenth century. It seemed perfectly natural when, sitting back to back with their fishing rods in hand, Winnie leaned her head on Agnus’ shoulder. She was missing her father, and he was remembering what it was like to hold a real child.

Dan Cimo was both sinister and hilarious as the “Man in the Yellow Suit,” a carnival barker who had heard of the magical water that granted eternal life and hoped to become rich from bottling and selling it. One of the most memorable lines in the play was delivered by Winnie’s mother, who asked where one would find a suit in that color, and having found it, why would one buy it? Lisa Kotula played the role of Winnie’s mother with both firmness and compassion. Her role required her to wear Victorian widow’s weeds – a plain black dress – the entire play.

The cast was rounded out by Jon Cobb as the bumbling Constable and Harrison Gray as his deputy, Hugo.  Hugo also has a surprise to reveal in the final scenes. All were ably directed by Matt Polson, who kept the ensemble moving at a swift but manageable pace. The cast was also in charge of scene changes, which consisted mostly of moving a bench, a trunk, a gate, and numerous trees in a heavily forested but uncluttered set designed by Tennessee Dixon, enhanced by BJ Wilkinson’s lighting. The floor was painted with leaves, and larger leaves were projected onto them. A portion of a cottage façade and doorway was the most stable structure – or suggestion of a structure – and there was a grotto of trees surrounding a pile of rocks or boulders that sheltered the magical spring waters. Early on, Winnie pulled a small toad – her only friend at that time – from her pocket; later we saw a somewhat larger, animated toad (a hologram, perhaps?) projected onto the rocks. This toad plays an important part in Winnie’s decision on whether to drink the magical waters.

Set in a small New Hampshire town (it did seem odd that the Tuck family moved east, rather than westward) beginning August 1, 1893, Tuck Everlasting is clothed in period costumes, right down to the shoes, yet the story, the language, and the ideas remain relevant. Ruth Hedberg’s period costumes are whimsical, but she gives full reign to her creativity with the colorful costumes of the carnival people, including a strong man, a physic, clowns, and more. Mallory Keene’s choreography is not so much dance as rhythmic movement sequences organically incorporated into the actors’ actions and characterizations. All of the movement was guided by Jason Marks’ musical direction.

Tuck Everlasting was written by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, with music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen. The musical orchestrations are by John Clancy, with vocal arrangements by Chris Miller and ballet music arranged by David Chase. The musical selections were catchy and clearly delivered, from the different perspectives of longing, loss, and hopefulness of the opening “Live Like This,” sung by Winnie, Mae, Miles, Jesse, and the Man in the Yellow Suit to Winnie singing about how some days she wanted to “raise a little more than heaven,” to Hugo and the Constable’s pun-filled, “You Can’t Trust a Man in a Yellow Suit.” (Hugo accused the Man in the Yellow Suit of “fabricating” and the Constable interprets it as “fabric hating.”)

While all of this is going on, the audience, both young and old, is challenged with some real-life challenges: Don’t be afraid of death; it’s part of life. One path can lead to two different conclusions. Sometimes loving someone means letting them go. What are the positives and negatives of living forever? The one point my young cohort found confusing was the final scene, where we find out what Winnie decided to do with the double edged sword of eternal life – the vial of magical water that Jesse presses into her hand as a parting gift. The scene, and the entire play, offers an entry into discussing difficult and challenging topics with your children. Tuck Everlasting is a play that should be seen by families and discussed later.

NOTE: The Tuck family includes one black parent and one white parent, one white son and one black son. This is truly color blind casting, as the issue of race is never once mentioned.

Sensory Friendly Performances
Virginia Rep offers sensory friendly performances for children with autism and other
sensory or social disabilities. During these select performances, changes will be made in
lighting, sound, seating arrangements, and length of performance to create a more welcoming environment for this audience. A Sensory Friendly performance will be offered at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 16. Please see the website for more details:
http://va-rep.org/sensory_friendly.html

Audio Described Performances
In collaboration with Virginia Voice, Virginia Rep offers Audio Described
performances, in which actions, expressions and gestures are described during gaps between dialogue throughout the performance for patrons with low vision or blindness. In addition to live audio description during performances, patrons are also invited to participate in a tactile tour before the performance. An Audio Described performance will be offered at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 3. Please see the website for more details: https://va-rep.org/access_for_the_blind.html

Community Tickets Grant
Virginia Rep offers a free Community Tickets Grant for nonprofit organizations. Organizations who have a demonstrated need for complimentary tickets are encouraged to fill out the application found on the website: bit.ly/CommunityTix

Performance Schedule
Evening performances at 7:00 p.m. on select Fridays
Matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday
Matinee performances at 10:30 a.m. on select Saturdays

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

Tuck Everlasting
Walter RIddle (left) and Lucy Caudle (right). Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Taylor Witt (left) and Lucy Caudle (right). Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Lisa Kotula, Todd Patterson, Lucy Caudle, Jon Cobb, Harrison Gray, Taylor Witt, Walter Riddle and Casey Daniel Payne. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Taylor Witt, Casey Daniel Payne, Walter Riddle and Todd Patterson. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Lisa Kotula, Lucy Caudle and Dan Cimo. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

 

Whistlin Women
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POLKA DOTS: A Musical About Segregation

Polka Dots: The Cool Kids Musical

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn; 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, RVA 23230

Performances: July 12 – August 11, 2019

Ticket Prices: $21

Info: (804) 282-2620 or virginiarep.org

Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical is based on the real-life events of the Little Rock Nine. In 1957 nine black students enrolled in the formerly all-white Little Rock Central High School, a test of the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. For Polkadots, Melvin Tunstall, III (book) has set the  story in Rockaway elementary school, in an undetermined state. Instead of black and white, the tension takes place between the blue skinned squares and the pink skinned polkadots. The squares believe they are the superior group, and don’t want to share their school or their town with polkadots.

Eight-year-old Lily Polkadot, played by Caroline Lynch, is the first polkadot to integrate the school, and the plot revolves around Lily’s efforts to make a friend and assimilate into her new school. Serious and sensitive issues are handled with care under the gentle direction of Jan Guarino.

Lily puts up a brave front, standing up to the mean spirited Penelope Square, singing “Sticks and Stones” as an affirmation, but she still privately wishes her skin was covered with squares instead of polkadots. The children’s teacher, Ms. Square, played by Sydnee Graves, who also plays the role of Mama Square, is warm, friendly and accepting of Lily, but at the same time she doesn’t want to make waves.

On the first day of school, Lily must remain alone in the classroom during the bathroom and water break because the polkadots’ water pump has not yet been installed, and Lily must not drink from the squares’ water sprinkler. A separate water fountain is eventually rolled out for Lily, and this marks one of many times I wondered just how much the younger members of the audience really understood the historical significance of what was taking place.

This was one of the few times I did not have my grandsons Kingston (10) and Emmitt (who just turned 5) along to consult with. As a matter of fact, the volunteer ticket taker took one look at me and asked, “Where’s your grandson?” I almost felt like some sort of pervert attending the Children’s Theatre without a child or two in tow, and I really would like to know what they would have taken away from this show.

Interesting, the cast, including Quan Chau as Sky Square, Sydnee Graves as Ms. Square/Mama Square, Caroline Lynch as Lily Polkadot, and Madeleine Witmer as Penelope Square is quite diverse (white, black, Asian), and all are making their debuts at the Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn. The quartet was uniformly energetic, and all boast strong singing voices. Douglas Lyons’ lyrics are surprisingly sophisticated for a children’s show – more throaty ballads than bouncy ditties and the music by Greg Borowsky and Lyons provides a firm foundation for Mallory Keene’s choreography. There is even one number, where Sky and Lily create a silly dance, the Squa-Dot, that invites audience participation, but on Friday night, although there was one enthusiastic row of youthful audience members bouncing in their seats, no one was brave enough to stand up and join in the dance.

Graves was almost annoyingly prim and proper in her role as the teacher and seemed like an authentic school counselor when she shared with Lily her own trials as the first “lady teacher” at their school. Witmer was almost satisfyingly snarky as the mean girl big sister, and was visibly disappointed when her big song, “Cool Kid,” which was meant as a put-down for Lily missed the mark, because Lily wasn’t in the audience to hear it. Chau was adorable as little brother, Sky, and Lynch was perfectly cast as the spunky yet vulnerable Lily.

Kyle Artone’s costumes are colorful and cartoonish, and the square women’s full-skirted dresses, stretched over stiff and puffy crinolines, are especially pretty. Lily’s dress is simpler and less elaborate than the dresses of the squares. I found the pink and blue skin (part fabric and part makeup) and cotton candy colored hair a bit creepy, but it didn’t seem to bother the younger members of the audience.

Emily Hake Massie’s set was surprisingly simple. A huge square platform in the center of the stage served as Penelope’s bed, Ms. Square’s classroom, and Mama Square’s dining table. Cubes served as props and seating and doubled as steps to allow the performers access to sit and dance atop the square platform. Lynne Hartman’s lighting was also minimal, with a few special effects that highlighted the segregated fountains.

Unlike in real life, there is a happy ending, with everyone becoming friends – or at least, agreeing to live and work together – but as a lesson, it’s a start. Looking around at the faces of the children in the audience, mostly 6-10 years old, they appeared to be having a good time, but it would take a post-performance discussion to determine how much they actually learned.

Polkadots: The Cook Kids Musical runs just under an hour, with no intermission, and will be playing at The Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn through August e.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical
Madeleine Witmer. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical
Quan Chau, Caroline Lynch. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical
Madeleine Witmer, Sydnee Graves, Quan Chau. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical
Caroline Lynch, Quan Chau, Madeleine Witmer, Sydnee Graves. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical
Caroline Lynch. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

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Fellowship Cruise 2020

PINOCCHIO: Bright and Shining Son

Pinocchio: The Nose Knows

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis (with input from Emmitt, Kingston & Soleil)

At: Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn; 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, RVA 23230

Performances: Mach 29 – May 5, 2019

Ticket Prices: $21

Info: (804) 282-2620 or virginiarep.org

The third production of the Virginia Rep Children’s season at Willow Lawn is the children’s classic Pinocchio. I’m glad I usually take children with me to these shows, because our perspectives are often vastly different.

First, a disclaimer. I am truly glad that Pinocchio is played by a real person, Bridget Sindelar, who last appeared on this stage as Ginny/Little Blue in The Little Engine That Could. I find articulated marionettes creepy – almost as creepy as ventriloquist dummies. Sindelar adopted a herky jerky walk, like a windup toy about to wind down, with uplifted elbows to mimic the posture of a marionette.

Sunday afternoon found a nearly full house for this show, with book, lyrics, and direction by Bruce Craig Miller, who will soon start his new job as head of the Chesterfield Cultural Arts Foundation. Running a little under one hour with no intermission, Pinocchio is recommended for ages 4 and up, and that seems about right. There were a few criers in the audience, but most of the young attendees were enthralled. My 4-year-old grandson Emmitt was fully attentive. As always, he is especially fond of the musical numbers. His favorite was “The Eating Song.”

When asked which characters he liked the most, his first response was the Blue Fairy (played by Renee McGowan) but then he changed it to Pinocchio. He also did not hesitate to let his mom know that he did not like the scene where Pinocchio got tied up with a noose. (It might have been around that time that he moved from his seat to her lap.) The set, by Terrie Powers, also caught his attention, “It looks like a real city,” he said in unsolicited awe shortly after we took our seats.

Kingston, at 10, is the more seasoned theater-goer, but he liked the entire show, especially Tevin Davis as the Fox and Eve Marie Tuck as the Cat. He did not have any problem with the rope scene or even with what I saw as totally improbable, illogical, and unsubstantiated scenes and events. Their mom, Soleil, who between the ages of 7-17 spent more time on stages than in theater seats, acknowledged the inconsistencies, but was most struck that this version of Pinocchio reminded her of the book of classic fairy tales her father and I had bought for her and her siblings. One scene she reminisced about was the scene where Pinocchio and his father Geppetto are reunit4ed in the belly of a giant dogfish – a scenario I did not remember at all. So, thank you, family, for your input. I appreciate your perspectives, but do not fully agree.

From my perspective, I found Bridget Sindelar charming as Pinocchio, but I was repelled by Pinocchio’s bratty behavior. I, too, was enamored of Tevin Davis’s Fox, a rakish character who seemed to have adopted some of the mannerisms of a 1970s Blaxploitation movie pimp. Geppetto, played by Landon Dufrene, seemed underdeveloped, as was the relationship between Geppetto and Pinocchio. The jump from freshly carved puppet to a runaway puppet to real boy was sudden and lacking in explanation. Okay, I know it’s a fairy tale, so logic isn’t required, but still, it seemed to me as if chunks of the story were missing. This is why I think it’s helpful to attend a children’s show with children – especially if I’m going to write about it. They weren’t bothered by, in fact didn’t even notice, any of the things I found lacking or distracting.

Over all, Miller kept the pacing swift but smooth; the time passed quickly. The cast performed with energy and enthusiasm, often making light contact with the audience, asking a question or pointing to a child or two to include them in the decision making process. I liked the opening, with the actors switching between English and Italian to set the scene – but they dropped that after the opening scene. The costumes by Marcia Miller Halley were quite well done and enhanced the fairy tale atmosphere while complementing Powers’ colorful little village set design.

Pinocchio delighted its intended audience and is largely devoid of the double entendre that so many playwrights cleverly insert into children’s plays, apparently in an attempt to keep the attention of the accompanying adults. Like most good children’s tales, there is an underlying lesson or two. In this case, the messages that are woven throughout are about telling the truth and not being afraid to grow up.

 

Sensory Friendly Performances

A Sensory Friendly family performance will be offered on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. Please see the website for more details: http://va-rep.org/sensory_friendly.html

 

Audio Described Performances

In collaboration with Virginia Voice, Virginia Rep is pleased to offer Audio Described performances, in which actions, expressions and gestures are described during gaps between dialogue throughout the performance for patrons with low vision or blindness. In addition to live audio description during performances, patrons are also invited to participate in a tactile tour before the performance. An Audio Described performance will be offered on Sunday, April 7, 2019 at 2 p.m. Please see the website for more details: https://va-rep.org/access_for_the_blind.html

 

Performance Schedule

Evening performances at 7:00 p.m. on select Fridays

Matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday

Matinee performances at 10:30 a.m. on select Saturdays

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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