Connect with us

Arts & Entertainment

Trials and tribulations

Ford’s takes chance on daring musical ‘Parade’

Published

on

‘Parade’
Through Oct. 30
Ford’s Theatre
511 1oth Street, NW
$15-$75
fords.org

From left, Erin Driscoll, Bligh Voth and Carolyn Agan as the young factory girls and Stephen F. Schmidt as Governor Slayton in the Ford’s Theatre production of the musical drama ‘Parade,’ directed by Stephen Rayne. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson; courtesy Ford’s Theatre)

Not all musicals end happily. Case in point: “Parade.” Based on the real life trial and lynching of Leo Frank in early 20th century Atlanta, the Tony Award winner (currently playing at Ford’s Theatre) is some depressing stuff.

Yes, Jason Robert Brown’s gorgeous score softens the grim facts and when sung by the talented actors gathered for this respectable production, the show remains a sad story, but one that’s beautifully told.

It’s 1913 and the bloody body of 13-year-old Mary Phagan (Lauren Williams) is found in the basement of Atlanta’s National Pencil factory on Confederate Memorial Day. Following a mishandled investigation, Frank (Euan Morton), a young Brooklyn Jew who has moved south to marry nice Jewish girl Lucille (Jenny Fellner) and run the factory, is arrested for the murder of his young employee.

Atlanta’s citizenry is out for blood. A lingering resentment of Northerners (it’s just 50 years since the Civil War) combined with a heavy dose of anti-Semitism are the prefect recipe for injustice. One by one, the coached and coerced give damning testimony in a mostly sung-through trial sequence whose high point is the sensational “That’s What He Said” in which slippery witness James Conley (Kevin McAllister) backed by the ensemble set the stage for Frank’s railroading.

Fellner sings a heartrending rendition of “You Don’t Know This Man,” Lucille’s balladic defense of her husband. Similarly, Morton as Leo (an uptight adding machine so unfamiliar with southern ways) begins to open up with “It’s Hard to Speak My Heart.” But despite the couple’s best efforts, their foes — ambitious prosecuting attorney Hugh Dorsey (James Konicek) and rabble-rousing publisher Tom Watson played by a mustachioed Will Gartshore (local gay actor whose glorious tenor was also heard in “Parade” when it opened on Broadway in 1998, but in a different part) — aren’t listening.

Morton, the versatile Scottish actor who became well known for playing Boy George in Broadway’s musical “Taboo,” is terrific. His Leo is at turns nebbishy, brusque, slightly superior, but in the end loving. Unfortunately neither Brown’s score nor the show’s book by Alfred Uhry (who also wrote “Driving Miss Daisy,” another peek into Atlanta’s Jewish community) provides an opportunity for Leo to reveal his fear and anguish.

The heart of the story is Leo and Lucille’s changing marriage. What starts out as a loveless seemingly arranged union forges into a respectful partnership as the pair work to secure Leo’s freedom and ultimately blossoms into full blown romance. Jailhouse visits are breezy. Lucille sets out her finicky husband’s home cooked favorites while Leo busily works on his appeal. If only for a short time, they behave like a happily married couple despite the macabre circumstance.

Conducted by Steven Landau, Brown’s soaring score references military marches, spirituals and waltzes. There are sad ballads and grave melodies aplenty, but a few tunes encourage toe tapping too. It’s those along with choreographer Karma Camp’s cake-walking moves that remind us of the circus like good time surrounding Leo’s trial and lynching. They were big entertainment, the hottest tickets in town.

Sure-handedly staged by Stephen Rayne, the production moves at a good clip. Set designer Tony Cisek imagines the newly industrialized Atlanta as two tiers of red brick arches that serve variously as factory, courthouse, jail, governor’s mansion and the Frank home. Two towering columns – each in unchecked stages of decay — stand as fading remnants of a prouder, more glorious South. And Wade Laboissonniere’s many period costumes are spot on and superbly rendered.

There’s a lingering sadness to Ford’s “Parade.” Long after the actors have taken their bows, we’re haunted by the ghosts of little Mary Phagan, Leo Frank, his wife and the people of Atlanta. Neither they nor the tragic events are easily forgotten.

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Books

‘Playing the Palace’ a campy, fun rom-com read

What happens when a prince meets an event planner

Published

on

‘Playing the Palace’
By Paul Rudnick
c.2021, Berkley
$16/272 pages

If you loathe romance or hate to laugh, then skip this book.  

If you’re looking for a rom-com that’s as fab and campy as Provincetown or Rehoboth Beach on a summer night, “Playing the Palace” by Paul Rudnick is the book for you.

Reading “Playing the Palace” is like sipping a delicious frozen Daiquiri.

Carter Ogden, the neurotic, good-hearted, Jewish, funny, out, gay narrator of this frothy romance, becomes your BFF and drinking buddy at the opening sentence, “It’s still weird, waking up alone.”

The plot of the book is simple: Carter, 29, is an associate “event architect” (in plain English – event planner) in New York City. He makes ends meet by living with wacky, supportive roommates.

Carter, a native of Piscataway, N.J., and IHOP aficionado, is feeling dejected as he approaches his 30th birthday. His ex, an actor, has left him. He can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever find love again.

Until, at work, he meets Edgar, the Prince of Wales. Edgar has come over from the United Kingdom to speak at a charity event for a group that works to provide clean water to countries that need it. And, this being a fictional prince in a rom-com, Edgar is openly gay. 

As you’ve been forewarned, we’re not dealing with realism here.

Edgar sees Carter and asks him to give him tips on how he can get his speech across more effectively.  

From that moment on, the two – the IHOP-loving event planner and the future King of England — are in a fine romance. (Edgar is an orphan. His parents were killed in a plane crash.)

Their quest for the happily-ever-after involves pancakes, projectile vomiting, social media and a Thanksgiving meet-up of Carter’s Jewish aunts and Edgar’s grandmother, the Queen of England.

By itself, the story of “Playing the Palace” might seem predictable. What makes it sizzle – why you laugh out loud even as you root for the romance to work out – is its narrative voice.

“Playing the Palace” is a funny, sometimes touching monologue in the voice of Carter.

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to love Carter when he says he “addressed my problems to the framed photo of the late beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the wall of my tiny, partitioned bedroom.”

Writing a whole novel as a monologue could fizzle out if other writers tried it.  

But, Rudnick a gay novelist, playwright, essayist, screenwriter and humorist, is a master of this form.

His plays, produced on and off-Broadway include “Jeffrey,” “I Hate Hamlet,” “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” and “The New Century.” He’s won an Obie Award, two Outer Critics Circle Awards and the John Gassner Playwriting Award.  

Rudnick’s novels include “Social Disease” and “I’ll Take It.” “Gorgeous” and “It’s All Your Fault” are among his YA (young adult) novels.

His screenplays include “Addams Family Values,” “In & Out,” the screen adaptation of “Jeffrey” and “Sister Act.” He wrote the screenplay for “Coastal Elites,” the comedic satire that debuted on HBO last year.

Something of a polymath, Rudnick is, according to his bio, “rumored to be quite close” to film critic Libby Gelman-Waxner, whose reviews have appeared in Premiere magazine and Entertainment Weekly.

A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, his essays have appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times and Vogue.

As you might expect, the volume is chock full of pop culture references and wit. “I took a shower using my new manly body wash,” Carter says, “which is exactly the same as the female version, only with simplified graphics and a steel-gray, squared-off bottle, as if it contains motor oil and testosterone.”

It’s not surprising that Rudnick told Entertainment Weekly that he’s working on a musical of the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Reading “Playing the Palace” is like seeing a Broadway musical.  

“I was looking into eyes that were so radiantly blue I either wanted to faint or yell ‘just stop it,’” Carter says when he first sees Edgar.

“Playing the Palace” is a show-stopper.

Continue Reading

Movies

Dance icon gets luminous treatment in ‘Ailey’ doc

A real-life story that feels authentic, despite the secrecy of its subject

Published

on

A scene from the new documentary ‘Ailey.’ (Image courtesy Neon)

When it comes to the history of dance in America, few names loom larger than that of Alvin Ailey.

A trailblazing pioneer of the art form who blended styles of modern dance, ballet, and jazz into breathtakingly theatrical presentations that explored and uplifted Black experience in American culture, his works earned him accolades and honors throughout a long career that gave him name recognition even among people with little or no interest in dance. His choreographed masterpieces became touchstones within the medium, with many of them still among the most frequently remounted dance productions more than 30 years after his death, and the company he founded in 1969 – the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – remains one of the most lauded and prestigious dance organizations in the world today. Yet despite his status as one of the most famous American choreographers of the 20th century, there are many today, even among the aficionados of dance, who would be hard-pressed to tell you much about his life.

That’s not entirely due to neglect or lack of interest, as a new documentary by filmmaker Jamila Wignot – simply titled “Ailey” – helps us to understand. Ailey was a genius who kept his private life as far out of the spotlight as possible. As a Black gay man, he was keenly aware of his doubly marginalized status, and rather than inviting controversies that might overshadow the creations he worked tirelessly to bring into the world, he preferred to let the work itself become his public identity. He even took measures to obscure himself after death, ensuring that his passing from AIDS (in 1989, at the age of 58) would be reported as the result of a terminal blood disease.

In Wignot’s dreamily eloquent film, she presents us with a portrait of a man who seemingly sublimated his entire being into the creation of his art, documenting Ailey’s magnificent career with a wealth of archival footage and interviews. Along the way, she also offers exploratory deep dives into the creation and legacy of some of his most iconic ballets, illuminating some of the themes that wove themselves into his body of work throughout his life. Finally, she follows the creative process as dancers at today’s Ailey American Dance Theater work on a new production of “Lazarus,” one of the late master’s most renowned pieces. In the process, she delivers the biographical facts of his life side by side with the artistic passions that drove him, and places it all in the context of the larger cultural history of late 20th century America – as well as how Ailey’s legacy continues to resonate within the changing social dynamics of our own time.

Yet throughout this feast of information, illuminating the facts and counterpointing the remembrances of those who worked at his side, Wignot also gives us Ailey’s own commentary. Culled from recordings and interviews made during his lifetime, this posthumous self-narration of his own story lets us glean for ourselves what insight we may. In retrospect and alongside the memories of his surviving companions, Ailey’s own words tell us more about the man himself than he perhaps meant to do when he said them, inserting a layer of intimacy within the vast scope of the biography as it unfolds, and the film is all the richer for it.

It should come as no surprise that Wignot has painted such a reverent, yet deeply personal portrait of her subject. She’s been inspired by Ailey’s work – and his vision – since attending a performance of the Ailey Dance Theater during her sophomore year at Wellesley College more than two decades ago. Her admiration is evident from the way she gushes about Ailey in her director’s statement about the film.

“Nothing prepares you for the experience of Ailey,” she says. “The emotional, spiritual, aural, and visual overwhelm the senses … Ailey’s dances — celebrations of African-American beauty and history — did more than move bodies; they opened minds. His dances were revolutionary social statements that staked a claim as powerful in his own time as in ours: Black life is central to the American story and deserves a central place in American art and on the world stage. A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on the margins — space for Black artists like Rennie Harris and me.”

The Rennie Harris to whom Wignot refers is the founder of Rennie Harris Puremovement, a hip-hop dance theater company based in Philadelphia, who as guest choreographer of the AADT production of “Lazarus” is featured prominently in the film. He is just one of many professional dance veterans whose voices, featured throughout, seem united in singing the praises of Ailey’s passion, creative power, and timeless aesthetic – and Wignot makes sure we don’t have to merely take their word for it.

Like most dance documentaries — or good ones, anyway — the greatest gift of “Ailey” is the chance to see the dancers in motion. It’s a film filled with electrifying footage of some of Ailey’s masterworks, giving us a rare opportunity to revel in the sheer visual poetry of his style. In pursuit of his ideal to capture “truth in movement,” he built choreographed expressions of the Black American experience, executed with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. His work celebrated that history while bearing witness to its injustice, with an emphasis on the dignity, humanity, and hope that makes it possible to look toward a transcendent future for all. It was, of course, social activism through art, though Ailey and his original dancers might not have exclusively intended it that way, and it is not an overstatement to say that it changed the world. Wignot cannily gives us the privilege of seeing just enough of it to stand as testament to its impact, and more than enough to make us want to grab the next opportunity to see the Ailey American Dance Theater perform in person.

In the meantime, you are encouraged to seek out “Ailey,” which premiered in NYC on July 23 and expands to theaters nationwide on Aug. 6, to whet your appetite. It’s a documentary that succeeds far more than many others in telling a real-life story that feels authentic, and despite the carefully guarded secrecy of its elusive subject, it presents as true and complete an impression of him as we are likely to get.

Outside of watching his work, that is.

Continue Reading

Sports

Canadian soccer player first out Trans and non binary Olympian

I feel proud seeing `Quinn’ on the lineup- I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of this world

Published

on

Quinn from Instagram

TOKYO – The Canadian professional soccer player, a midfielder for OL Reign and the Canada women’s national soccer team, made history this week as the first openly transgender and non-binary athlete to participate in the Olympic games when they started Wednesday night in a 1-1 draw match in Sapporo between Canada and opposing the team Japan.

“I feel proud seeing `Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation. I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of this world,” they wrote on Instagram. “I feel optimistic for change. Change in legislature, Changes in rules, structures, and mindsets.”

Quinn, who came out as trans in 2020, was also a member of the Canadian team that won the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Mostly, I feel aware of the realities,” Quinn continued. “Trans girls being banned from sports. Trans women facing discrimination and bias while trying to pursue their Olympic dreams. The fight isn’t close to over […] and I’ll celebrate when we’re all here.”

ABC News Sports reported that the International Olympic Committee has allowed transgender athletes to participate at the Olympics since 2004, but until this year, none had done so openly. In addition to Quinn, Hubbard and Wolfe, some transgender athletes are competing without discussing their transition. Some have been outed and harassed online by people who oppose transgender athletes competing.

The current rules specify certain conditions for transgender women to compete in women’s sports. Among them, athletes must demonstrate lower testosterone levels for 12 months before competing, and athletes can only qualify four years after transitioning, at the earliest.

Quinn is not the only transgender athlete participating in this year’s summer Olympic Games in Japan. Laurel Hubbard, a trans woman from New Zealand competing in weightlifting for the Kiwi team and Team USA women’s BMX freestyle team has a trans BMX racer, Chelsea Wolfe, holding down a reserve spot on the team.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular