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Music & Concerts

Forget streaming, the holiday classics return to area stages

Bring your proof of vaccination and check out a local production this season

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A scene from a previous Gay Men's Chorus of Washington Holiday Show. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year ago, the holiday season was streamed. But now, thanks to various protocols including masks and proof of vaccination, DMV theatergoers can come together and experience – live and in-person — both beloved classics and some promising new works. Here’s a smattering of what’s out there.

At Olney Theatre, Paul Morello is thrilled to bring back “A Christmas Carol 2021” (through Dec. 26), his solo adaptation of Dickens’ ghost story. Concerning returning to a live audience, Morello says, “While this is technically a one-person show, it’s really about the connection and collaboration with an audience, being in the same room, breathing in unison. I can’t do this without an audience and for a story that thrives on redemption, mortality, isolation, the need for community and connection, and the things that matter most, the timing couldn’t be better.”

Olney also presents “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” through Jan. 2. This musical “tale as old as time” stars out actor Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero plays the Beast. olneytheatre.org

For the holidays, Synetic Theater at Crystal City is reworking “Cinderella” (Nov. 27-Dec. 26). Led by an all-female team of creators, this festive take on the classic fairytale is inspired by Afro-Latino music and dance. Directed and adapted by Maria Simpkins who also plays the title role. synetictheater.org

Last year, because of COVID-19, Ford’s Theatre presented “A Christmas Carol” as a radio broadcast, but now the fully produced play returns to the venue’s historic stage through Dec. 27. A popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years, the thoroughly enjoyable and topnotch take on the Dickens’ classic features Craig Wallace reprising the part of Scrooge, the miser who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy. fords.org

Another D.C. tradition guaranteed to put audiences in a holiday mood is the Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” playing at the Warner Theatre through Dec. 26. Set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanted score, this charming and superbly executed offering takes place in Georgetown circa 1882 and features a retinue of historic figures along with children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather. Choreography is by Septime Webre. washingtonballet.org

The Folger Consort, the superb early music ensemble in residence at the Folger, will be performing seven concerts of “A Medieval Christmas” (Dec. 10-18) at St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill. A streaming version of the concert will also be available to view on-demand. folger.edu

At Lincoln Theatre, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. presents “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 4, 11, and 12) replete with tap-dancing elves, a dancing Christmas tree, snow, and a lot more. The fun and festive program’s song list includes “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “The 12 Rockin’ Days of Christmas,” and “Boogie Woogie Frosty.” Featured performances range from the full Chorus, soloists, all GMCW ensembles, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus. gmcw.org

Arena Stage is marking the season with August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” (through Dec. 26), a drama about a small group of friends who gather following the untimely death of their friend, a blues guitarist on the edge of stardom. Directed by Tazewell Thompson, the production features an exciting cast that includes local actors Dane Figueroa Edidi and Roz White. arenastage.org

Creative Cauldron is serving up some holiday magic with “The Christmas Angel” (Dec. 9-19). Based on a little-known 1910 novel by Abbey Farwell Brown, it’s the story of a lonely and bitter spinster who returns to happiness through a box of old toys. The commissioned new holiday musical is a collaboration of longtime musical collaborators and married couple Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics and book). creativecauldron.org

In keeping with the Yuletide spirit, the National Theatre presents two feel-good national tour musicals. First, it’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (through Dec. 5), a musical take on Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.”

Next up is “Tootsie” (Dec. 7-12), the hit musical based on the 1982 gender-bending film starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a popular soap opera. The show boasts a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and a score by Tony winner David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit). thenationaldc.com

Keegan Theatre presents its annual holiday offering, “An Irish Carol” (Dec. 10-31). Set in a modern Dublin pub, the funny yet poignant original work (a nod to Dickens) tracks the changes in the life of a rich but miserable publican over the course of one Christmas Eve. keegantheatre.org

At Theater J, it’s the Kinsey Sicks’ “Oy Vey in a Manger” (Dec. 17-25). Blending drag, four-part harmony, and political humor, the “dragapella beautyshop quartet” brings its own hilariously irreverent view on the holidays. theaterj.org

And through Jan. 2, Signature Theatre continues to brighten the season with its production of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” directed by the company’s out artistic director Matthew Gardiner and featuring out actor David Merino as Angel, a preternaturally energetic drag queen and percussionist. sigtheare.org

The Music Center at Strathmore, also in Bethesda, is presenting a wide range of musical holiday offerings including “Manheim Steamroller Christmas” (Dec. 3 and 4), a multimedia holiday tradition; Sarah Brightman in “A Christmas Symphony” (Dec. 6 and 7); “A Celtic Christmas with Séan Heely Celtic Band” (Dec. 11); Washington Bach Consort’s “Bach’s Epic Christmas Oratorio” (Dec. 11); the beloved “The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas” (Dec. 16 and 17); and last but not least “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 20), Tchaikovsky’s classic reimagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”). strathmore.org

And finally, something strictly for the kids: Imagination Stage presents “Corduroy” (Dec. 11-Jan. 24). Based on the beloved children’s books by Don Freeman, it’s the heartwarming story of a girl and her perfectly imperfect Teddy Bear. Best for ages 3-9. imaginationstage.org

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Music & Concerts

DC Different Drummers Jazz Band to perform ‘Oasis’

Performance by combo ‘2nd Independence’ scheduled

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The DC Different Drummers Jazz Band will perform on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Central Library.

This concert, titled “The Oasis,” will feature the 20-person big band playing jazz pieces in a variety of styles, from swing to bossa nova to jazz fusion and more. There will also be a performance from the improvisational jazz combo, 2nd Independence.

Admission is free and more details are available on the event’s website

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Music & Concerts

D.C.’s live music venues are jumpin’ again

Lizzo, B-52s, and Bob Mould all coming to town this fall

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Lizzo brings her ‘Special Tour’ to D.C. this fall. (Photo by DFree/Bigstock)

As summer comes to a close, many venues across the DMV are gearing up for their fall entertainment rosters. Below is a list of must-see music acts in the upcoming months.

Mary J. Blige brings her “Good Morning Gorgeous” tour to Capital One Arena on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $69.50 at Tickmaster.com.

Pet Shop Boys and New Order bring their “Unity Tour” to Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $29.50-169.50 at Merriweather’s website.

7th Annual Law Rocks Washington DC will be on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:30p.m. at 9:30 Club. Law Rocks toured first to D.C. in 2015 and has raised more than $615,000. Eight bands of musically brilliant legal professionals will be rocking out to support local nonprofit organizations. Tickets are available on Law Rocks’s website

Don’t miss out performer Lil Nas X at the Anthem on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m.

Lizzo performs her “Special Tour” at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Tickets start at $69.50 at ticketmaster.com.

Panic at the Disco performs its “Viva Las Vengeance” tour at Capital One Arena on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.; tickets at ticketmaster.com.

The legendary B-52s kicked off their farewell tour earlier this summer and it comes to D.C.’s Anthem on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at the Anthem site.

Two Feet: Fall Tour 2022 will be on Monday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at 9:30 Club. Brothel will be the opening act. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased on 9:30 Club’s website.

Santigold will be performing as part of her Holified Tour on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website.  

Fairfax Symphony and Orchestra will be performing work from German composer Brahms and Sibelius on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at Capital One Hall. Jeremy Denk will be on piano, and Christopher Zimmerman will music direct and conduct. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased on Capital One Hall’s website

Judah & the Lion will be performing on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website

Grammy Award-winning singer Steve Lacy will be performing on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Tickets start at $235 and can be purchased on the Fillmore’s website

The Reston Chorale, Piedmont Symphony Orchestra and PSO Rock Band will perform “Bohemian Rhapsody: The Music Of Queen (And Friends)” on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. at Capital One Hall. The music acts will perform some of Queen’s greatest hits, including “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Under Pressure,” and of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased on Ticketmaster

Local gay favorite Bob Mould plays at Wolf Trap on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C. will be celebrating the life and legacy of actress Judy Garland with a cabaret titled “Judy” on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. (ASL) and 8 p.m. at Capital One Hall. Fourteen select soloists from the Chorus will share stories as they sing their favorite Judy tunes. Songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “The Man That Got Away,” and “Happy Days are Here Again.” Tickets cost $45 and can be ppurchased on GMCWDC’s website

Morrissey performs at the Anthem on Monday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m.

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Music & Concerts

New Madonna remix collection solid but not exhaustive

Marred only by a few ’80s omissions, set is blazing history of club music’s evolution

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An all-vinyl edition of Madonna’s new remix collection ‘Finally Enough Love,’ sold out quickly, but the release is still available in several other formats, physical and digital. (Photo courtesy Warner/Rhino)

Madonna, though she has as many hit compilations as one would expect from an artist of her vintage and stature, has always seemed wary of looking back or indulging much degree of nostalgia about her career. 

As polarizing as her later albums sometimes are, one could never accuse her of cashing in, as so many veteran acts do, on tour after tour of the same old set list designed to hit all the obvious musical marks, please the most tepid of fans and make easy millions. But she has almost swung too far the other way. Hits sometimes have felt grudgingly performed at her live shows of the last, oh, 20 years or so, and have, at times, been so radically re-crafted — an approach that can be thrilling when it works, no doubt — the spirit of the original track has been sometimes painfully undercut.

All that to say, it’s fun to see Our Lady of the Remix — for whom in popdom is more deserving of that title? — look back so sumptuously with the Aug. 19 release of “Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones,” (☆☆☆ out of four) a new 50-track remix collection available digitally, in a three-disc CD set and a sold-out six-LP vinyl edition, as well as “Finally Enough Love,” a 16-track version on single CD, double vinyl and digitally. The releases are the first since it was announced last summer that Madonna was returning to her original label, Warner Records, in a new deal that would include a series of deluxe catalogue reissues. It celebrates her record-shattering span of 50 No. 1 hits on the Billboard U.S. Dance Songs Club chart, starting with “Holiday”/“Lucky Star” (only “Holiday” is here, though) in 1983 and culminating with “I Don’t Search I Find” in early 2020 from her 2019 album “Madame X.” The collection’s title is taken from that track. For context, those trailing her record of 50 No. 1 hits on that chart are Rihanna (33), Beyonce (22), Janet (20) and Katy Perry (19); Madonna’s record here is the most number ones by an artist/band on any Billboard chart ever.

It’s also especially nice to see since remixes have been so essential to Madonna’s career. The only time she ever released anything remotely akin to this before was either very early (1987’s “You Can Dance” remix album) or oddly random (the 2003 EP “Remixed & Revisited”). 

This collection is not, as one might guess, a collection of her all-time greatest remixes or even necessarily the versions of the songs that charted. Gen. Xers who gobbled up her maxi singles all through the ’90s and beyond will find their stash, if retained, are still the only sources (not counting unofficial YouTube postings) for classics such as the “Shep’s ‘Spressin’ Himself Re-remix” of “Express Yourself” from the “Justify My Love” maxi (also home to the deliciously weird “The Beast Within Mix”), the “Waiting” remix (a non-single) from the “Rain” maxi or any of the varied delights (e.g. “Madonna Gets Hardcore”) on the import “Bye Bye Baby” maxi. 

Even if you’re a completist of the highest order — and there certainly are folks like that in the Madonnaverse — your experience won’t be sullied or buoyed much by the mixes included or excluded. 

Tons of other remixes here are just slight variations of mixes we’ve heard before. I haven’t been following these releases like a hawk in recent years, but if you collected these in any capacity over the years, there will likely be a fresh balance of familiar and unfamiliar motifs and passages sprinkled throughout. 

Most of the remixes retain the bulk of the lyrics from the album versions and are tight edits (no 10-minute percussion solos). The earlier cuts on disc one are the least radical, a non-surprise considering remixing trends of the ’80s. And while many of these mixes are heretofore unreleased, they are nearly all vintage or, where tweaked, retain the spirit of their album counterparts. There’s no radical thumpa-thumpa version of “Everybody” or “Material Girl,” for example; disc three, containing the newest material, is by far the most pounding/rave-influenced. 

Standouts for me were the loungy, uptempo-yet-chill vibe of the “Underground Club Mix” of “Erotica” (straight from the vintage “Erotica” maxi), the “PSB Maxi Mix Edit” of “Sorry,” (until now, a promo-only mix), the “Eddie Amador Club 5 Edit” of “Give it 2 Me,” (vintage, but never commercially available until now) and “Avicii’s UMF Mix” of “Girl Gone Wild,” which features a spidery instrumental motif that could almost work as a fugal theme.

As a whole, however, there are a few impediments to the way this all goes down, especially if you listen straight through. A few tracks — e.g. the “Sasha Ultra Violet Mix Edit” of “Ray of Light” with its sputtery beat pattern or the loungy, uber-chill vibe of the “Bob Sinclar Space Funk Edit” of “4 Minutes” (this edit of which was only ever previously released on a 12” vinyl picture disc) — give needed contrast to the mostly unrelenting 4/4 beat patterns. But after a while, especially on discs two and three, it all starts sounding like little more than “Hooked on Madonna,” of the famous “Hooked on Classics” series from the ’80s, which set classical themes to dance beats. Of course, some of that is to be expected given the nature of the release, but as an actual experience, it’s occasionally tedious. 

And while the DJs are all obviously talented and at times quite creative, by the middle of disc two, one starts wondering if a wiz/nerd with access to the stems could have almost come up with something just as good on a Yamaha Clavinova or the like. Almost. 

It also moves a lot faster through her catalogue than you might guess. Since classics like “Papa Don’t Preach” and La Isla Bonita” were not No. 1 dance hits, we get to “Like a Prayer” and “Vogue” barely halfway through disc one. 

When a non-Madonna-penned single pops up — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (from “Evita”) or Don McLean’s “American Pie” (from “The Next Best Thing”), they jump out as markedly better examples of songcraft than just about anything Madonna ever came up with herself. Going straight from “Pie” to “Music,” one of M’s most lyrically insipid compositions ever to my ear, is especially painful. For sure, there are dozens of pop masterpieces here, but the covers tend to accentuate the froth on cuts like “Turn Up the Radio” or “Jump.” 

On the brighter side, however, the vocals sound stronger and sweeter than I recalled. Yeah, they’re likely auto-tuned and otherwise studio sweetened, but there were several passages — “Nothing Really Matters,” “Keep it Together,” “Deeper and Deeper” — when it’s clear Madonna is a better studio singer than she ever gets credit for.

Booklets, too, are thorough and nicely done with detailed track info and pics of all her single artwork. 

While there are 50 tracks here, the math is a bit fuzzy. “Angel,” which charted jointly with its flip side “Into the Groove,” is absent as is “Causing a Commotion,” which had a vinyl Record Store Day release back in April, though it’s annoying it’s not here. Because “You Can Dance” topped the chart as an entire album and the Britney duet “Me Against the Music” was not from a Madonna project, there’s a little wiggle room numerically in how this set was curated. 

Madonna’s new remix album ‘Finally Enough Love’ collects vintage mixes of her many hits, but often in slightly different versions from what has previously been commercially available. (Photo courtesy Warner/Rhino)
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