Macbeth (Shakespeare Theatre Company: APR 25-MAY 28)

When I work on a play, I think about where I’m doing it and figure out what the pulse of that city is. In this case, it’s D.C., it’s politics—and it’s also structural politics. They’d understand this idea I’d have. So I identify the place and then I figure out how to get the play into the laps of the audience, so it’s not an intellectual thing that they can just sit back and let wash over them—it feels visceral. It feels like it’s a play for them.

-Liesl Tommy, Director

Director Liesl Tommy grew up in segregated Cape Town, South Africa, before immigrating to Boston at age 15 w/ her family. She has located her Macbeth in some unnamed, majority-Muslim (note the hijabs) country in North Africa. This is a land troubled by civil war in the modern-day. The three “witches” are mysterious foreign operatives, lead by Hecate (who has a Russian accent a la Putin). 

If you’re familiar w/ the play, you’ll quickly notice that several of the originally male characters have become female: Duncan, Donalbain, Ross, Young Lennox, one of the (here only a teen) assassins, Macduff’s child, and the Doctor. This production is also influenced by House of Cards; you’ll note how Macbeth’s monologues/asides are done. (In 2013, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright explained that they modeled their Frank and Claire Underwood roles after the ultimate power couple, Macbeth and Lady M.)

I think this production will appeal more to those who are NOT so familiar w/ (or invested in) Shakespeare. As you may know, I’m NOT one of those folks (LOL)! In my opinion, there are some effective scenes, BUT as a whole, there is a LOT missing. Sometimes the energy gets low, such as the extended dance number and coronation scene. It could’ve been much shorter (as was noted in Washington City Paper). 

Above all, Macbeth offers a glimpse of the tragic themes that seemed to obsess Shakespeare—the corrupting currents of power and ambition, the inevitability of time, the toxic intimacy of husbands and wives, blood that will have blood. All of these themes can be said to equivocate, extending the play’s resonance beyond its specific context and Shakespeare’s life and times to shed insight on our own. 

-Drew Lichtenberg, Literary Manager

In the lead role, Jesse J. Perez is comfortable w/ The Bard’s language, BUT there is something missing in the way he expresses the words. 

Though he may be committed and driven, Jesse J. Perez embodies Macbeth with volume and gesture, but little else. If he is to stir and unsettle, Macbeth must convincingly reveal his inner battles — between right and wrong, between strength and weakness, between ambition and cowardice. It is found in the subtleties of the language, its music, and the expressive spaces in between. Perez misses these opportunities, choosing instead a broad and agitated brush. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

Nikkole Salter does a  fine job as Lady Macbeth; the audience seemed to like her performance. Her Lady M is an alpha female, for sure! The way she interacts w/ her husband make their marriage seem like one of convenience, NOT passion (as I’ve usually seen portrayed onstage and film). Salter has command of the language, which contributes to an exciting presence. 

As one watches the appealing earnestness and latent dark energies (seen to great effect when he turns into a ghost) of McKinley Belcher III’s Banquo, the friend so cruelly betrayed by Macbeth, it’s hard not to wonder what he might have done with the title role. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

It took me a few minutes, BUT I recognized Belcher from PBS’ Mercy Street. Now that may NOT be the most interesting show, BUT his character is a pretty interesting/conflicted man. As for Corey Allen, his Malcolm is VERY effective. This is a leading man in the making, no doubt! 

It’s an interesting take on Macbeth the story, but it has a crippling effect on Macbeth the character. Tommy has replaced the godhead (or, at least, the Meddlesome Fortunetellers) with Uncle Sam, but Shakespeare wasn’t interested in puppets. 

By amputating the supernatural elements, STC has grounded Macbeth on the human plane, which was its intention. Attempts to make the man “resonate” with 2017 theatergoers, however, rob him of his twisted, fatalistic nobility. This is the worst character Shakespeare still liked, not some banana republic placeholder.

Brightest Young Things

Indian-American actress Anu Yadav (who I saw last year in The Who and The What at Round House Theatre) is part of the company; she plays an assassin and maidservant to Lady Macbeth. Later on, I saw in the playbill that Lady Macduff was also played by a South Asian actress- Nilanjana Bose.

Myra Lucretia Taylor (who was interviewed recently on WETA) provides some (much needed) humor as the Porter. In another small role, the Doctor, she brings gravitas. Taylor is obviously comfortable w/ Shakespeare’s language! 

Advertisements

Kiss Me Kate (1953)

KissMeKate_dressingrm
Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred (Howard Keel) talk about their past marriage and work in her dressing room.

[1] This is my favorite musical, not for the dancing alone, but it is the best. The dancers, not just Ann Miller and Rall, but Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, and Carol Haney!! What more could any dance fan want? There is always something new to see, no matter how many times you have watched it. The lyrics are magnificent, tricky and intriguing. I will admit that the music is great, but folks, catch the dancing!

[2] Keel, with his big big voice and untrained natural talent, fills the screen (and his tights!) with his masculine presence. He struts, swaggers, and yet shows his vulnerable side believably enough to make us *like* his character, ego or no ego. Grayson… really comes into her own here–she’s excellent as Lilli, swooning at the right moments, strident during the rest, and actually bites out ‘I Hate Men’ with conviction…  I’m also partial to Tommy Rall, whose soaring athletic ability just crackles off the screen. It’s such a thrill to see Miller get matched with someone who can dance circles around most everyone else alongside her. They make the cutest couple in their two numbers together, with the energetic, exuberant dance to ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’ definitely making one of my favourite film dance routines of all time.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I became a fan of this musical after seeing a version of it on Great Performances (PBS) several years ago; it stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, two VERY well-respected Broadway veterans. I bought the soundtrack (released in 2006). Seriously, WHO can resist Stokes’ voice!? 

KissMeKate_Bdwy_2006.jpg
Marin Mazzie (Lilli/Katharine) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Fred/Petruchio)

I saw this movie on TCM two weeks ago; it was pretty fun, though NOT as fabulous as the Broadway version. Fred Graham (Howard Keel) and Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) are a divorced pair of actors who are brought together by Cole Porter, who has written a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Lilli, recently engaged to a Texas oilman, is reluctant to act w/ Fred, who is involved w/ Lois Lane (Ann Miller). It’s obvious that the tap dancing ingenue (Lois) and more mature leading lady (Lilli) resent each other. 

KissMeKate_fight.jpg
Katharine (Kathryn Grayson) and Petruchio (Howard Keel) fighting during the play.

We soon seen that Fred and Lilli act a LOT like the mismatched lovers they play, Petruchio and Katharine. A fight between them on opening night threatens the production. Also, two thugs w/ thick New York accents (who are BIG fans of the theater) think that Fred owes their boss a LOT of money, so insist on staying next to him ALL night. Lois (who is cast as Bianca) is in love w/ another of her co-stars, Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall), who forged that IOU. 

KissMeKate_Bianca_suitors
Three suitors woo Bianca (Ann Miller) during the Tom, Dick, or Harry number.
KissMeKate_Bianca_bf
Bianca/Lois (Ann Miller) and Bill (Tommy Rall) talk in the theater’s alley.

…Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, who get into the play and later get to sing one of Cole Porter’s best satirical numbers and a personal favorite of mine, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare.’ It’s their own ode to their theatrical experience and also advice to the lovelorn that if you want to win the mate of your choice, learn the classics so you can wow them with rhetoric. Wynn and Whitmore are priceless.

Excerpt from IMDB review

If you’re a big fan of The Bard, you will definitely enjoy the thugs’ song (Brush Up Your Shakespeare); it’s a combo of high culture and naughty wordplay.

I esp. like Lois’ signature song Always True To You (In My Fashion). Here is the (updated) song from the 2006 Broadway play, sung by Amy Spanger.

 

 

Broadway on Film: Allegiance (2016) starring George Takei, Lea Salonga, & Telly Leung

Allegiance_arrival_camp.jpg
Kei, Grandpa, & Sammy arrive at the Heart Mountain internment camp 
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -George Santayana (1905), philosopher/writer
Allegiance ran on Broadway for 3 mos. during the Winter of 2015/2016, and was seen by 120,000 (which was the same number of Japanese-Americans rounded up and put in internment camps during WWII). The story is partly based on George Takei’s real life experience as a young child raised for 4 yrs in an Arkansas internment camp. Each night of its Broadway run, the veteran actor/activist/social media star, reserved a seat for (then presidential candidate) Donald Trump. Of course, Trump NEVER came to see the show! 
allegiance_nyt
The Kimura family at the dinner table.
This musical drama centers on the Kimuras, who are a close-knit farming family, yet individuals in their own right (who grow and change over the course of the play). They are sent to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp, which is the main setting of this story. There are armed men guarding them 24/7, a curfew is in effect at night, and the living conditions are VERY poor.   
Allegiance_GetintheGame.jpg
Sammy encourages the young people to think of ways to have fun in “Get in the Game.”
Sammy (Telly Leung, who has been chosen as the lead in Alladin) desperately wants to enlist in the army and show his allegiance to the U.S. His father says that this can never be, since they “have the face of the enemy.” BOTH men are quite stubborn! Sammy’s older sister, Kei (short for Keiko), serves as a mother-figure for him also. Kei (Lea Salonga, veteran actor/singer best known as Eponine in the original Les Mis) worries about Sammy’s future and takes care of Grandpa (Takei), who is missing his garden back home. 
allegiance_paperflower
Grandpa creates an origami flower from the offensive loyalty questionnaire.
…after graduating from college, studying Asian American history, knowing about the civil rights era now– in a post-Vietnam War era– I think I would have done what Frankie did: You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me like an American! -Michael K. Lee
Kei (though she considers herself an “old maid”) forms a connection w/ Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), a law student from LA.  Since he’s a bachelor, Frankie has to share a cabin w/ 10 other men. His dark humor and sly wit are revealed in the rousing big band number Paradise. Frankie’s allegiance is to the Constitution; this character is based on (real life) activist Frank Emi.  I was quite impressed w/ this character; he seemed VERY fresh and modern!
allegiance_sammy_hannah
Sammy and Hannah joke and about their budding (forbidden) relationship.
Sammy and Hannah (a blonde, young Army nurse from Nebraska) become close while trying to get more medicine and supplies for the camp. They have a sweet duet (With You) which expresses their love, which is NOT safe to express.  The lyrics are simple, yet poignant; below is a sample. 
If I were with you, no one else could see us this way. -Sammy imagines
If I were with you, we would fight the world every day. -Hannah replies
allegiance_soldiers
Sammy (center) with some of the men of the 442nd Combat Regiment
What can be done to end this imprisonment? Mike Masaoka (Greg Watanabe) of the Japanese Americans Citizens League (JACL) has been petitioning Congress to get his people freed. Perhaps in desperation, he proposes a loyalty test (“to root out the troublemakers”). Also, the able-bodied men MUST enlist (in a segregated unit, like the African-Americans) and take on the deadliest missions. (Masaoka was an actual person during this period in history.) Watanabe had older relatives in internment camps, as he noted in one of the behind-the-scenes interviews. I wanted to know MORE about this character!
Women weren’t just sitting around while the men faced danger. Kei and the camp’s women write letters to major newspapers and magazines to let the public know what’s going on. Kei goes after what she wants and becomes a stronger woman, as we see in Higher- a pivotal song for her character and showcasing Salonga’s powerful vocals.
allegiance_wapo_review
A banner ad featuring Sammy, Hannah, and a quote from the Washington Post review
In SOME ways, this play is quite traditional for Broadway- love stories, generational conflicts, song and dance. In other ways, it is groundbreaking- a cast of mainly Asian-Americans (incl. those of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Korean ancestry); a Japanese-Canadian director (who had relatives in similar camps in Canada); a Chinese-American co-writer; a female orchestra leader, etc. In this current political climate, this story is a cautionary tale, NOT merely entertainment. Should we prove our worth by standing by our country, no matter what (like Sammy)? Or should we resist the unfair laws being proposed, even risking prison (like Frankie)?