Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Catching Some Stars

Hi everyone,

Whenever I go to the theatre, I leave wondering why I don't go more often. Theatre amazes me: some brave actors get on stage and tell you a story in the moment from only a few feet away! The cast and crew of each production transport you into their world for just a couple hours and leave you with the gift of a unique exhilarating experience.

I've seen two great shows recently that I can actually share with you before they close on February 16. (Look at me being all timely!) Catch these if you can!

Photo © Don Ipock, courtesy of Arena Stage
The Tallest Tree in the Forest. This play by Daniel Beaty explores the life of singer/actor Paul Robeson, whose increasing activism led to a life of difficult choices and constant struggle. Once considered the most popular African-American in the world, Paul Robeson is probably best known as the guy who sings "Ol' Man River" in the film adaptation of Show Boat. This play reveals the deeply thoughtful man behind that booming voice, who always spoke his mind and stood for what he believed.

Daniel Beaty's performance is a tour de force; he sings 14 songs and portrays more than 40 characters in this world-premiere production at Arena Stage! In the playbill, he explains what inspired him to create such an ambitious play honoring Paul Robeson: "When I found out the breadth of all he had done, I was both astonished and very upset that I had not learned about this giant figure. I feel like he epitomizes the artist activist. I wanted to find the right space and the right vehicle to bring him back to the social discourse, but to do it in a way that is as challenging and as complex and layered as he was." Carried by Daniel Beaty's powerful performance on a minimal set with few props and innovative staging, this one-man-show sheds light the key moments of Paul Robeson's life that informed his character. The Tallest Tree in the Forest captures the extraordinary life of a complicated man who should be remembered not only for his talent but for his heart.

And now for something completely different....(with some surprising similarities).

Photo © Jenny Anderson, courtesy of The Kennedy Center
Peter and the Starcatcher. Written by Rick Elice and based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel to Peter Pan that explains how he became the boy who never grew up in a fantastical place called Neverland. When this play first started, I wondered what I was in for. Relying mainly on a decorative backdrop and a only a few essential props, your imagination is tested to envision this story, just as it should be for the tale of Peter Pan! If you believe...with some swift maneuvering of a string of white triangular flags, for example, you really can see the crocodile's threatening jaws and pointy teeth. Some rapid swishing of rope lines perfectly represents the waves of the sea, and as the ship creaks and cast members lean, you too feel the sway of the ship. It's clear why Peter and the Starcatcher is the winner of five Tonys, most of which recognize these kinds of technical strokes of genius (i.e., lighting, sound, scenic design). With only a dozen people in this talented cast, like The Tallest Tree in the Forest, many are tasked with multiple roles - this time culminating in more than 100 characters!  Actors easily transition from portraying a pirate ship crew member gambling on the deck to an inanimate wall or swinging door. The exciting inventiveness of this production is impressive and only adds to the charm of the show. And, with quick, clever dialogue and plenty of jokes, this Peter Pan story isn't just for the kids.

Currently playing at The Kennedy Center, Peter and the Starcatcher is on tour across the country. See it to learn the "real story" behind the myths and legends tied to Peter Pan and his eternal nemesis Captain Hook. Trust me, the captain's reaction to losing his hand is worth the price of the ticket. (It's not the crocodile's fault!)

For more information about The Tallest Tree in the Forest at Arena Stage, click here! For more information about Peter and the Starcatcher at The Kennedy Center, click here!

Treat yourself to a night out at the theatre and enjoy!

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