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Washington, D.C. Spotlight: December 2004

Hallelujah, D.C.! logo
Suzanne Douglas in Hallelujah, Baby!
(Photo © T. Charles Erickson)
The holiday season in the nation's capital does not mean stages are dark. The most notable production is Arena Stage's new version of the 1968 Tony Award-winning Hallelujah, Baby! The show is directed by the legendary 86-year old playwright, stage director, novelist, and screenwriter Arthur Laurents, who was part of this show's original creative team (it also included Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne). Laurents, who Arena Artistic Director Mollie Smith says is "sharper than most of us and running everybody ragged," has updated the show's story and music, while scaling down the production. He has taken out several songs, but put back an unknown Styne tune, called "When the Weather's Better," that was dropped from the original production. Along with new lyrics provided from Green's daughter Amanda, there are new arrangements (by David Allen Bunn) with jazz-oriented orchestrations for a seven piece pit orchestra.

Hallelujah, Baby! tells of the emergence of the civil rights movement through the social and economic advancement of bright and spirited Georgina, who remains a 25-year-old as she makes her way through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the burgeoning black power era. "The story ended in 1967 because that's when it was written," said Smith. "My question for Arthur was, 'OK, we're bringing it back in 2004. What do you have to say about this moment in history?' So he's written a scene that's directly about that. And now that he's directing the show, he is giving it the sound he always wanted."

This is an Arena co-production with George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Laurents has brought with him the entire nine-member cast from the just-concluded trial run there, including Suzzanne Douglas (The Threepenny Opera, Into the Woods, The Tap Dance Kid) as Georgina, the role that made Leslie Uggams a star in the original production, and Ann Duquesnay (Cookin at the Cookery, Tony Award winner for Bring In 'da Noise, Bring In 'da Funk) as her mother. The show runs December 10 through February 13.

The Kennedy Center also has a Tony Best Musical winner onstage: The national tour of the 2002 smash hit Thoroughly Modern Millie plays the Opera House December 7 through 26. Based on the 1967 Academy Award-winning film, Thoroughly Modern Millie is based in the Jazz Age in New York, when flapper Millie Dillmount was bobbing her hair and rewriting the rules of love. Directed by Michael Mayer, the show features 15 songs, including two from the film, four standards from the 1920s, and nine new songs by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan. Darcie Roberts (Aida, Dream) and Stephanie Pope (Chicago, Fosse) star.

Venerable Ford's Theatre always stages the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas, during December and this year is no exception. The famous ghost story is already up and running and will continue through January 2. But this year, Ford's is using a new adaptation and new music, along with a completely redesigned physical setting. The theater's Joyce Patterson describes it "a fantastical adaptation" of the Dickens story. "It's Dickens meets The Wizard of Oz," she says, "as we focus on the three famous ghosts. The apparitions that visit miserly, old Ebenezer Scrooge are based on people he has been mean to in real life."

Round House Theatre in Silver Spring offers a lighter approach to the Scrooge saga, more along the lines of "A little song, a little dance, a little eggnog down your pants!" It's A Broadway Christmas Carol, created and directed by Kathy Feininger as an evening of music parody. Songs from shows including Annie, Les Miz, The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, and others have been comically re-worked to take you through old Ebenezer's Christmases past, present, and future. The show runs through December 30.

Fountainhead Theatre joins in the seasonal spirit in their own fashion, continuing with Fit to Be Tied, Nicky Silver's outrageous holiday comedy combining love, loneliness, ménage à trois, and an angel from The Radio City Christmas Spectacular through December 19th at Arlington's intimate Theatre on the Run.

Even as they continue through December 19 with their critically acclaimed world premiere production of the probing drama Grace, the latest work of Craig Wright (Recent Tragic Events, The Pavilion, Six Feet Under), Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is taking over the Kennedy Center Film Theatre beginning December 8 for Our Lady of 121st Street. Penned by Stephen Adly Guirgis (Jesus Hopped the A Train), and variously described as a drama by some critics and as a comedy by others, it is portrayed by Woolly as a "multi-cultural Big Chill for a new urban generation."

The new year will be celebrated at the Kennedy Center with The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, as Liz Callaway, Rob Evan, Hugh Panaro, Sarah Pfisterer, Alice Ripley, and Ray Walker star in a concert featuring familiar songs from Webber's greatest hits, along with the U.S. premiere of music from Lord Lloyd Webber's new show, The Woman in White, which recently opened in London. The concert will play for one week only in the Opera House, December 28, 2004 through January 2, 2005.

Elsewhere around town, the Folger Theatre continues its highly acclaimed and riotously funny production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare's romantic comedy, through December 19. The bard is also represented onstage at The Shakespeare Theatre, where Pericles runs through January 2. Arena Stage has Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest running at the Fichandler through December 26 , and Studio Theatre has Chekhov's Ivanov through December 12.

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