Monthly Archives: March 2022

Kirkwood’s “The Children” Asks Hard Questions of Good, Smart, Caring People

Review: Three Bone Theatre Presents The Children

 By Perry Tannenbaum

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March 13, 2022, Charlotte, NC – Two retired nuclear physicists, a husband and wife both in their sixties, have taken up residence in a cozy coastal UK cottage, where they are visited without receiving prior notice by a former co-worker they haven’t seen in some 38 years, also in her sixties. These are the only characters we see in Lucy Kirkwood’s acclaimed drama, now playing at The Arts Factory in a taut Three Bone Theatre production – and I can’t say that any of the three physicists ever mentions his or her parents. Nor are there any flashback scenes in this 90-minute one-act that take us back four decades or more to when these over-the-hill atomic whizzes were young and previously together. So why exactly has Kirkwood called her dystopian drama The Children?The Cast of The Children

It’s the sort of question that rewards repeated asking as the plot proceeds and we learn more and more about the past that Hazel, Robin, and Rose have shared – and the daunting future ahead of them. There are a couple of substantial answers that gradually emerge, the subtler of these turning out to be personal and intimate. For the lives and careers of all three retirees have been shaped by past decisions to have or not to have children. More obvious, and more to the point, are the decisions that must soon be made in the wake of a disaster at the nuclear plant where all three of these physicists used to work, decisions that will impact not only their children, but also, locally and globally, the children – depending on how guilty, responsible, or obligated they feel.

We’re obviously dealing with a catastrophe on a scale equal to those at Chernobyl in 1986 and, even more pertinently with the earthquakes and tsunamis enfolded into Kirkwood’s concept, Fukushima in 2011, five years before the commissioned piece premiered in London. The cottage where Hazel and Robin are living is perilously close to the fenced-off area surrounding Ground Zero, which remains destabilized. Amid the brevity of Rose’s visit, Kirkwood manages to spread a veil of nebulosity over the extent and permanence of the damage inflicted by the catastrophe. There’s an ongoing rationing of food and electricity, but the couple’s isolation and their aversion to the Internet puts a lid on the info we get. Hazel and Robin are retired, yes. But in light of their isolation, ignorance, and apathy, we might also say – as Rose probably would – that they are resigned, not really thinking about how they might best use their remaining time.

Certainly, the cottage dwellers aren’t stressing over their culpability for the devastation that surrounds them when Rose intrudes. They would seem to be following Candide’s example at the end of Voltaire’s wicked, wicked novel, tending to their own gardens – or in Robin’s case, their fields, where he makes his daily escape before coming home to dine on Hazel’s homegrown salads. After 38 years, Hazel and Rose still have each other sized up rather well, Hazel knowing more about Rose’s attachment to her husband – and vice versa – than he would believe, and Rose knowing something about Robin’s wife that he never even suspected. As Kirkwood interweaves these personal revelations with the possible global crisis engulfing them, we began to understand how a group of nuclear physicists could have been blind for so long to the fiery red flags signaling so clearly to them that nuclear catastrophe was at hand. In their personal and professional lives, they have seriously miscalculated.The Children- Robin and Hazel

Directed by Three Bone co-founder Robin Tynes-Miller, with set design by Ryan Maloney and props by Jackie Hohenstein, this Charlotte premiere huddles the audience around the action in an intimate stadium layout like a miniaturized Circle in the Square on Broadway. The humble coziness of the setting, not at all contradicted by Davita Galloway’s costume designs, make this cottage look more rusticated than most production photos that come up on a Google search. Likewise, Lillie Ann Oden and Michael Harris have a more weathered look than the London and Broadway marrieds, as if they had aimed their portraiture toward farmers in their sixties or physicists in their seventies.

This rustic approach actually has some advantages, for Mitzi Corrigan as their visitor seems slightly younger, more active, more enlightened, and more modern than her hosts at first blush. She claims to have forewarned Hazel and Robin via email before appearing at their doorstep, and the laptop she is toting backs her up, looking out of place here in this back-to-basics abode. When it becomes apparent that Rose has been around the neighborhood for some time on her personal crusade, we cannot be surprised that this couple – steeped in stasis – has been unaware.The Children- Hazel and Rose

Another key thing that Tynes-Miller gets right, despite the longstanding hurts and grudges that will emerge among these former co-workers, is that all of them are good people, bonded together by the preventable tragedy that has broken them all. Oden has an edge to her as Hazel, dealing with the most guilts, savvy enough to be wary of Rose, yet the defensive chip on her shoulder is more like a light skillet held behind her back than a double-barrel shotgun dangling under her arm. She is polite, she is friendly, even loving, but you’ve got to coax it out of her now. As the former Don Juan of the nuclear plant, Harris mixes a shrunken amount of confident swagger into Robin and an occasional urge to dance into his prevailing disillusion, disappointment, and bitterness – with more to swallow heading his way. Beneath the crusty brooding, he’s tenderer, more considerate than his spouse, still sharp enough to be shocked and to make a quick decision.

Rose has had the most hurt to deal with over the years, yet Corrigan poured a sheen of insouciance and quiet purpose over her – until the old hurts and grudges spurted to the surface. She needed to be impressive in tamping down these emotions, with clear-eyed pragmatism and poise to succeed in her ultimate mission of persuasion. Or was it seduction that motivated her, as Hazel had good reason to suspect?The Children- Rose and Robin 1

Sadly, we cut all these people a hefty amount of slack because there is so much more than the overly hasty development of nuclear energy befouling our planet. Other industries are complicit in building a multitude of time bombs we constantly hear ticking around us, and many governments have dirty hands. Chernobyl and Fukushima have receded into the past, our gazes drawn to other filthy objects and humans. These ordinary people, for all the wrong they have done to each other, all the mess they have left for their children to clean up, are questioning whether they should continue sitting back, enjoying their retirement years, and doing absolutely nothing about it.

Maybe they’re the ones who should pitch in and help, despite the fact that no one person living in a toxic irradiated wasteland can even begin to turn the global tide. No, these fine actors are telling us as we look over their shoulders: many, many more ordinary people need to be doing the asking – and the acting.

“The Falling and the Rising” Offers a Kaleidoscopic View of the Military Experience

Review: Opera Carolina Presents The Falling and the Rising

 By Perry Tannenbaum

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March 11, 2022, Charlotte, NC – Four men give their lives to save just one woman soldier, a woman so severely injured that she must be placed in an induced coma to give her any chance of continued survival or even partial recovery. The math and the logic may not seem to add up unless you’ve served in the military or you’ve witnessed The Falling and the Rising, a fairly new opera by Zach Redler and Jerre Dye that may impact Opera Carolina audiences more freshly today than when it premiered in 2018.

Before COVID and Ukraine, when the White House was occupied by a grifter who labeled people who signed up for battlefield duty as “suckers,” the mentality passionately advocated by The Soldier protagonist – that military service is not only a commitment to give your life for your country but also a commitment to give your life for your soldiering comrades – may have seemed rabid, over-the-top, or naively gung-ho. After witnessing the bravery of so many healthcare workers routinely facing the perils of a deadly transmissible disease for the past two years and, more recently, the inspiring popular resistance of so many outgunned Ukrainians, we can likely view that military mentality – and those four soldiers’ sacrifice – as making more sense.2022~Falling and Rising-07

This brash Opera Carolina production, conducted by Emily Jarrell Urbanek and stage directed by Sam Mungo, brings the company to a new venue, the Sandra Levine Theatre in the gorgeously renovated Sarah Belk Gambrell Center, while it brings subscribers a radically different experience. Once the female Soldier is comatose, we’re carried along with her for the bulk of the opera on a kaleidoscopic cavalcade of dream sequences, so the military experience is conveyed to us not only by soldiers in battle and trauma, but also by dedicated doctors and anxious family.

The immersion begins in the Gambrell lobby, where you can pick up info on the Montford Point Marine Association and the Blue Star Mothers of Charlotte. You can also peep in on artworks and obtain a comprehensive coffee table book produced by Bullets & Bandaids, a non-profit veteran and civilian art project. Immersion couples with education at the Gambrell, so it’s fitting that the complex is on the Queens University campus, for the world premiere of The Falling and the Rising was also on academic soil at Texas Christian University, one of seven organizations that commissioned the piece.

A new work set in wartime might trigger a couple of red flags for traditional opera lovers averse to chaos and cacophony. But you’ll find that Redler’s score is comfortably tonal and melodic when soprano Melinda Whittington begins singing a birthday video into a laptop computer for her daughter’s upcoming thirteenth, apologizing and commiserating because they will not be together to celebrate. In fact, when Redler has Whittington pivoting to a shuffle beat, you might briefly wonder whether the composer has crafted a score that’s too casual and accessible.

The roadside IED explosion, with a striking video montage by designer Michael Baumgarten (lights/scenery/video), puts that worry permanently to rest. After the hospital huddle of doctors and a ZOOM consultation where the induced coma is prescribed, the opera is largely a series of extended arias and duets until we reach a closing paean to the men and women who serve, joined by a pre-chosen brigade of vets parading up to the stage from the audience.2022~Falling and Rising-23

Sound at the Levine is noticeably more resonant than the Belk Theater and marginally warmer than Knight Theater, halls where we normally hear Opera Carolina and Charlotte Symphony. Although directors might be tempted to mic student plays and musicals in this 1000-seat space, all of the soloists projected quite easily on opening night to Row M, where we were seated. Redler’s orchestration for 11 musicians balanced well with the singers, and Urbanek had no difficulty in coaxing a hearty variety of colors from her band, which included a French horn, clarinet, guitar, piano, two percussionists, and strings. There is an orchestra pit at the Levine, but it doesn’t protrude far – or impinge on the bond between audience and performer. When baritone Kenneth Overton as the Homecoming Soldier concluded his church sermon, seated in a wheelchair in front of a large wooden crucifix, it didn’t feel like he was calling across a wide gulf when he asked us for an “Amen!”2022~Falling and Rising-11

Gathered from interviews at Fort Myer, Fort Meade, and the famed Walter Reade Military Medical Center, Dye’s libretto was suffused with authenticity and often riveting. Mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock exuded intensity as Staff Sergeant First Class Toledo, steely and tough as her nickname, which figures into the boot camp segment of her aria. Dominic Armstrong took us to the skies with his heroic tenor voice as Jumper, a First Sergeant who mixes hard-nosed honesty with patriotism as he readies Soldier for her first parachute jump. Parting words: “Don’t forget to pull the string!” After that uplift, bass-baritone Peter Morgan brought us back down to earth as Colonel, seen in civvies in his living room, hoping that his military wife will survive.2022~Falling and Rising-17

Each of these monologues was substantial enough to give Whittington a chance to rest her voice before she joined in duet, a mercy when you consider the extra decibels she can pour out. The most brutally honest testimony in this cavalcade came from Overton in his wheelchair as the Homecoming Soldier, ideally placed by Dye at the juncture of his libretto between the last of personal testimonies and our protagonist’s emergence from her coma. Also artful were the spins that Dye put on his title, for we quickly learned that The Falling and the Rising wasn’t simply, as we expected, about the traumas and dramas of battlefield injury and recovery. We first encountered “The falling and the rising” in the Soldier’s memories of her daughter, back when she was an infant and Soldier was simply a mom watching her baby’s breathing as she slept. Later it was the impending leap from an airplane, with all of its danger and exhalation.

So there is music and drama in this latest Opera Carolina production – and poetry as well.

Originally published on 3/13 at CVNC.org

Ukraine’s Colors Shine Through Charlotte Symphony Celebration

Review: Dona Nobis Pacem at Belk Theater

 By Perry Tannenbaum

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March 12, 2022, Charlotte, NC – When 57 musicians gathered at the Carolina Theatre on Tryon Street to present the inaugural Charlotte Symphony concert on March 20, 1932, none of them could have possibly predicted how the orchestra’s 90th anniversary would be celebrated in 2022. Three of the five pieces that Christopher Warren-Green conducted, nearing the end of his distinguished tenure as Symphony’s music director, hadn’t been written yet, and one of the composers hadn’t been born. Even last May, when CSO’s 2021-22 season was announced, Warren-Green himself couldn’t have predicted how grimly appropriate Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem would be for the occasion. As originally conceived, the program was an olive branch from England to America, three British composers conducted by one of the Crown’s finest, two of the pieces paying homage to Walt Whitman, our greatest poet.

A small dent in the all-English lineup turned up when Symphony’s Australian second trombone, Thomas Burge, finished enough of his to-be-continued “Charlotte Symphony Fanfare” for it to serve as a preamble to the orchestra’s celebration. What truly turned the tone of the anniversary festivities upside-down was Vladimir Putin’s horrific invasion of Ukraine, lending Dona Nobis Pacem – “Grant us peace” – unforeseen pertinence and meaning. With St. Patrick’s Day weekend revelers teeming along the sidewalks and spilling over onto Tryon and Fifth Streets, there was a dramatic contrast for concertgoers who became pedestrians shortly after hearing Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and the Dona Nobis at Belk Theater on Saturday night. The most festive of the night’s festivities were outside the hall.

Burge’s new composition will no doubt impress more when it takes its intended place at the launch of a future Symphony’s classics season and the composer’s showy post-pandemic staging can be realized: three brass choirs spread out across the Belk balcony. For the 90th, the brass battalion was confined behind the masked string sections, but the peep we had into the work-in-progress was sunny and glorious. Gustav Holst’s Walt Whitman Overture, a youthful piece completed in 1899 when the composer would turn 25, was arguably the most sustained celebration of the evening, though it might be somewhat deflating to learn that Holst had been dead for over 48 years when the piece was first performed in 1982. The transparent violins at the beginning, hovering over churning basses and cellos before flutes and brass peeped in, struck me more like Schubert than any American or British music. When the brass first broke through, however, there may have been a glint of Sousa, and the final swell of the piece was in a grand Victorian vein.

The Four Scottish Dances by Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006), premiered in 1957, were clearly the most winsome offering of the evening, shuttling between slow and fast tempos – not only between dances but sometimes within them. Inspired by Louis Armstrong more strongly than by Whitman, Arnold’s music displayed a more American élan, geniality, and broad humor than the other Brits’. If your head wasn’t spinning from the abrupt acceleration that Warren-Green called forth in the opening “Strathspey Pesante,” which ended with a pedestrian “shave and a haircut” phrase, then the slowdown in the ensuing Vivace (Reel), initiated by Joshua Hood galumphing on his bassoon, would certainly have caught your ear. And if that weren’t sufficient mischief, Warren-Green’s hambone slacking and slouching at the podium added a visual cue. Perish the thought that Maestro Warren-Green’s predecessor, Christof Perick, would ever have tainted himself with such levity.

After these pranks, which reminded me of the Western merriment in Copland’s folksier pieces, the work of principal harpist Andrea Mumm Trammell, principal flutist Victor Wang, and oboist Erica Cice was sublime in the penultimate “Hebridean Song,” shining through the shimmer of the strings. The concluding “Highland Fling” had as much Scottish flavor as the “Pesante,” rushing at us unabated with sudden shifts in volume, the tweedling of the high woodwinds answered by onrushes of orchestra colored with fiery alarms from the trombones.

If the customary programming conventions for galas were being observed, I’d strongly question the wisdom of delaying the comparatively solemn and serene Tallis Fantasia until after Arnold’s suite, which would have sent us off to intermission in a lighter mood. But Symphony president David Fisk had already solemnized the occasion by dedicating the concert “to Ukraine and the courage, strength, and resilience of its people,” a theme that would subsequently be echoed in the digital program and by Warren-Green, when he prefaced his performance of the Dona Nobis. By coincidence surely, Vaughan-Williams composed his 1910 Fantasia very similarly to Burge’s spanking new “Fanfare,” dividing his aggregation of strings into three parts, two string orchestras with a string quartet within the larger orchestra. Concertmaster Calin Ovidiu Lupanu had the last and most eloquent solo among those doled out to the four principal string players, but kudos should also go to principal violist Benjamin Geller, whose solo launched the memorable quartet episode.

What will stand out for me, however, was the extraordinary alchemy of this performance. Whether it has always been baked into Vaughan-Williams’ orchestration, maybe something special that Warren-Green was able to elicit from his musicians, or whether it was the unprecedented high placement of the small string orchestra on the platform where the Charlotte Master Chorale would soon sing, flush against the upstage vestigial pipes at the Belk… I could have sworn that there was a softly playing organ in the orchestral mix. Needless to say: amazing.2022~Dona Nobis Pacem-27

Those organ pipes were more verifiably involved in the culminating performance of the Dona Nobis Pacem, after more than 40 Master choristers filed in, followed by our two guest soloists: soprano Christina Pier and, in his Charlotte debut, bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch. It was then that Warren-Green dedicated this piece to the valiant, freedom-loving people of Ukraine. Between the moment that the maestro turned away from us and Symphony began to play, those silvery pipes, illuminated until then entirely in blue light, suddenly became halved into stripes of gleaming blue and yellow gold, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. A proud moment for us all.

Whether prescribed by COVID protocols, Warren-Green’s decree, or the unmasked singers’ personal preferences, Pier and Okulitch sat further apart than the vocal soloists we usually encounter at Symphony concerts. With Pier mostly singing the “Agnus Dei” refrain that contains the Latin title, and Okulitch confining himself in the middle movements in Walt Whitman’s English – and Old Testament translations in the Finale – the separation between the singers wasn’t awkward at all.

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Pier tended to sing with the orchestra and the choir, but there was an extended stretch where Okulitch, standing to Warren-Green’s right, was accompanied solely by Lupanu, seated to his left. So the tableau enhanced the intimacy of their duet. What was really unfortunate and compromising for us were the vast stretches of incomprehensible text from the chorus that Vaughan-Williams had scored so splendidly. If there had been supertitles above the stage or printed programs in our hands, the experience would have been even more powerful. Those of us who were able to download the digital program were adequately equipped, but the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center has had repeated problems with transmitting these copious, colorful, and informative materials.

In future performances where we’re expecting to follow along at the Belk, I will try to download the digital materials before I leave home. Clearest of all was the chorus’s mighty “Beat! Beat! Drums!” refrain from one of Whitman’s most metrical Civil War compositions. Even when we might be lost in the less familiar words of other war poems by the Good Gray Poet (“Reconciliation” and “Dirge for Two Veterans”), the music, the voices, and the colors of the fighting Ukrainians’ flag landed on us forcefully. It was thrilling.

Originally published on 3/14 at CVNC.org

Absent in 2020, Nnenna Freelon Offers a Heartfelt Raincheck

Review: Jazz @ the Bechtler Presents Nnenna Freelon

 By Perry Tannenbaum

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March 4, 2022, Charlotte, NC – We hadn’t seen or heard Nnenna Freelon singing in Charlotte for over four years before she returned for two shows with the Ziad Jazz Quartet last week, her latest Jazz at the Bechtler concert. The interval would have been just over two years if Freelon had appeared as scheduled at the Bechtler series’ all-star 10th anniversary celebration on January 3, 2020. While it’s tempting to assume that Freelon’s cancellation was part of her grieving process in the wake of her husband’s death of ALS the previous July, the six-time Grammy Award nominee had already gone into the recording studio in October 2019. The album that emerged from that stage of her grief processing, Time Traveler, was eventually released last May, so it could have come to us two years ago as the core of her canceled gig at the Bechtler, a nice little scoop for us.

Not to worry, after a bopping “Just Friends” warmup from his quartet, Ziad Rabie was now able to introduce Freelon as a seven-time Grammy nominee, with the outcome of her latest nomination for Time Traveler to be announced in Vegas on April 3. And there was also a scoop: Freelon will soon be inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, alongside such greats as Nina Simone, James Taylor, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Kate Smith, Loonis McGlohon, and Roberta Flack. The theme of Time Traveler was certainly evident in the concluding set we heard at 8:15, for it was doubly a time capsule, packaging songs we could have heard two years back at the originally-scheduled 10th anniversary gig alongside songs we did hear in November 2017.

There was nothing sneaky or accidental about the repeats, though Freelon didn’t point them out. As before, Freelon led off with her uptempo “Nature Boy,” rewriting the lyrics with a feminist twist the second time around after a searing soprano sax solo from Rabie. The ending was also the same, a “Moon River” that started off unusually mournful, hit a swinging midtempo, and eventually heated up to exultation. In a fascinating way, this questing read of “Moon River” merged Freelon’s time capsules together, for in 2017, she sang it as a tribute to two recently departed jazz greats, singer Al Jarreau and pianist Geri Allen, and she recorded it almost two years later as a tribute to her husband, famed architect Phil Freelon, who had designed Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro.

2022~Nnenna Freelon-01Did the audience give Freelon and bassist Ron Brendle a standing ovation for their deep, mesmerizing duet on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” because they recalled it fondly from 2017 – or because it was so achingly lovely and poignant now? Also back from 2017 was Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” with drummer Al Sergel navigating the transitions back and forth from Freelon’s waltzy 3/4 time to Rabie’s break-loose solo on tenor sax in a fleet 4/4 tempo. These non-lunar reprises were all from Freelon’s Homefree album of 2010, and so was her slowed-down and bluesy “I Feel Pretty,” complete with her 2017 exhortation to the men in the audience to sing out the title line, because we needed to answer for nearly all the ugliness in our world. Notwithstanding #MeToo, probably truer in 2022 than before.

Despite its aching moments striving to reach across “Moon River,” Time Traveler remembers and celebrates love far more than it bemoans loss. Aside from versions of the title composition, two tracks address the main theme, Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” and Jule Styne’s “Time After Time,” the one Freelon elected to bring to the Bechtler. Freelon repeated and obsessed over the title in a concluding cadenza that was every bit as ardent as her studio version, if not more so. Solos between the vocals, pianist Noel Freidline floating gracefully over Brendle’s bass, enhanced the soulfulness. But the album isn’t simply celebratory or sentimental, for Freelon gave Harold Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” a performance that was as down-to-earth as her spoken intro, confessing that she had no idea what she had said “I do” to at the altar when she and Phil were wed.2022~Nnenna Freelon-11

Always gorgeous, Freelon’s voice seems to be acquiring more varied textures. Up high, the Ella Fitzgerald sass is often joined with a Dinah Washington grit; and below, the Roberta Flack sensuousness occasionally gives way to a Carmen McRae worldliness and wisdom. The Freelon original, “Just You,” lost a little of its righteous gospel flavor in transitioning from the studio, where an organ and a guitar imparted a churchly tang, to the Bechtler’s lobby, where neither instrument was in attendance, though Rabie supplied superb fills on soprano sax. But a dominant motif of Freelon’s Time Traveler tribute is simply a return to songs that recapture the 1970’s, when the Phil-Nnenna romance first bloomed. Aside from “Time in a Bottle,” which serves double duty, Freelon revisits the ‘70s with Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” and a Marvin Gaye medley.

Nnenna testified at the Bechtler to Phil’s adoration of “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” further evidence that he was a Stylistics fan, but he obviously wasn’t alone. Enhancing the studio version, Freelon was able to call upon the Bechtler audience to sing along with her on the refrain. Here the live instrumentation meshed almost perfectly with the studio performance as Freidline radically altered his piano timbre from acoustic to electric and Rabie more than ably substituted for Kirk Whalum in adding a smooth jazz vibe. As with “Moon River,” facets of Freelon’s concept came magnificently together. After remembering the 2017 Bechtler playlist by repeating some of it, she was giving us a raincheck on a hit she could have brought us in 2020, remembering her departed husband by singing a song they both loved. Through the mystery of music, we were singing along with Nnenna, joining her ritual of remembering Phil, while evoking memories of our own.

Originally published on 3/7 at CVNC.org

Brooklyn Grace Receives a Classic Museum

Review: BNS Productions Presents The Colored Museum

By Perry Tannenbaum

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In every decade since it premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 1986, George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum has had a homegrown revival here in Charlotte. GM Productions premiered it up in the Attic Theatre at the old Afro-Am Cultural Center on 7th Street in 1993, and Carolina Actors Studio Theatre brought it to their C.A.S.T. location out in Plaza-Midwood ten years later. On Q Productions finally smuggled Wolfe’s 11 vignettes – or “exhibits” – into an Uptown site at Spirit Square in 2011.

Now BNS Productions has brought Colored Museum to its unlikeliest location, the Brooklyn Grace Venue, alias the Grace AME Zion Church on S Brevard Street. Each new revival more fully cements Wolfe’s satire as a classic – Winthrop U and UNC Charlotte have also chimed in with productions since 2009 – and each new resurrection that I see strikes me as fresh and hilarious as the first.

Of course, nothing compares with the edge and impact of your maiden encounter. Wolfe hurls a few choice barbs at white folk, mostly mocking their bland cruelty, but armed with an all-Black cast, it’s African-Americans and their culture that he assails with the most conspicuous gusto. All Colored Museum casts get to feast most hilariously on the sufferings and posturings of the Younger family in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Walter Lee’s wailings against “the man” in this “Last Mama-On-The-Couch Play” take a detour into Beau Willie Brown’s barbarity in Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls.CCC02756

Familiarity with those two stage gems helps you to savor Graham Williams, Sr.’s over-the-top brilliance as Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie, but his reappearance, immediately after intermission, as The Man only magnifies his triumph. For Wolfe delights especially in depicting the disfigurements that black people inflict upon themselves to survive and succeed in white America. The Kid, played by Jonathan Caldwell, must now disown and discard his Afro-comb, dashiki, autographed Stokely Carmichael photo, Afro-sheen, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone recordings, along with Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice – replaced, The Man tells him, by The Color Purple.

Black Power and protest must be tossed into the trashcan along with slavery if you wish to get to the top. The Kid is dismayed, incredulous, and beside himself when The Man reaches for… The Temptations Greatest Hits! Yes, if The Man is to feel totally comfortable in his black business suit and fully acclimate to white blandness, even “My Girl” must bite the dust.CCC02782

Women also get choice bits from Wolfe, beginning with Nasha Shandri as our prim stewardess, Miss Pat, welcoming us aboard Celebrity Slaveship and inviting us to fasten our shackles as we cross the Atlantic to Savannah. Dancing in the aisles seems to be allowed during our voyage – as long as we keep our shackles on – but “No drums!” Of course, we will get a bluesy cooking lesson from Sandra Thomas as Aunt Ethel, teaching us, with abundant historical ingredients, how to cook up “a batch of Negroes.” Uncanny Aunt Jemima resemblance here.

Shandri and Thomas both reappear in “The Last Mama-On-The-Couch,” with Thomas in the title role switching from cheery to grumpy and Shandri upbraiding Walter-Lee-Beau-Willie (and cataloguing her own sufferings) as Medea Jones, a subtle reminder that white folk are also known to drop babies from great heights. Most of this skit targets Raisin, of course, with Toi Aquila R.J. as Lady in Plaid serving as Shange’s leading Colored Girls emissary.

Meanwhile James Lee Walker, II, has a tasty role as our narrator, bestowing an Oscar-like statuette upon one actress after a heart-rending monologue and then ripping it out of her grasp when the next actress tops her.CCC02580

Walker has already topped himself as the regal, finger-snapping drag queen who imparts “The Gospel According to Miss Roj.” Revisiting Wolfe’s Museum, director Dee Abdullah limits herself to the crossdressing that’s in the script. In 2003, by contrast, Aunt Ethel and Last Mama were also done in drag. But Abdullah brings back Chris Thompson from the CAST production, so the West African choreography at Brooklyn Grace – and the forbidden drumming – have the same sparkle.CCC02717-1

Acoustically, the Grace isn’t ideal for theatre, nor is the place outfitted for professional-grade lighting design. But Abdullah, Sandra Thomas, and Shacana Kimble compensate, teaming up for an admirable array of costumes, from the frumpiness of Last Mama to the imperious splendor of Roj – and on the other side of intermission, the voguish gown of LaLa Lamazing Grace, an expatriated Josephine Baker wannabe done with slaying disdain by Jess Johnson. Until her down-home roots are exposed.CCC02449

In “Hairpiece,” Shandri plays a woman who has literally burnt her roots. Or as Johnson puts it as LaWanda, “She done fried, dyed, and de-chemicalized her shit to death.” All to please the man that Shandri is now dumping. LaWanda is actually a talking wig stand, facing us on a makeup table (and presumably Shandri as well in a fourth-wall mirror). She’s debating whether her owner should be shaking her hot-pressed tresses back and forth when she irately gives her boyfriend the ax, or whether Janine, the Afro wig contemptuously advocated by LaTonya Lewis, should be the fearsome choice to make him shrivel.

While the wigs are debating whether Shandri is most powerful in her natural or chemicalized crown, it’s easy to forget the satirical barb that Wolfe has tossed toward the menfolk. The finally-dispensable boyfriend was a “political quick-change artist,” Janine dishes. Every time “he changed his ideology, she went and changed her hair to fit the occasion.”

Style is important, that’s for sure. Aside from Raisin, the most sacred cow that Wolfe takes down is Ebony Magazine, the barbershop bible of African-American life. Lewis and Williams are the supermodel couple of “The Photo Shoot” who have given away their lives to be beautiful and wear fabulous clothes month after month. Relentlessly smiling and feeling no pain.

Perhaps the wisest thing about Wolfe’s Museum – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the absurd – is that it’s simply there. Do with it as you wish.

“The ultimate questions from Wolfe apply with a fierce pertinence to all oppressed peoples,” I wrote in response to Abdullah’s 2003 production with CAST. “How do we carry the baggage of the past into the future without hampering and crippling ourselves? And how do we leave this baggage behind without discarding key parts of our culture, our heritage, and our identity? These grim questions go unanswered, but watching this energized ensemble wrestling with them will likely double you over with laughter.”

Can’t improve very much on those observations – unless I compress them for 2022 into Wolfe’s words. At the beginning of our journey and again at evening’s end, our stewardess, Miss Pat, tells us: “Before exiting, check the overhead as any baggage you don’t claim, we trash.”

That’s the key choice Wolfe aims to leave us with.

New Faces, New Rep, and High Decibels Shake and Rattle the Belk

Review: Charlotte Symphony Plays Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 1

By Perry Tannenbaum

2022~Kabalevsky Cello-04February 25, 2022, Charlotte, NC – Theatre and music critics can be lulled into complacency – mixed with boredom – when called upon to review Shakespeare’s As You Like It or Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker beyond the seventh time. So it’s gladdening and stimulating to see how recent social, political, and public upheavals have affected local programming in the Queen City. Though it constantly calculates years ahead, Charlotte Symphony has not been the slowest to react and evolve. Not at all: in the past four weeks, I’ve been compelled to remember the names of new guest soloists and conductors – and to read up on composers whose works I was hearing at Knight Theater and Belk Theater for the first time. When American composer John Corigliano is the best-known composer at a Symphony program in the Belk, you know we’ve wandered off the beaten path.

Apple Music and Spotify are both aware of Chilean-Italian guest conductor Paolo Bortolameolli and Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz, but neither of their giant streaming catalogues contains the first piece that Bortolameolli performed with Symphony, Ortiz’s Téenek – Invenciones de Territorio. Obviously, our guest would need to have an inside track on this composition. As associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he did, for the LA Phil commissioned the piece and it was premiered under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel in 2017. The piece, divided into three sections, had glimmering textures and lively rhythms from south of the border, with celesta, tubular bells, and harp coming in the wake of the piece’s biggest climax and some mellow work from principal oboist Hollis Ulaky along the way.

I was still struggling with the spelling of Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky’s last name in my driveway as I was tallying my mileage and parking in my expense app after the concert – and berating myself for forgetting his first. The deluge of new data I needed to process was happily compounded by an auspicious debut of Christine Lamprea, who soloed on the marquee piece, Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 1. Lamprea established another appealing trend, the second consecutive female soloist to clutter the Belk stage with a music stand and a musical score. That’s a byproduct of presenting a piece that the guest artist hasn’t played over and over around the country and the globe. Among the half dozen recordings that I tracked down, the best-known soloist to have played Kabalevsky’s Op. 49 is Yo-Yo Ma (Raphael Wallfisch, however, has recorded Concerto No.2, Op. 77), whose performance vies with Daniil Shafran’s, conducted by Kabalevky himself, as the definitive account.2022~Kabalevsky Cello-05

In a very personable intro to the evening’s program, Bortolameolli hinted that we might find an undercurrent of cynicism and sarcasm akin to Shostakovich beneath the sunny surface of Kabalevsky’s 1948 work – maybe a bit of a stretch, since the composer was widely recognized as an establishment figure from the days of Stalin onwards, serving behind the scenes and on-the-air with Soviet Radio, eventually becoming a leading Soviet musical ambassador in his travels abroad. Perhaps there was some empathy for Ukraine impinging on Bortolameolli’s objectivity? In keeping with Communist suspicions of radical modernist innovations, Kabalevsky hardly delivered any portentous jolts in his G minor concerto, nor did Lamprea, playing quite eloquently, seem to be on a quest for anything subversive in her interpretation. Over a marching beat of pizzicatos, her playing in the opening Allegro was rich and ardent, finishing the movement with a light and beguiling pizzicato cadenza.2022~Kabalevsky Cello-06

Nor did I detect any sardonic undercurrents in the ensuing Largo, molto espressivo, Kabalevsky’s tribute to the Soviet casualties of the World Wars. While there was more heart on Ma’s sleeve in the lyrical moments of this movement – and more daring hushed quietude on his CD in his lamenting cadenza – Lamprea was altogether earnest in her grieving, very affecting. Principal hornist Byron Johns certainly heightened the solemnity and sublimity of this movement backing up Lamprea. In the concluding Allegretto, the Colombian-American cellist convinced me that Kabalevky (1904-87) had written his Concerto after hearing Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations rather than before. The theme and variations, based on a Russian folk melody, have no less melodic appeal, even if they aren’t as technically demanding, and Lamprea brought out the kinship of the variations more clearly than any other version I’ve heard.

You’ll be very entertained by Bortolameolli’s pocket sized intro to Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1, timely again because it was written in 1988 in response to the AIDS epidemic and the toll it took on artists and friends he knew. But for a fuller analysis and exploration, you don’t want to miss the composer’s own introduction in the digital program booklet. No need for me to add more than this single word to that comprehensive, episodic description: LOUD!! In order to nearly replicate the 92dB reading I saw on my Apple Watch at the peak of the opening movement, Apologue: Of Rage and Remembrance, I had to turn my home stereo volume knob close to the 12 o’clock position, playing the landmark Chicago Symphony/Daniel Barenboim CD. At that point, my Apple Watch registered 90dB. At the same time, I activated the Sound Meter app on my iPhone for a more credible reading and recorded a max of 111.1dB.

Yes, it was louder at Belk Theater in Row J than that. “Behind the orchestra,” we read in Corigliano’s notes, “five trumpets are placed with the first trumpet in the center; fanning outwards around the orchestra are six French horns (three on each side), four trombones (two on each side), and, finally, one tuba on each end of the semicircle of brass.” No doubt my wife Sue and I were more comfy with the Remembrance episodes of this movement than the spasmodic blares of the Rage that the composer marked as “Ferocious.” In the more nostalgic moments, we heard an offstage piano playing Leopold Godowsky’s transcription of Isaac Albeniz’s Tango, with more piano – and pleasantly intensified orchestra – closing out the movement.

2022~Kabalevsky Cello-16We weren’t exactly danced around the hall in the ensuing Tarentella, for as Bortolameolli pointed out, the root word of this Italian dance is actually tarantula, and the dance was believed to cure victims of that spider’s bite from a rare form of dementia. So the composer had a schizophrenic and hallucinatory soundscape in mind, relentlessly accelerating into insanity. Most consoling and welcome, then, was the penultimate Chaconne movement, “Giulio’s Song,” written in memory of a friend who was an amateur cellist and inspired by tape recordings of improvisations Giulio and the composer played together. Principal cellist Alan Black was unforgettably showcased here, playing five lovely notes before a pause, then seven notes before another, before finally released into the song. Enhancing the loveliness, cellist Jeremy Lamb eventually joined in a soulful duet. Corigliano’s concluding Epilogue was a capsulized recap of the previous movements of his Symphony, hearkening back to its opening and shining a spotlight once again on Black, who played the last sustained note, tapering off into silence.

It was an A, like the grade I would give for the entire concert. Kudos as well to the audience, who greeted all this new rep, especially the Corigliano, with enthusiasm and gusto.

Originally published on 2/27 at CVNC.org

Weepy and Upbeat Church Singing at The Great Aunt Stella Center

Review: Theatre Charlotte’s Smoke on the Mountain

By Perry Tannenbaum

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February 24, 2022, Charlotte, NC – There’s a bit of a Tar Heel tug-of-war going on between two small towns east of Charlotte, Mount Pleasant and Mount Olive, for the honor of having the best claim on being the site of Smoke on the Mountain, a homegrown musical that has maintained its popularity since 1988. Geographically, Mount Pleasant has the far stronger claim, due to its closer proximity to Charlotte, which is explicitly mentioned numerous times in the script, and because the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church is officially ordained as our setting in Connie Ray’s book.

Yet in terms of flavor, smell, and story in Alan Bailey’s original concept, Mount Olive and its famed pickle factory cannot be dismissed, for there are twin accidents near the pickle works that figure prominently in the opening scenario. Gawking at the gherkin spillage from the plant, the Sanders Family has tipped over its van and is therefore late in arriving to the church, where they are scheduled to lead a sing-along before a music-and-dance-averse congregation. Original musical arrangements were by Mark Craver, longtime member of the Red Clay Ramblers, and Mark Hardwick. Since both Craver and Ray hail from North Carolina, those roots run deep in the story and in the music.

Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe has invited the Sanders Family to sing at the Church in June 1938, part of his stealth campaign to lighten up – and modernize – his congregation, and the songs were chosen to evoke that era. “No Tears in Heaven” by Robert S. Arnold, for example, was written in 1935, and Albert E. Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away” was penned in 1929. When Theatre Charlotte last presented this musical in 2010, they were able to build better scenery at their Queens Road than I had seen three years earlier at a Pineville Dinner Theater production. A fire at that barn in December 2020, however, has turned Theatre Charlotte’s 94th season into an extended road trip, stopping at various locations around the city.

If the company’s mid-December production of A Christmas Carol seemed more than a little dwarfed by Halton Theater on the campus of Central Piedmont Community College, the current location at The Great Aunt Stella Center could hardly be more ideal. With a full set of organ pipes upstage to frame the Sanderses and Pastor Oglethorpe, and with cushioned pews for the audience to sit in, The Great Aunt Stella hardly needs to pretend at all to be accepted as a church. In fact, we’re entitled to think that Auntie Stella determined the choice of Smoke on the Mountain rather than the other way around.

As stage director and music director, Kristin Graf Sakamoto has done a fine job in taking advantage of the venue – and of the cast, since she reports prevailing on members to pick up instruments they had never seen before. That certainly tamps down the bustle onstage I’ve seen in previous productions that were burdened with a house band and adds to the homespun authenticity of this Mountain. We may be a little confused and disoriented when the Sanders Family hurriedly makes their belated arrival, for all of their instruments are already onstage – guitars, bass, mandolin, and assorted percussion instruments.

June Sanders is the first to arrive as Pastor Oglethorpe stalls for time. Emily Nageotte does a fine job in giving us the comical pickle catastrophe backstory, explaining her parents’ and siblings’ delay while portraying herself as the odd duck in the family. Instead of singing with them, she will sign for the deaf – whether or not there are hearing-impaired people in the audience. Eventually, June will sometimes make more noise than other members of the family as, one by one, she removes a wacky assortment of percussion instruments – including washboard, spoons, and cowbells – from their hiding places during the course of the concert.IMG_1551

We’re in a church, so the evening’s program turns out to be a mix of homespun musicmaking and spontaneous testifying. As you might suspect, the Sanderses are a rusticated bunch, so a backwoods Mayberry shyness befits them all – with the exception of Liz Waller as Vera, the mama, affecting something close to a Minnie Pearl effervescence. Now there was also a proud and ornery side to Vera when her views didn’t coincide with Pastor Oglethorpe’s. Instead of coming to blows, they hurled Bible quotes at each other, citing chapter and verse for extra emphasis. Fretting with all kinds of picayune worries, Stuart Spencer as Oglethorpe keeps a perpetual crackle of tension in the air, heightened when his scriptural erudition is disputed, released only when he yields to the music. At first, he merely sings along at the top of his lungs, but when the spirit truly hits, he runs back to a cloakroom and fetches a harmonica.

The friction between the pastor and the Sanders Family (his singing contributions aren’t received enthusiastically), especially Vera, make for a needed dramatic undercurrent to spice up the singing and testifying until the hubbub that brings on our intermission. Burl, the genial patriarch of the family, seemed to be the peacemaker in Mike Cheek’s papa-bear portrayal, loyal to his wife Vera and all their cubs. It’s his brother Stanley, the black sheep of the family, who stomps out of the hall in a huff, and it’s Burl who must coax him to return.IMG_1728

After this kerfuffle, while Pastor O is having a couple of words with the Sanders girls, the stage is set for the most dramatic testimony of the night, when the wayward Stanley returns. Apparently the only Sanders to have tasted the fermented fruit of the vine or the distillery, Jake Yara is wonderfully quiet and penitent in Stanley’s testimony, humbled yet not shamed. His earnest confessional seemed to spur Molly Neal as Denise, the younger Sanders twin, to unburden her heart and reveal that she had once run away from home – to Charlotte! – in a poignant tale of teen heartbreak. Neal upstaged her younger twin with her abortive foray into showbiz, but Gray Ryan as Dennis had a simpler, more comical testimony, aspiring to fulfill the calling of a preacher despite his terror of public speaking.

The acoustics at Great Aunt Stella are better for music than theatre, so it’s fortunate that Sakamoto placed such a high premium on the voices in her cast delivering the two dozen songs we hear. Backup vocals are as meticulously rehearsed as harmonies, and the instrumental performances are quite serviceable. Some might prefer the weepy and morbid repertoire like “Meet Mother in the Skies,” “Everyone Home but Me,” and “Whispering Hope.” Among these Christian hits, I’ll take the quirky and the upbeat any day. Give me more like “Christian Cowboy,” “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now,” “Angel Band,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap.”

The Young Jewish Girl Who Became a Post-War Icon

Review: The Diary of Anne Frank @ Central Piedmont

By Perry Tannenbaum

The Diary of Anne Frank 

You can sneer and call her the poster child of the Holocaust, or you can marvel at how she continues to be a lightning rod. But 77 years after the last words of her secret diary were written, followed by her death at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp six months later, nobody can say that Anne Frank has been forgotten – or that she will be in the foreseeable future.

A recent segment on 60 Minutes was devoted to solving the mystery of who betrayed her and her family to the Gestapo in early August 1944 after two years of hiding in the famed “Secret Annex” in Amsterdam. Managing to make even more of an ass of himself than we thought possible, anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. somehow turned the 13-year-old Dutch immigrant into a talking point, comparing rules enforcing COVID vaccinations to the tyranny of Hitler’s Germany.

“You could cross the Alps to go to Switzerland,” he said of those threatened by the Nazis. “You could hide in an attic, as Anne Frank did.”

Before people had to worry about COVID and those pesky vaccines, the Anne Frank House, where the “Secret Annex” is preserved, attracted well over a million visitors every year.

So with Holocaust survivors thinning out, living memories of the Third Reich growing dim, and misinformation metastasizing, is the time ripe for dusting off and re-examining The Diary of Anne Frank? It has been done before. First published in 1950 and translated into English in 1952, The Diary of a Young Girl premiered on Broadway with its more familiar title in a Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett in 1955. The rebranding stuck after the film, directed on by George Stevens, won the Oscar and Golden Globes for Best Picture in 1960.

All of those originals have been edited, retranslated, or updated – many times, in the case of new graphic novels, children’s book abridgements, TV versions, and movie takes.

But Anne’s text, assembled by Otto Frank from multiple handwritten manuscripts, has only been re-edited a couple of times, once in a critical edition by the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation in 1989 (revised in 2003), and once revisited by Anne’s father in 1993. The Goodrich-Hackett drama has only been overhauled once, by Wendy Kesselman, in a newly adapted version that opened on Broadway in late 1997.

That’s the version we’re seeing now at Halton Theater in a Central Piedmont Theatre presentation directed by Marilyn Carter. Since 2008, when I reviewed this new adaptation at Theatre Charlotte, it has become the Metrolina standard, with subsequent productions by Matthews Playhouse in 2010 and Davidson Community Players in 2018.

While the Halton isn’t as ideally sized for Anne Frank as Theatre Charlotte or the old Morehead Street location of Children’s Theatre, whose 1996 production remains the Queen City’s gold standard, set designer Robert T. Croghan doesn’t make the mistake of either glamorizing the Annex or expanding it to fill out the capacious stage. Amazingly, the compacted set has four levels without looking at all posh. Yet as we must peer over an unused orchestra pit that becomes a moat between the audience and the stage, our eagerness for a new CP venue, replacing old demolished Pease Auditorium, becomes all the keener.

We won’t have to wait long. They’re promising a spring unveiling.The Diary of Anne Frank

Strikingly fresh and radically different still don’t describe the revamped script, which hit me like it did in 2008 at the Queens Road barn – after previously seeing the original in Charlotte no fewer than three times. Yes, there are substantial differences, some of them welcome improvements and some curiously out of focus if you already know and love the original movie. Some of the signature moments, like Mr. Dussel’s comedy, have dropped out of sight. But the dramatic highlights are pretty much the same as always.The Diary of Anne Frank

What Kesselman has chiefly refreshed is the Holocaust context, deepening it with more frequent references while providing more extensive portrayals of Dussel, the Franks, and the Van Daans as Jews. Carter has Josh Logsdon as the dentist Dussel wearing a tallis and singing a traditional Hebrew prayer. Subsequently, we get pretty good pronunciation from Hannah Sidranski and Summer Schroter as the Frank sisters when they sing the “Maoz Tsur” after the Chanukah blessing.

The most sensible and gratifying change that Kesselman made was upgrading the presence of Otto Frank, who had become a more renowned public figure during the 42 years following the first Broadway premiere of The Diary. It makes a big difference that he no longer greets us at the beginning, discovering the red plaid diary onstage and ushering us into its imperishable contents. Instead of that prologue, Arthur Lightbody as Otto presides over an epilogue, where he can not only reclaim the abandoned diary but also disclose the fates of all the characters we have come to know over the previous 90+ minutes.

Considering how brutally sudden the Gestapo raid is in this newer script, I’ve found that Otto’s return is oddly helpful in processing the final moments of this little makeshift Jewish community. This is a more spasmodic and sobering narrative, less sensitive and romantic in depicting Anne. Sidranski is more energetic, brainy, and immature as Anne. Words gushed out of her so quickly on opening night that we often had only a vague idea what she was saying. At first, I hoped that Sidranski might soon slow down to evince her maturation during her two years in hiding.

That’s not how Kesselman and Carter seem to be thinking. It’s easier to see moodiness among these families than to see any of them evolving. They’re chafing under the restrictions of their survival mode, that’s for sure, and with the passage of time, we’re getting to know them better – and so are they.

Carter also seems to have spearheaded a rethink on Halton’s chronic audio woes. The setup of mics now dangling down from the flyloft yields far clearer – and continuous – sound amplification than we’ve heard in the past, though differences in levels could be detected, especially upstairs on the set, when actors were more directly under the mics.

Adults in the cast were projecting more consistently than the youths, easier to follow overall. But everyone is believable. Croghan’s costume design is as impeccable as his set, and Carter’s casting is always spot-on. Lightbody radiates a leader’s calm and quiet dignity as Otto, oozing warmth toward the youngsters, especially his favorite Anne, and seeming to take the long view while everyone else is caught up in the moment. By contrast, Rebecca Kirby gives us a sterner portrait of Anne’s mother, Edith, not adjusting well to the protracted confinement and never sunny enough to be called bi-polar.

You may feel otherwise about Poppy Pritchett and her flamboyant turn as Mrs. Van Daan, fetishizing her fur coat, worrying herself over what Anne might be writing about her, and flapping her protective wings around her ravenous husband when she isn’t berating him. On the other hand, Daniel Keith keeps a remarkably even keel in excelling as Mr. Van Daan, Otto’s one-time benefactor, perpetually in quest of respect always winding up as the hydrant of the underdog.

The Diary of Anne FrankMalychia Abudu-Clark and Zach Humphrey come by infrequently, essential buffers between the Secret Annex and the Gestapo, delivering needed supplies and news from the outside, never staying long enough to remove their outerwear. That would be risky for a Dutch national harboring Jews. They best demonstrate their caring when they urge the Franks and the Van Daans to accept Mr. Dussel into their company – and it is here that Lightbody is most impressive in his authority as Otto in waving aside all objections.

No doubt about it, Logsdon changes the vibe when he enters as Dussel. For the first time in months, the Franks and the Van Daans get the grim news of what’s happening elsewhere in the Jewish community. About the merciless Nazi raids. About the transports. At the same time, he’s disturbing the settled sleeping arrangements of the Franks and, moving in with Anne, disturbing the budding adolescent’s privacy and social life while consigning Margot, the older sister, to bunking with Mom and Dad.

The Diary of Anne FrankThere is friction between the roommates across the generational divide, but Logsdon never shrinks from it, frankly outraged when Anne wakens him suddenly, shrieking from her latest nightmare. Yet he is an elite force, reveling in Dussel’s standing as household cantor and tooth extractor, not quite as unflappable as Otto because he never has to take charge.

Margot is rather bland compared to her little diva sister, so Dussel’s arrival is rather fortunate for Schroter in playing the role, for she can proceed to establish herself as the family’s good sport, accepting her altered sleeping arrangements to start with and Anne’s intimacy with young Peter later on. Better yet, Margot is one of the two young people, along with Michael Swinney as Peter, that Anne can open up to when she’s ready for more mature conversations.

These conversations – less obnoxious, overamped, and impulsive than those she has with her elders – help to calm Sidranski down a bit as Anne and show herself off at her best. Huddled downstairs in Anne’s bedroom instead of upstairs where Peter resides and gets his private moments with our diarist, Schroter has the advantage over Swinney in being closer to the audience and more readily audible.

Of course, we strain harder to hear Peter’s precious conversations with Anne, thinking they will probably be the happiest she ever has.