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Tag Archives: Musical Theatre

This past weekend I attended the announcement of Olney Theatre Center’s 2014 season in their historic theater.  Having never been to one of these season fêtes, I was really quite amazed at how many of the folks who are regular season ticket holders made the effort to be there on a Sunday afternoon.  I mean, they could have just read about it in the newspaper or checked the OTC website, etc.  While those in attendance were given an opportunity for special pricing, I think it says a lot about a theater when their audience is that engaged.  Perhaps part of the draw was that it was the first season designed by Jason Loewith, the new Artistic Director at Olney.

I won’t go into the mechanics of the affair.  Suffice it to say that it was a well-organized event.  Mr. Loewith did a nice job of expressing his vision for the upcoming season and the new approach to their seasons in general.  It’s true that a theater in the suburbs of Washington, DC has among it’s audience members a diverse array of people with an equally diverse array of cultural interests.  Loewith underscored that fact with a good humored sharing of real audience input from shows in the 2013 season.  There were folks who had equally vigorous yet completely opposite reactions to the productions.  Quite a predicament for a theater to find itself in!  The solution?

In a nutshell, they are going to have three different series of shows for audiences to choose from – contemporary, classical and family.  Subscribers can purchase tickets to one or more of these series and receive a substantial discount over the individual ticket price.  Sounds like a good plan to me.   Of course, what everyone wanted to know at the end of the day was “What shows will Olney Theatre Center be producing in 2014?”  Here is what they announced.

The Piano Lesson
Awake & Sing
I and You
Avenue Q
Once On This Island
The Tempest*
As You Like It*
To Kill A Mockingbird*
TBA – One Show Still To Be Determined

* by the National Players

Those in attendance were also treated to fine performances of songs from the upcoming season.  Celebrated Music Director Christopher Youstra was on the keyboard as Tracy Stevens sang from Cabaret, Sam Ludwig from Avenue Q, and Eleasha Gamble from Once On This Island.


Yes, I mean the Broadway show Chicago in New York City.  On a very cold and windy day recently (wind chill in the teens, I believe), I got to see the current revival at the Ambassador Theater on 49th Street.  I have to say right off that it was a very enjoyable experience.  Not just because the theater was warm and protected from the elements.

My friend and I hadn’t purchased advance tickets, so we headed down to TKTS in Times Square to find out which shows had open seats.  Despite the cold and wind, the line was very long.  By the time we arrived at the ticket windows shivering and teeth chattering, we were still torn between the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe and Chicago.  In the end, we decided on Chicago – in part because we could get the last two seats that were together.  lol  Also, neither of us had seen the show onstage – ever.  It was time.

Those last two seats together were in the house left box.  The woman at TKTS said the seats had partially obstructed views, but that we would see most of the show.  She did not steer us wrong.  And my friend – who is  not in the performing arts – thought it was really cool and unusual to be seeing the show from such a different perspective.  Sure, we missed a couple of entrances that were upstage.  But the show is designed so that most of the action takes place very far downstage (i.e. close to the audience).  We could see all the important scenes and musical numbers just fine – from a bird’s eye view.

The show we saw was a weekend matinee.  That means the cast is doing 5 shows almost back-to-back through the weekend.  It can be quite a marathon.  After just a few minutes at the outset, the cast got their groove on and gave us a rollicking good show.  Impressive at any time, but even more so given that there were two understudies on for our performance.

The actor who usually plays Roxie Hart — one of the principal roles — was out.  In her place was Tonya Wathen who was really great.  And taking Tonya’s usual spot as Hunyak was Jennifer Dunne who also did a super job.  For me, seeing the understudies go on and the whole cast pull in supportively around them was what made this performance special.  Of course, the understudies had clearly done their work and were more than ready.  In one number when Roxie Hart dances with Velma Kelly (played by the AMAZING Amra-Faye Wright), I was awed by the tightness of their choreography together – right down to subtle hand motions.

Once again, I ain’t no critic.  So I’m not going to give you a full-on critique.  It was a good show.  The whole cast and orchestra (who are on the stage the entire time) did a great job.  If you haven’t seen it, you should.

I was recently in NYC on business and got to see the current production of “The Fantasticks” in the Jerry Orbach Theater at the Snapple Theater Center.  It was a good show!

Our performance starred heart-throbs from two generations  – John Davidson (as Bellomy) and Aaron Carter (as Matt).  Along with the celebrities, the cast I saw was filled with good actors and singers who delivered extremely entertaining performances.  If anyone knows the history of this show, it’s original off-broadway production ran for 42 years and over 17,000 performances.  That makes it the world’s longest-running musical!

The venue at the Snapple Theater Center is small by Broadway standards and lends the whole affair a very intimate feel – which is used to good effect in this show during both tender and funny moments.  Set, props and costumes are minimalist and prove what can be done when an audience willingly goes with a cast into that “other world” of the play.  And our audience did – hook, line and sinker.  Such fun!

We had a couple of understudies on at our show – Richard Roland as Hucklebee and Tom Flagg as Henry.  They were real pros.  Wouldn’t have known they were understudies if it hadn’t been for the playbill insert.  In fact, Tom Flagg was so hilarious as Henry, The Old Actor that I had to double check the playbill at intermission.  In addition to those already mentioned, the cast was completed by George Dvorsky as El Gallo, Michael Nostrand as Mortimer, Addi McDaniel as Luisa, and Daniel Rowan as The Mute.  I should also mention the orchestra … all two of them!!  Robert Felstein – music direction and piano – and Jacqueline Kerrod – harp.  Once again doing a lot with a little.

I’m not a critic, I’m a performer.  Thus, I’m not going to get into the weeds here.  It was a very enjoyable show.  The cast, crew and musicians did right by everyone.  And a whole bunch of folks had a great time at the theater.  What more is there to say?

In my last stage show – My Fair Lady at Arena Stage – I was cast as a member of the ensemble and understudied a principal role.  It was a blast, by the way.  Arena Stage is a great place to work; the cast, crew and creative team were very nice people; and I had an awesome time doing basically four very different (one was Irish, one was Cockney, one was ostensibly Greek, and one was posh Brit) small roles across the span of each show.  Of course, that meant I spent most of my time off stage changing clothes.  Ha!

As I say, I had a very good time.  All my friends who came to see the show enjoyed my transformations (characters, accents and hair – beard, clean-shaven, toupee, mustache).  But as a member of the ensemble, you naturally don’t expect the audience outside of your close friends to really see that much of your individual performance.  You know?  So, appropriately, my goal was to add to the audience’s enjoyment without getting in the way of the story being told.   And, in fact, I believe that our whole ensemble did that damned well!

Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks after the end of our run, a complete stranger chatted me up at the gym between sets with “Weren’t you in that cast at Arena Stage?”  Well … yes, I was!!  Holy cow, somebody did notice me!  A couple of days later another person – a gym acquaintance but not a close friend – told me that he had also seen me in the show.  They both had nothing but positive things to say, and the latter – given the chance to exercise his dry wit as well as his biceps – said that it looks like I have some “marketable skills.”  LOL

I guess it just goes to show … onstage you never know who might pick you out of the crowd.

BTW!  Here’s a video interview from American Theatre Magazine highlighting the steam punk inspired costumes from the show which were designed by Judith Bowden.  The video is basically a slideshow of pics from our show, and the insights into Judith’s creations are quite interesting.  Enjoy!

Hey! I hope everyone had a great New Year’s celebration and that the coming year will bring much happiness and prosperity. This post is to share a quick couple of things:

1. I have an upcoming show on January 12 at 8 p.m. at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. Please join “Joe Peck & Friends” on a winter Saturday evening at one of the most popular live music venues in the DC area. I’ll be sharing a mix of original and cover tunes joined by Jim Gormley on percussion and Matthew Leonard on bass. St. Elmo’s is located at 2300 Mt. Vernon Ave. There is no cover charge.

2. My Fair Lady at Arena Stage will be coming to a close on 1/6. If you haven’t seen it yet, you have till Sunday evening to get out and see this marvelous production. It really is a great piece of American Musical Theater, and Molly Smith’s deft direction brings a new vibrancy and honesty to all the characters.

Happy New Year!

I’m having a blast as part of the cast of “My Fair Lady” in Arena Stage’s production now running through January 6.

Our principals [Benedict Campbell, Manna Nichols, Thomas Adrian Simpson] are doing a yoeman’s job each of supplying the right balance of character, energy, and talent to create a wonderful show every time. In addition, the supporting cast (which includes me in 4 small roles) is bringing their A game. It’s a super show, and the proof is in the amazing audiences we have performance after performance.

One of the many enjoyable moments I have onstage is as Themistocles Stephanos (a Greek ambassador – ?) Here is a photo of Mr. Stephanos and most of the cast in the famous ball scene getting our waltz on which was choreagraphed by Daniel Pelzig with music direction by Paul Sportelli. Photo is copyright Molly Smith – Artistic Director at Arena Stage who is also the Director of our production. The lovely lady I’m dancing with is actress Kim Willes. And, by the way, if you come to see us (which you should if you can possibly make it), you will find that Themistocles looks just a bit different. I’m not going to tell you what’s different, though. You’ll have to join us to see what has changed. 😉

The Music Man – Meredith Willson’s beloved musical – opens tonight (May 23) at Washington, DC’s celebrated Arena Stage. Director Molly Smith, Music Director Larry Goldberg, and Choreographer Parker Esse have created an oustanding piece of live theatre. With a talented cast led by Broadway luminaries Burke Moses and Kate Baldwin, this is a show not to be missed. Here is another sneak peek to remind you that tickets are going fast, so you’d better get yours now at

Here is a sneak peek into Arena Stage’s production of “The Music Man” now in previews and opening on 5/23.  If you like good entertainment, The Music Man is the place to be!

Another lesson from the theatre world.

Term:  Priar
Definition:  A person who makes a promise knowing full well it is a lie.

Now that I’ve been doing this full-time for a decade, you’d think that I would have it down to a science.  Of course, it isn’t science, it’s the arts.  And – whether science or art – I guess I sometimes need reminders to keep doing the basic things I know I ought to be doing.

Recently I was called in for an audition and then a callback audition the very next day.  That, of course, was a very encouraging development.  Late the first evening  I was sent a piece of script and two pieces of music to prepare overnight.  And I did.  I mean, I really worked on them – especially the music because there were sections in 4 and 5 part men’s harmony and in changing keys (including D-flat with five flats!!).   Which part were they going to ask me to sing?  I hadn’t been told!  As a result, I’m sure my neighbors have heard enough of those two songs to last them quite awhile. 

At the callback, when I finished reading the sides for the assembled creative team I pulled out the music selections ready to show them how hard I had worked.  That was when I was asked to set those aside and sing a tune from my book of audition songs that had a high A in it.

What?!?!  Not what I was expecting!  Now, I had brought my book with me.  And I had a song with a couple of  high A’s in it.  Good and good.  But … I hadn’t even looked at that song in many years – YEARS.  Luckily, I didn’t flub the thing completely because they allowed me to peek over the shoulder of the accompanist.  And I managed to sing a couple of very successful high A’s despite it being before noon.  LOL 

The lesson?  Keep all my songs ready.  Rehearse them ALL periodically even if nobody has wanted to hear a particular song for quite awhile.  Despite the curveballs, the callback seemed to go pretty darned well.