Burke Moses to play Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man’ at Arena Stage

March 7, 2012

The role of Harold Hill in Arena Stage’s upcoming production of “The Music Man” will be played by Burke Moses.

In the grand tradition of dishonest men who are beloved by audiences in spite of their lies (see also: Sky Masterson, Butch Cassidy, Don Draper, Aladdin), Harold Hill “is a con man who’s a likable character,” said Artistic Director Molly Smith. Moses “is an actor who can play the lightness and the darkness.”

Moses, who originated the egg-
guzzling
role of Gaston in Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast,” can portray what Smith described as Hill’s “wonderfully strong ego . . . so he’s able to pull in all these different communities to his way of thinking.”

The production, to be directed by Smith, also stars the previously announced Kate Baldwin as Marian the librarian. Five D.C. area youths who were selected at an all-day casting call at Arena will be in the show as well: Ian Berlin, Heidi Kaplan, Jamie Goodson, Colin James Cech and Mia Goodman.

Smackdown at Improv Theater

Because bracketology is the best –ology of all the –ologies (think we can all agree it’s better than, say, bio), Washington Improv Theater presents its sixth annual Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament, an elimination-style bracketed competition to rival the little-known March Madness.

Fifty-eight teams of three people each compete all month to earn the title of reigning improv champions.

“I think there’s a puppet,” corrected Maggie Dempsey, FIST’s volunteer tournament commissioner. “So 173 people, and a puppet.”

Rounds are held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night through April 7. Teams get 12 minutes to perform — the time increases to 15 minutes for later rounds — in whatever style and format they choose. Audience members vote by ballot to determine which teams pro­gress to the next match. The results will be tweeted live, and a radio show will be posted on Facebook and Twitter each Tuesday throughout the tournament.

Since its inception in 2006, FIST “has increased by a pretty serious factor each year,” said Dempsey. This year boasts a 10-team increase from last year. “I really think improv itself has found a bigger scene in D.C. More and more people are finding out about it, [and] more and more people are coming to shows and taking classes.”

In the past, seeding has been done by experience. This year, the brackets were filled at random. “To have new people play new people and old people play old people wasn’t enhancing the competition,” Dempsey explained. Improv veterans had a harder time filling the audience (the novelty for friends to attend had long since worn off), and half the excited rookie teams were doomed to be knocked out early in the tournament.

“You’ll find people who have been doing improv for 20 years and people who have been doing it for less than 20 days,” Dempsey said. “The spirit of it is all about people trying something new and inviting their friends to see them do something crazy that they’ve never done before.”

Through April 7, Source, 1835 14th St. NW, washingtonimprovtheater.com, 202-204-7770.

Signature’s throwback to classics

Signature Theatre’s 2012-13 season, said Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, is a return to Signature’s origins. Namely, the garage.

Citing Signature’s former home, a renovated auto garage in Arlington where it was housed until 2007, Schaeffer said, “one of the things we were known for was taking these shows and totally reinventing them. . . . So we said, ‘Let’s just go back to our roots in a weird way and celebrate the garage.’ ”

The season opens in August with the musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” directed by Schaeffer, followed by “Dying City,” a Washington premiere directed by Signature’s associate artistic director, Matthew Gardiner. Set in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the play follows a man who returns home from combat and visits the widow of his identical twin. Gardiner “told me he loved this play,” Schaeffer said. “And I said, ‘You’re a twin, [so] you’ll understand this in a way that a lot of us never could.”

“Dreamgirls,” also directed by Gardiner, will open in November. Signature has never done a Shakespeare play, but its production of “Shakespeare’s R&J,” directed and adapted by Joe Calarco, will get at that canon from an alternate angle: Four boys find a copy of “Romeo and Juliet,” forbidden reading at their Catholic school, and spend their nights devouring the prohibited story.

“Hello, Dolly!,” directed by Schaeffer and opening in March, is a co-production with Ford’s Theatre. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Crimes of the Heart,” directed by Aaron Posner, will open in April. Schaeffer will direct Sondheim’s “Company,” which will close out the season.

The titles are certainly a big departure from last season, which featured full runs of two new musicals, “The Hollow” and “The Boy Detective Fails,” as well as the controversial new play, “Really Really.”

“We have a bunch more [new shows] in development,” said Schaeffer, adding that Signature has “seven new musicals in the pipeline . . . but they’re just not ready yet.”

“We’re doing things we’ve never done,” he said. “We’ve never done an all African American musical. We’ve never done Shakespeare. . . . And we did ‘Company’ 20 years ago, and it was not my best effort.” He laughed. “So I finally get to go back and fix that, and do it right!”

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