Sing along to ‘The Sound of Music’ and dress a part at Wolf Trap’s costume contest


The fourth annual “Sound of Music” singalong costume contest at Wolf Trap will be held Saturday. (Wolf Trap)
August 19

Nuns in white wimples, cute kids wearing curtains and brown paper packages tied up with strings. These are a few of the costumes conductor Emil de Cou expects to see when he judges the fourth annual “Sound of Music” singalong costume contest Saturday at Wolf Trap.

“Seeing thousands of people from a swath of generations come out to celebrate this movie — it is like a combination of a football game and ‘Glee,’ ” de Cou said. “It’s tons of fun.”

As the National Symphony Orchestra’s Wolf Trap conductor, de Cou often is called on to serve as an emcee for various events. He could argue that picking the most superior Mother Superior habit is not in his job description. But he doesn’t.

“I look forward to it even though I’m not conducting,” de Cou said.

His first encounter with the musical came in high school, when he was playing in the pit and never saw the action onstage but fell in love with Richard Rodgers’ tuneful score. A big plus of coming to the singalong isn’t just seeing the film projected onto drive-in-movie-size screens — one for the stage and one for the lawn. “It’s hearing that wonderful score, played by a full orchestra, through the giant speakers,” de Cou said.


Tana Hicken in “4000 Miles” at Studio Theatre in 2013. (Scott Suchman)

To help audience members better appreciate Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics, everyone gets a “Magic Bag” with props. Booing the baroness and barking at Rolfe also are encouraged.

Before the screening, de Cou hopes to welcome more than 100 costumed fans onstage. His strategy is to split them into three groups: “I usually get a bunch of nuns, Marias and von Trapp kids,” de Cou said. “And then all the ‘favorite things’ — like brown paper packages and whiskered kittens — I’ll put them off to the side. No one ever comes as a dog bite or a bee sting. I guess that wouldn’t make for a very fun costume.”

So what’s he looking for? Audience applause will be a determining factor, but here are some tips for dressing to impress the conductor:

1. Whether coming as Max or Liesl or a lonely goat, let your personality shine through. “I’m looking for creativity and for the personality of the person in the costume,” de Cou said. Last year’s big winner simply dressed as Maria, carried a guitar and wore a winning smile.

2. Bring cute kids. In lederhosen. “Inevitably, I end up giving prizes to little girls who are swallowed up by their ‘Sound of Music’ T-shirts. That’s okay; I guess they’ll grow into them.”

3. But watch those pants on Kurt and Friedrich. “I am not a huge fan of super-short shorts,” de Cou said. “They remind me too much of Bruce Jenner in ‘Can’t Stop the Music.’”

The screening is set for 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

Major award for local costumer

One of Washington’s busiest professional theater costumers received a major honor last week: Kendra Rai was one of just two theater professionals in the country to receive a 2014 honorarium from the Princess Grace Foundation. The awards, bestowed in honor of the late actress Grace Kelly, recognize emerging American artists in theater, dance and filmmaking.

Rai, 36, was nominated by Constellation Theatre Company. The honorarium will be funneled through the theater and used to pay Rai and her assistants to design and make costumes for all three shows at the company this season. Although Constellation did not disclose the exact amount, the Princess Grace Foundation says it split $1 million among 41 artists this year. Awards typically are reported to be around $25,000.

The money is crucial for enabling Rai to continue partnering with Constellation, a small company known for lavishly designed sets and costumes. Earlier this year, Rai let Allison Arkell Stockman, Constellation’s artistic director, know that she was going to need to raise her fees for the 2014-2015 season. She’s busier than ever and will design 14 shows for seven Washington-area theater and opera companies this year, including Theater J, Opera Lafayette and Synetic Theater.

At her home studio in Adelphi, Md., Rai employs 11 full- and part-time assistants. She has purchased additional equipment, which can be expensive to keep running. Stockman didn’t want to let her go, and the Princess Grace Award has provided a solution.

“I had never thought much about getting grants for myself,” Rai said. “I thought it was all for nonprofit theater companies. I am really excited about this.”

Once artists have received an initial Princess Grace Award, they are eligible to apply for special project funding from the foundation. The 2014 winners include several other artists with ties to the region: Dance awards went to former Merce Cunningham dancer Jamie Scott, who grew up in Great Falls, Va., and Alvin Ailey dancer Jacqueline Green, a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts. Choreographer Nejla Yatkin, a former District resident who still performs frequently in the area, received a 2014 Works-in-Progress Residency.

Actress Tana Hicken dies

The fruity-drink-festive mood at Monday’s Summer Hummer, an annual fundraiser for the Washington theater community’s Taking Care of Our Own Fund, was deflated by the news that actress Tana Hicken had died peacefully in her sleep over the weekend. Director Joy Zinoman, who had long cast Hicken as an actor and a friend, said Hicken died of natural causes after being diagnosed in July with an auto-immune disorder. Over a career that spanned nearly 50 years, she appeared on stages in Washington and beyond but lived with her husband, Donald, in Baltimore for the past 20 years. She first performed at Arena Stage in 1967 and was the last actor on the payroll of the theater’s resident company when it folded in 1998.

Hicken received the last of her many Helen Hayes Award nominations just this year, for her role as a 91-year-old socialist grandmother in Amy Herzog’s acclaimed drama “4000 Miles” at Studio Theatre. Other roles from her final years include “Ion” and “Strange Interlude” at the Shakespeare Theatre and “Lost in Yonkers” at Theatre J. Before “4000 Miles” opened at Studio last year, Hicken obliquely told reporters that the she was likely rehearsing her final play. Zinoman told the three 20-somethings in the show to take notes.

“If you want to learn something about acting, just watch her,” Zinoman said.

No public funeral service is planned. A spokeswoman for Studio said Hicken wished to be cremated and her ashes scattered in her garden.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

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