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Joey DeFrancesco gave an A1 tribute to Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith.
Joey DeFrancesco gave an A1 tribute to Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith. (By Jimmy Katz)

-- Pamela Murray Winters

Mount Vernon Players

The genius of Victor Herbert has been in semi-eclipse for the better part of a century -- roughly since Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy stopped singing together. But its essential quality guarantees that it can keep coming back as long as there are singers with good voices. That quality is melodic grace, and it can be heard abundantly in the 20 numbers of "Sweethearts," now playing at Mount Vernon Place.

Only one of those numbers, the title melody, is likely to be familiar to many in the audience. It is a gorgeous waltz tune with vapid words: "Sweethearts make love their very own / Sweethearts can live on love alone." But the entire score brings out the vocal attractions of the Mount Vernon Players, and not merely the principals -- Laura Sarich, Jose Sacin, Austin Bitner, Denise Gulley and Joe Price -- but also the supporting players, particularly the women of the chorus. They not only sing beautifully but also act with verve and personality.

One must make allowances for the plot; like most American operettas before World War I, it deals with succession to the throne in a small (and imaginary) Central European principality, concealed identities and lovers' misunderstandings.

It doesn't matter; nor did the occasional hesitation of an actor looking for his lines at a press preview Wednesday. The tunes are what count, and they are wonderful and well delivered.

There will be repeat performances on weekends through June 19 -- Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.

-- Joseph McLellan

DC Improvisers Collective

Improvisation was the conceptual link between two quite different groups that performed at the Warehouse Next Door on Thursday: the DC Improvisers Collective and Japan's (by way of Seattle) Na. The local quartet drew heavily on jazz's improv tradition, while Na juxtaposed passages derived from rock, classical and even country music. Yet both shared one thing: guitarists who tested the limits of their instruments.

The DCIC, which headlined, was three-quarters of a standard avant-jazz group, dominated by powerhouse saxophonist Mike Sebastian. His bleats and trills usually overpowered the other sounds, including guitarist Jonathan Matis's more conventional playing. Yet Matis took the spotlight twice, first during a Sebastianless passage in which he placed his guitar on a stool and played it like one of John Cage's "prepared" pianos, attacking it with pencils and dulcimer hammers. He also asserted himself during the final piece, making a big noise with fuzz tone, and using slides (one of them actually a vibrator) with both hands. Because closing time was near, the DCIC played only a 30-minute set and seemed to have just begun demonstrating what it can do.

Na is a trio but played Thursday as a duo, singer-guitarist Kazu Nomura explained, because the drummer had to take a class. As Noriaki Watanabe knelt on the floor, playing keyboards and synthesizer, Nomura sang, played and strutted, sometimes dancing right out of his sneakers. The music ranged from rock riffs to madrigal melodies to atonal skittering, interspersed with squeals, crashes and howls, both instrumental and vocal.

-- Mark Jenkins

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