The weekly feature of what's happening on Washington stages.
Performers who are a notable cut above: Harriett D. Foy as the Civil Rights singer in "Nina Simone: Four Women"; the ensemble in the Rachel Bonds drama "Curve of Departure"; and the whole merry cast tapping troubles away in "Crazy for You."
The column is off next week; back Jan. 4.
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"The Illusionists." The Vegas-style act is back after its 2015 visit. "The Kennedy Center has enough surplus dignity to indulge a brief sideshow: zingy (and time-tested) bits that included bodies sawed in half, cards pulled out of thin air and a suspenseful Houdini-like escape by a guy handcuffed and hung upside down in a water tank." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Dec. 27-Jan. 7 in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. Tickets $49-$175. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
"Amazing Grace." "The mortal sin is that it's a musical without musicians — computer software somehow 'plays' the score — but that's not all. The largely true but plodding melodrama of John Newton, the British slave trader who ultimately repented and wrote the famous hymn, is so slow-moving and cliched that you'd swap it for a windy sermon." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Jan. 7 at the Museum of the Bible, 409 3rd St SW. Tickets $85-$100. Call 202-848-1600 or visit museumofthebible.org.
"An American in Paris." "A mostly commendable new stage version that embellishes the 1951 movie musical. The touring version, directed and choreographed as on Broadway by Christopher Wheeldon, boasts two strongly athletic dancers, Allison Walsh and McGee Maddox. But it tends to broadcast too plainly some of the blander conceits. There's a fine line, it seems, between timelessness and cliche." (Peter Marks) Read the review Through Jan. 7 in the Kennedy Center's Opera House. Tickets $59-$175. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
"Annie." "The rapport between Kevin McAllister's commanding Daddy Warbucks and
Noelle Robinson's plucky Annie is by far the best thing in Olney Theatre Center's dutiful revival. Annie's ballad 'Maybe' and her anthem 'Tomorrow' are American musical cornerstones that every kid should hear, but that doesn't quite vindicate Olney taking a second run at the show in seven years." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Jan. 7 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Tickets $47-$84. Call 301-924-3400 or visit olneytheatre.org.
"A Christmas Carol." "Craig Wallace's grand scowl anchors the holiday staple at Ford's. The show's accents don't consistently send you to Dickens's London, but the bustling ghost story is still writ large (a cast of roughly two dozen, with several big spooky effects) in Michael Baron's extravagant production." (Nelson Pressley) Through Dec. 31 at Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. Tickets $$24-$107. Call 888-616-0270 or visit fords.org.
"A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas." "A friendly one-man show that faithfully sticks to the Dickens novella over its swift two hours. Paul Morella stands alone on a shadowy stage, looking you in the eye as cranky old Ebenezer Scrooge begins his jittery night." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 31 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. Tickets $40. Call 301-924-3400 or visit olneytheatre.org.
"Crazy For You." "The razzmatazzy 1992 remake of George and Ira Gershwin's 'Girl Crazy.' Signature's production offers up some heady demonstrations of tap, and there's even one heavenly number in which the ensemble wittily takes up washboards, saws, hooch jugs and emery boards to keep the beat. But you're given too much opportunity on this occasion to examine plastic emotions under a microscope." (Peter Marks) Read the review Through Jan. 14 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Shirlington. Tickets $40-$108, subject to change. Call 703-820-9771 or visit sigtheatre.org.
"Curve of Departure." "The occasion is the funeral of an old man named Rudy's universally loathed son Cyrus. Rudy shares the hotel room with his daughter-in-law, Linda, who was abandoned by Cyrus but affectionately tends to Rudy as dementia bedevils him. Linda's grown son Felix will also be sharing the room. So will Felix's boyfriend, Jackson. Rachel Bonds meticulously crafts her 85-minute slice of life in one long, unbroken scene (with a coda) that is impeccably designed and played." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Jan. 7 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Tickets $52-$90. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org.
"An Irish Carol." Keegan Theatre's original holiday show, by Matthew J. Keenan. "On Christmas Eve, a handful of locals toddle into a struggling bar run by an old sourpuss named David, and Keenan's writing gets its energy from the friendly foul-mouthed ribbing that passes among the regulars. Of course, the cause of David's crankiness gets dragged into the light, and lo, his spirit doth elevate in time for the great day." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 31 at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. Tickets $45. Call 202-265-3767 or visit keegantheatre.com.
"The Last Night of Ballyhoo." "Alfred Uhry's comedy about an elite Jewish family in 1939 Atlanta. Director Amber Paige McGinnis's staging boasts a terrific cast. In general, it's both fun and absorbing to hang out with these quirky and sharply etched characters, whose conflicts and power plays nod at serious themes." (Celia Wren) Read the review Through Dec. 31 at Theater J in the DCJCC, 1539 16th St. NW. Tickets $30-$65. Call 202-777-3210 or visit theaterj.org.
"Les Miserables." One day more with Jean Valjean, Javert and the gang. "When Enjolras and his comrades march, and projections of streets fall away behind them, you know that you are trapped, not in revolutionary Paris, but in a colossal — and ever more lucrative — media franchise." (Celia Wren) Read the review Through Jan. 7 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Tickets $63-$118. Call 800-514-3849 or visit thenationaldc.org.
"My Name Is Asher Lev." Aaron Posner's adaptation of the Chaim Potok novel, directed by Nick Olcott. "Illuminates the stubborn bravery of the title character, a young Hasidic Jewish artist who must flouts the values of his devout community to realize his vision. Asher's courage is cheering, yet you reel at the emotional and spiritual cost of his choice." (Celia Wren) Read the review Through Jan. 7 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Rd., McLean. Tickets $15-$33. Call 703-854-1856 or visit 1ststagetysons.org.
"Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains)." "A memoir by performer Felonious Munk, and it's funny. It's Munk's a tell-all about dealing drugs, shooting a man and serving six years in prison, and his conscience keeps popping up to contradict some of the evidence — so it's serious, too. That double-barreled approach makes 'Nothing to Lose' arguably the finest work the busy Second City has done in D.C." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 31. at Woolly Mammoth, 641 D St. NW. Tickets $49-$69, subject to change. Call 202-393-3939 or visit woollymammoth.org.
"The Revolutionists." "Real-life playwright Olympe de Gouges (Megan Anderson) is besieged by Marie Antoinette (Beth Hylton), Jean-Paul Marat's assassin Charlotte Corday (Emily Kester) and Caribbean revolutionary Marianne Angelle (Dawn Ursula) as the Paris guillotine lops heads during the Reign of Terror. Director Casey Stangl generates a screwball pace (wonderfully nailed by her acting quartet) that leaves room for the second act's slashes of drama. The feminist echoes ring out: You cheer along as these modern-sounding women erupt in profane defiance." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Jan. 7 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette St., Baltimore. Tickets $43-$65. Call 410-752-2208 or visit everymantheatre.org.
"The Book of Will." Lauren Gunderson's popular comedy about the actors who cobbled together Shakespeare's First Folio aims to share an executive suite with "Shakespeare in Love" — also now a popular stage play. But despite a big Elizabethan set and winning lead turns from Todd Scofield and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, the play is more fawning than frisky with the Bard. (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 24 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Hwy., Bethesda. Tickets $36-$65. Call 240-644-1100 or visit roundhousetheatre.org.
"Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush." "Carol singalongs, sketches, World War I songs, music-hall tunes and cheerfully creaky jokes ('You've heard of King Lear? I played his brother: Chandelier'). 'Me Little Yo-Yo,' about a marital crisis triggered by the loss of a toy, is one example of the show's abundant, not-very-naughty double entendres." (Celia Wren) Read the review Through Dec. 24 at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. Tickets: $55-$60. Call 703-548-9044 or visit metrostage.org.
"Draw the Circle." "An autobiographical solo show about gender transition in which Mashuq Mushtaq Deen plays his parents, his classmates, his doctors and his girlfriend — everyone but himself. The story's framework is simple yet striking, and more than a novelty: it's an apt, big-hearted way to puzzle together many pieces of Deen's journey." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 24 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street, NE. Tickets $35-$65. Call 202-399-7993 or visit mosaictheater.org.
"Nina Simone: Four Women." "The blasted wreckage of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 is the setting for this gripping play with music, and it's the perfect frame for the simmering, imperious fury of Harriett D. Foy as singer-activist Nina Simone. Christina Ham's script can be diagrammatic, but the Civil Rights-era how shall we resist arguments still slice into the audience, as do the intermittent musical performances." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 24 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Tickets $40-$111, subject to change. Call 202-488-3300 or visit arenastage.org.
"The Pajama Game." "Doesn't make the mistake of trying to change the musical comedy's vintage stripes. The mere appearance of 'A Chorus Line' Tony winner Donna McKechnie as office secretary Mabel gives the audience a lift, and choreographer Parker Esse has playground fun in the picnic dance bonanza. But the exacting machinery isn't quite there." (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 24 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Tickets $40-$120, subject to change. Call 202-488-3300 or visit arenastage.org.
"Peekaboo! A Nativity Play." "This humor-filled, family-aimed show offers us a Mary, Joseph and Gabriel who are modern, moody, slangy and racked by doubt. The play's approach is by no means irreverent; the angel and his teenage protégés ultimately embrace the challenge of the divine gift." (Celia Wren) Read the review Through Dec. 24 at Hub Theater, 9431 Silver King Court, Fairfax. Tickets $32. Visit thehubtheatre.org.
"Charlotte's Web." The E.B. White classic about Wilbur the pig, with live music and aerial silks. Through Jan. 7 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Tickets $14-$32. Call 301-280-1660 or visit imaginationstage.org.
"Frosty the Snowman." An adaptation for all ages, directed by Flying V's Jason Schlafstein. Through Dec. 31 at Adventure Theatre, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Tickets $19.50. Call 301-634-2270 or visit adventuretheatre-mtc.org.
READ MORE: A guide to current youth-friendly shows
The Capitol Steps. The longtime political satirists, tearing laughs from the headlines. Fridays and Saturdays in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Amphitheater, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Tickets $40.50. Call 202-397-7328 or visit www.capsteps.com.
"Citizens' Watch." A more dramatic than usual, "Broadchurch"-inspired murder mystery from the comics at Washington Improv Theater. Through Dec. 29 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Call 202-204-7770 or visit witdc.org.
"The Santaland Diaries." David Sedaris's sarcastic memoir of working as a department-store elf is acted by the almost too competent Cameron Folmar, who carries the 80 minute show on a scantly decorated comedy club stage. Folmar is droll, more Dick
Cavett than Nathan Lane in a show that can afford to be loudly (and ideally hilariously) out of step in skewering seasonal excess. (Nelson Pressley) Read the review Through Dec. 23 at Drafthouse Comedy Theater, 1100 13th St. NW. Tickets $20. Call 202-750-6411 or visit drafthousecomedy.com.
"Twist Your Dickens." The return of last year's holiday attraction from the comic troupe Second City. "Journeys not only through Scrooge's past and future, but also to the cutting-room floor where (we learn) an uncharacteristically pugnacious segment of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' met its off-the-record end." Read the review (Celia Wren) Through Dec. 31 at the Kennedy Center's Theater Lab. Tickets $49-$59. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
PROFILES OF KENNEDY CENTER'S HONOREES:
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