Nonprofit promotes folk and acoustic in County and beyond

  • Published in Music

Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO If Scott Moore has his way, Montgomery County will grow increasingly rich in folk and other acoustic music.

Moore is president of FocusMusic, which local singer/songwriter Steve Rey founded 15 years ago as a nonprofit under the auspices of the Folk Alliance 501(c)(3) umbrella.

Acoustic music venues in the area were scarce and tended to come and go, said Moore.

FocusMusic draws inspiration from places like Caffe Lena in New York City, which dates to the 1960s and featured Bob Dylan early in his career.

FocusMusic provides an intimate, “up-close” musical experience and the opportunity to discover high-quality new artists,” Moore said. “Our concerts offer personal contact with performers, a sense of belonging to a community of music-loving friends, and time to socialize.”


Israel’s Idan Raichel in ‘stripped-down’ show sings and plays piano

  • Published in Music

Idan Raichel, on solo tour, has since shed his turban and dreadlocks.  COURTESY PHOTOIdan Raichel, on solo tour, has since shed his turban and dreadlocks. COURTESY PHOTOIsraeli world-music superstar Idan Raichel has undergone a transformation.

Gone are his signature dreadlocks and black turban. At least for a while, The Raichel Project he founded – incorporating performers and sounds from many different backgrounds – has taken a backseat.

Instead Raichel has gone on tour, performing a “stripped-down” show of songs and personal stories, jumping from acoustic to electric piano and percussion instruments.

One stop on the tour is The Music Center at Strathmore, where he appears Thursday, Feb. 22.


Puppet Co. presents classic tale “Beauty and the Beast”

Jackie Madejski manipulates one of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ marionettes. COURTESY PHOTOPuppeteer Jackie Madejski manipulates one of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ marionettes. COURTESY PHOTO  Some think the story of “Beauty and the Beast” originated with the 1991 Disney movie. In fact, it is “ancient – with scholars finding the source 4000 years back,” said Allan Stevens, founding director alongside Christopher and Mayfield Piper of the Puppet Co.

“But we know the story best from the version that appeared in Andrew Lang Blue Fairy Book (1899), the first of a multivolume collection of folk and fairy tales,” he said.

The Puppet Co. is presenting its own version of the story – with marionettes.


Widower fails at controlling daughters in ‘Hobson’s Choice” at Quotidian

Hobsons ChoiceStephanie Mumford costumes Rebecca Ellis and Matt Baughman for "Hobson’s Choice." COURTESY PHOTO BY BILL HURLBUT  What do you call a take-it-or-leave it proposition that really offers no choice at all?

A “Hobson’s Choice.”

That’s also the title of a play by Harold Brighouse (and several movie versions – one of which starred Charles Laughton) about an authoritarian English widower and his self-made success as a cobbler, who tries to pressure his three daughters to stay with him and under his thumb. A clash of wills ensues when his daughters, especially the eldest, Maggie, push back; they’re determined to leave home and get married.

“Hobson’s Choice” is a romantic comedy – with a bit of a less-ominous “King Lear” thrown in – in an upcoming production from Quotidian Theatre Company.


Adventure Theatre’s “Alexander and the…Very Bad Day” boasts script by original author

Christian Montgomery as Alexander 21 copyChristian Montgomery has “terrible” day as Alexander in children’s classic at Adventure Theatre. COURTESY PHOTO BY SARAH STRAUB  A book published in 1972 with the unwieldly title – “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” – remains beloved to children and on school curricula.

Author Judith Viorst followed up with three sequels and wrote a play she based on the original “Alexander.”

With music by Shelly Markham and Viorst’s lyrics, “Alexander” is next on the agenda of Adventure Theatre MTC (Music Theatre Center).

Artistic director Michael Bobbitt met the author when he choreographed a musical of one of the Alexander stories the Kennedy Center developed.

“We stayed in touch,” Bobbitt said.

To Bobbitt, the Alexander books are popular because they look at the world from a child’s point of view.

“Kids’ problems may seem trivial to us, and the first Alexander book presents a series of them,” Bobbitt said. “You could write a full dramatic work about a kid trying to tie his shoelaces. When they do it, they want to share what they did, and adults often don’t have the time.”


Imagination Stage puts Bollywood twist on Twain's tale of switched roles

Alex Paling, who plays The Pauper (left), and Anjna Swaminathan, who plays The Princess, are amazed at their resemblance to each other. COURTESY PHOTO BY LAURA DICURCIOAlex Paling, who plays The Pauper (left), and Anjna Swaminathan, who plays The Princess, are amazed at their resemblance to each other. COURTESY PHOTO BY LAURA DICURCIO  What’s next at Imagination Stage? “The Princess and the Pauper.”

Wait a minute, you say. Don’t you mean “The Prince and the Pauper,” Mark Twain’s beloved novel about two boys, a royal and a commoner, who look so much alike they exchange identities – and learn that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side?

Nope. Imagination Stage’s “free adaptation” of Twain, in the words of artistic director Janet Stanford, features two female heroines.

“It has a feminist twist,” Stanford said.

What’s more, the subtitle of the play is “A Bollywood Story.”

The original story took place in Tudor-era England; in this adaptation, writer Anu Yadav sets the action in a fictional kingdom in 11th-12th century India.

“As such,” said Stanford, who is directing the production, “it contains magic and the interplay of divine forces at work” – something absent from the original novel, which has more swordplay.


A poignant "Steel Magnolias" comes to Kensington

Steel MagnoliasEdye Smith and Emily Karol rehearse scene from “Steel Magnolias.”   COURTESY PHOTO  After the death of his younger sister to diabetes, American writer Robert Harling penned a short story, “Steel Magnolias,” which he later adapted into the 1987 off-Broadway hit play.

Harling also wrote the screenplay for the 1989 film version, which became a hit on the strength of the performances of its powerhouse ensemble cast which included Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley Maclaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah.

While director John Nunemaker might lack Harling’s family history, his background – a childhood spent in a rural area north of Hagerstown and getting his hair cut at a beauty salon – meshes with the play’s inherent strengths to give him a strong affinity for “Steel Magnolias,” which opens next month at Kensington Arts Theatre, where Nunemaker also serves as the theater’s artistic director.


Flying V bases revue on Jonathan Coulton songs

Flying V Coulton RevueThe cast at Flying V Theatre rehearses for the revue based on singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton's work called “It’s the Rest of the World that Looks So Small.”  COURTESY PHOTO  What makes a work or performer achieve the status of “cult”?

That may be hard to define, but Flying V Theatre's staff thinks it knows it when it sees it, in the person of Jonathan Coulton, singer/songwriter.

Coulton left the tech industry to create a podcast named “A Song a Week,” for which he wrote what Jason Schlafstein, the theater’s producing artistic director, called “quirky, humorous storytelling.”

“So many of Jonathan’s songs explore intimate struggles of people through highs and lows,” Schlafstein said.


Steve Martin’s adaptation of 1910 farce both zany and literary

Cast members rehearse ‘The Underpants’ at Rockville Little Theatre.  COURTESY PHOTOCast members rehearse ‘The Underpants’ at Rockville Little Theatre. COURTESY PHOTO  Karen Fleming, who has taken on “almost every capacity in every theater in Montgomery County,” still acts on occasion. Recently she appeared, as one example, in “The Language Archive” at Silver Spring Stage.

But Fleming has also “dabbled” with directing since the 1980s – a role she is undertaking again for Rockville Little Theatre’s production of “The Underpants.”

Though it boasts a provocative title, “The Underpants” is in actuality a 1910 farce by Carl Sternheim, adapted for the stage by actor, comedian, and writer Steve Martin.

Among the other classic works adapted by Martin is “Cyrano de Bergerac,” which he turned into the screenplay for the 1987 romantic comedy film, “Roxanne.”

“I’m still acting, but I wanted to have more control over my vision of a play,” Fleming said. “Of course, directing is a lot more work.”


When Chaplin defied the Nazis, as told by Best Medicine Rep


John Tweel recreates famous scene from Chaplin’s "The Great Dictator" in Best Medicine Rep's stage production of "The Consul, The Tramp and America's Sweetheart." COURTESY PHOTOJohn Tweel recreates famous scene from Chaplin’s "The Great Dictator" in Best Medicine Rep's "The Consul, The Tramp and America's Sweetheart." COURTESY PHOTO  It was 1939, and silent film sensation Charlie Chaplin – the highest-paid entertainer in the world – was trying to make his first talkie.

But “The Great Dictator,” a scathing spoof of Hitler, faced opposition from two directions. The more expected of the two was from the German Consul in Hollywood, whose job was to minimize the film industry's criticism of the Third Reich. But the second, ironically, came from United Artists, the studio Chaplin had co-founded with Mary Pickford (called “America’s Sweetheart”) and others. Though the two were friends, they disagreed about how to handle the pressure.

It was a time before the United States entered World War II, and anti-Semitism was rampant. Nazis showed up at Hollywood parties, and Chaplin, “accused” of being Jewish, made a statement that became famous: “I do not have that honor.”

Eventually, “The Great Dictator,” concerning a Jewish barber whose mustache gets him mistaken for Hitler, was released to great acclaim. And, after America entered the war, public opinion shifted considerably against Nazism.

John Monogiello, president and artistic director of the non-profit Gaithersburg-based theater group Best Medicine Rep, has fashioned these historical elements into the play and BMR’s next production, “The Consul, the Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart.”

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