The Nutcracker at Jefferson Performing Arts Center thru Dec. 20
JPAS Artistic Director Dennis Assaf was justifiably proud, excited, and a bit relieved when he stated during his pre-show speech that The Nutcracker would be the “first live theater production we’ve done here since January.”
Though the opening matinee performance had sold out, due to Covid-19 necessities, the Jefferson Performing Arts Center was only about 25% full. While it seemed a little strange and may have lacked that frisson of energy that radiates through a packed house, the entire audience appeared thrilled to be there at all and totally invested in enjoying Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet. The production, a revival of last year’s, did not disappoint.
With his traditional approach, Director Kenneth Beck takes the audience back to a world of yesteryear where women wore big dresses, guests danced a “rousing polka”, and there’s not a cell phone in sight. Beck and co-choreographer Kimberly Matulich-Beck handle the narrative portions of the opening scene well making the relationships among the principal characters clear.
In this version, Herr Drosselmeyer, who presents young Clara (an impressive Alette Joubert) with the eponymous Nutcracker, comes off as a fairly benign character as any darker overtones, which some other interpretations emphasize, are here banished. Given the many challenges facing our community today, that’s just fine.
To Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music, the choreography pleases the eye whether in large ensemble numbers or solo turns. While all the featured dancers were excellent, what truly impressed me was how accomplished and assured the children’s corps were; even the smallest ballerina dazzled and the entire group of young ones, even the teeniest, were superb in their mastery of the steps.
As E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale proceeds from the reality of the holiday party into the realm of fantasy, an elegant Snow Queen (Kate Lougon) and Snow Prince (Jorden Majeau) transported us to the Kingdom of Sweets where the narrative is mostly cast aside and we are treated to a succession of dances inspired by a buffet of international goodies like candycanes from Russia and hot chocolate from Spain, all set to some of Tchaikovsky’s most beloved tunes.
Isabella Elias and Brandon Garza were wonderful in the “Chinese Variation”; Garza also shined as the Harlequin Doll in the opening scenes. The Chinese Ball and Dragon Dancers were a nice additional touch in this segment.
In the more measured “Arabian Variation”, an outstanding Hanley Simpson, lithe as can be, gave visual representation to Tchaikovsky’s long, winding rhythms. Kate Lougon and Jorden Majeau, in the “French Variation”, along with Abigail Nix, again provided classic balletic sculptural grace. Following them, a baker’s dozen of adorable wee dancers emerged from Mother Ginger’s enormous skirt and acquitted themselves fabulously.
With its unalloyed beauty, the “Waltz of the Flowers”, led by the lovely Claire Boston, was a sheer delight to watch; its Roses’ costumes looked like they had previously adorned a Rex Mardi Gras float.
Last but certainly not least, Morgan McEwen, returning from last year as the Sugar Plum Fairy, shimmered across the stage accompanied by the dynamic Brian Gephart as her Sugar Plum Cavalier. This pair provided a level of expertise and technical brilliance that made their pas de deux especially memorable.
Beck and Matulich-Beck have updated their sumptuous period costumes to add masks for all the dancers. This seemed to be less of an imposition on the performers than when actors or vocalists have had to speak or sing through the devices.
Assaf was pleased to announce that because all four of the originally scheduled performances of The Nutcracker had sold out, another had been added for Friday night, Dec. 18. To check the availability of tickets for that performance or to add your name to a waiting list should any additional tickets become available for the other two performances this weekend, go to https://www.jpas.org/performance/the-nutcracker-3/
If you can’t get to see Nutcracker, you can look forward to productions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Arsenic and Old Lace coming in 2021. It’s good to have live performances back in Metairie.
Just Getting Good on demand from Le Petit thru Dec. 20
Le Petit kicked off its new live virtual cabaret series with Just Getting Good featuring Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, a performer new to me, but who has performed on Broadway (Hands on a Hardbody), toured nationally as the lead in Legally Blonde, and is perhaps best known for NBC’s GREASE: You’re the One That I Want in which she competed for the role of Sandy in a West End revival.
Appearing from the stage at Le Petit in a chic black metallic dress and snazzy sneakers, Monteleone created the feel of an intimate cabaret setting as she sang and told stories about her life.
She “went to school in New York and graduated all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to star on Broadway.” One thing led to another and she wound up on You’re the One That I Want “singing for my life and trying to get this part. I thought ‘I’m a celebrity.’”
She did get to the Top 4 but then “got the boot”, returned to New York, and hit the pavement auditioning again. Along the way, she met a guy with roots in NOLA; she seemed to think his family owned a motel. When she was introduced to her future in-laws, however, she soon realized it was one of the great hotels here that they ran (yeah, she’s part of that Monteleone family).
Immensely likable and possessing a soaring soprano voice, Monteleone favored soulful blues and bluesy rock numbers most of which I was unfamiliar with, but thoroughly enjoyed (which isn’t always the case when someone goes out of my show tune comfort zone). And just to show her Broadway bona fides, Monteleone did a touchingly straightforward version of Sondheim’s Children Will Listen as part of a medley that she says, slightly tongue in cheek, will be performed at her two sons’ future weddings.
Currently, Monteleone is promoting American Reject, a seriocomic film she wrote and stars in that asks “What happens when you lose?”; it’s based on her You’re the One That I Want experience. She sang a couple of songs from the film, both really good. Bryan Batt also appears in the movie and joined Monteleone for Serious, a number from Legally Blonde; he added a wickedly fun note to the evening, even while playing a cad.
Monteleone was accompanied by an ace quartet featuring Jefferson Turner on keyboards, drummer Brian Albus, Aaron Richer on guitar, and bassist Nicholas Dayton, plus on vocals Danielle, her best friend from New York whom she graciously ceded the spotlight to throughout the evening. The camerawork was not fancy but nicely captured all aspects of the show. If there were some brief buffering problems along the way, that might’ve been just on my computer.
Towards the end of the 45-minute program, Monteleone commented that “This has flown by.” Indeed it had, exemplifying the concept of “short but very sweet.” I’m now looking forward to seeing her live. “Just getting good”? Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone already is. And a whole lot more.
Le Petit’s virtual cabaret series continues on December 17 with the live premiere of Leslie Castay’s Crazy World. Tickets for that as well as Just Getting Good, which continues on demand through December 20, can be purchased at http://www.lepetittheatre.com/listings/events/
James Monroe Iglehart/The Seth Concert Series through December 27
What a pleasure to be in the company of James Monroe Iglehart for 90 minutes!
This Tony Award-winning performer glows with joy and positivity, qualities that are much appreciated these days. Having only seen him once before, performing the Genie’s Friend Like Me, his big number in Aladdin, on the 2014 Tonys broadcast just before winning his award, I absolutely enjoyed having a more extended introduction to him.
Host/Musical Director Seth Rudetsky took Iglehart from his beginnings in the San Francisco Bay area, where he sang in his high school show choir, through how he got to Broadway as a replacement in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to the first role he created for Broadway (in the Tony winner Memphis) and then Aladdin, his breakout role which he “got pretty easily.”
While Iglehart treated us to some backstage stories involving auditioning for Spelling Bee and what it’s like to perform on the Tonys, this concert was notable for the range of songs that were featured including the delightful and too rarely heard The Kite from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Iglehart had played the title role in high school); The Full Monty’s Breeze Off the River (“So pretty” Rudetsky commented–agreed); and a trio from Dreamgirls in which Iglehart portrayed all three characters, including Lorrell, to a T.
Despite being in his apartment without the Genie’s costume and make-up, Iglehart fully conveyed all the fun, wit and joyousness of Friend Like Me, but my favorite number of the evening, and one of the best ever done on this series, was a fantastic version of The Worst Pies In London from Sweeney Todd with Iglehart embodying Mrs. Lovett. Angela Lansbury and Patti LuPone watch out!
While Iglehart seems like a complete mensch, he fully inhabited the evil pimp Memphis and showed off his commanding baritone in Don’t Take Much from Cy Coleman’s The Life; it’s a role he expects to do post-pandemic as part of City Center’s Encores! series in New York though it will mean taking a (brief) vacation from his other job, as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton. Stay tuned.
For his final number, Iglehart returned to his lovely self with a sincere and warmth-filled rendition of The Christmas Song (aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). It was a perfect way to end the evening.
Filling out this crazy year on The Seth Concert Series will be Tony nominees Adam (Rent) Pascal (Dec. 20) and Kerry (Xanadu) Butler (Dec. 27). Expect some good, tune-filled times.
To purchase tickets to these upcoming shows, go to thesethconcertseries.com