DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performances in Professional Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performances in Professional Theater Productions

Any way you look at it, 2021 was a terrible, awful, no good, really bad

Any way you look at it, 2021 was a terrible, awful, no good, really bad year for theater. COVID. Delta. Omicron. Can we just get a break already? The performing arts sector was completely blindsided by a pandemic that kept venues shuttered and people out of work for 18 straight months. And 2021 closed with yet another set of disruptions as theaters are forced to cancel productions due to breakthrough cases of COVID. But in a testament to the resilience of the industry, theaters, and theatermakers wasted no time in getting back to work as soon as it was safe to do so. Throughout the fall of 2021, the DC region produced an impressive amount of live work. Here are the performances that wowed our writers as theaters opened up again this fall. Thank you for your work, DC theatermakers. Life just wasn’t the same without you.

Poster art by Kel Millionie

A Fairy Queen, IN Series
Benjamin Williamson as Oberon (countertenor)

As Oberon, Benjamin Williamson stands out in the best way possible. His Oberon is focused, attentive, and responsive, displaying deeply committed, high-stakes emotion that is always on the verge of something significant in combination with a seemingly contradictory combination of virility, sensitivity, and arrogance. If that’s not Oberon, I don’t know what is. Throughout the story, Williamson’s voice is undeniably present and supportive yet not intrusive. But it was his rendition of “Music for a while” that blew the audience away. It was a truly collaborative performance in which this 17th-century European music was either revealed to be nascent 20th-century American jazz or was transformed into something that sounded a lot like jazz.
Claron McFadden as Trumpet (soprano)
McFadden gleefully lifts her voice in a series of flawless baroque trills and runs executed with playfulness and apparent effortlessness. Hers is a supple, flexible instrument that was the highlight of an evening with an abundance of wonderful singing. It’s worth noting that McFadden will be singing the music of Nina Simone in the production of Toni Morrison’s Desdemona that IN Series is producing later this season. It’s an experience that I will not be missing.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

Ricky Drummond, Alex De Bard, Marquise White, and Katie McManus in ‘A Familiar Melody.’ Photos courtesy of NextStop Theatre Company.

A Familiar Melody (a revue), NextStop Theatre Company
Katie McManus as herself

Absorbing the aura of musical theater goddess Katie McManus is like sitting in on a master class for gymnastic singing and stage presence. She simply wows — 10s across the board, for level of difficulty, style, substance, and her command of Stephen Sondheim’s compositions.
Read Terry Byrne’s full review

Jaquel Spivey (Usher) in ‘A Strange Loop.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

A Strange Loop, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Jaquel Spivey as Usher

The phenomenally talented and charismatic Jaquel Spivey is Usher, an aspiring writer in the story of a fat Black queer cis man trying to write a musical about a fat Black queer cis man trying to write a musical about…and so on.  Spivey’s performance is simply sensational. Complexity, self-hatred, compassion, a sharp sense of humor — Spivey draws us into every aspect of Usher’s multi-faceted personality.
The ensemble: L Morgan Lee (Thought 1), James Jackson, Jr. (Thought 2), John-Michael Lyles (Thought 3), John-Andrew Morrison (Thought 4), Jason Veasey (Thought 5), and Antwayn Hopper (Thought 6)
The extraordinary ensemble were all members of the off-Broadway original cast and are clearly at home in Usher’s distraught mental landscape. Their vibrant vocals and vigorous choreography, combined with their countless character impersonations, make for a musical theater lover’s dream team.
Read John Stoltenberg’s full review

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performances in Professional Theater Productions
Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero as the Beast in the Olney Theatre Center production of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Beauty and the Beast, Olney Theatre Center
Jade Jones as Belle

It’s really a shame that there are no Helen Hayes Awards this year because if there were, Jade Jones would top our list of projected winners. Jones attracted national attention for her turn as Belle and not just because she is the first queer, plus-sized, Black actor to play the role. Jones embodies the sassy heroine and tackles the Alan Mencken score with an absorbing intensity. The Youtube recording of her singing “Home” has been viewed nearly 40,000 times in the last month. Seeing Jones take center stage in this role was a treat for DC theatergoers who have followed her career for years. Her success also lifts countless young girls along with her as they got to experience a heroine who breaks the mold of the traditional “princess”.
Evan Ruggiero as the Beast
Ruggiero is known as a tap dancer so it was a treat to see him immerse himself in the role of the Beast, drawing out the Beast’s petulant nature and reaching soaring vocal heights in his end of Act I solo number.
Michael Burrell as Gaston and John Sygar as Le Fou
Michael Burrell was perfectly cast as the swaggering, self-absorbed Gaston. John Sygar is always a treat to watch, and his turn as the simpering Le Fou is an excellent example of why he is one of our favorite DC actors. Together, Burrell and Sygar were a hilarious comic pair.
Outstanding ensemble
Featuring a bevy of DC superstars and stars in the making, the ensemble for this production radiated talent and was a feast for the eyes and ears.
Read Darby DeJarnette’s full review

David Bryan Jackson as John and Regina Aquino as Caitlyn in ‘Birds of North America.’ Photo by Chris Banks.

Birds of North America, Mosaic Theater Company of DC
Regina Aquino as Caitlyn

Regina Aquino delivers an absorbing performance. She gracefully transports with mannerisms that alter as her character ages over the nine years the story takes place. Over the course of the play, her character matures from free-spirited young adulthood to a more restrained and resigned middle age.
Read Jane Franklin’s full review

Boheme in the Heights, IN Series
Melissa Wimbis as Musetta

We had been asked not to applaud until the end of each act so that the performers could remain in sync as much as possible with the projected image. So, in a way, we, the audience, had been given our parts to play to help ensure the success of the performance. Without that request for restraint, the audience would surely have burst into applause at numerous moments throughout the presentation, not least at the expected bravura performance of “Musetta’s Waltz” by Melissa Wimbish.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

Mike Kozemchak, Simone Brown, and Susan Marie Rhea in ‘Good People.’ Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

Good People, The Keegan Theatre
Susan Marie Rhea as Margie

Our heroine, Margaret (“Margie”), is played superbly by Susan Marie Rhea, artistic director of Keegan. Margie is in a situation many faced in the pandemic: multiple disasters she didn’t predict, can’t control and is struggling to master. She grew up in South Boston, didn’t go to college, and has a severely developmentally disabled adult daughter. Her job options are limited and she is on her own. She is not without resources, however; she has spirit, a sharp sense of humor, and an irrepressible if not notably sensible group of friends. Margie, like many of us in crisis, doesn’t behave particularly well. And some of her prejudices are disturbing. But Rhea’s formidable performance keeps us watching.
Simone Brown as Kate
Simone Brown as Mike’s wife, Kate, is wonderfully perceptive. Kate, who teaches literature, is far more sophisticated than Margie. Kate is presented as one of the “good people” of the title; yet, as Brown makes clear, she is no more immune to self-doubt than anyone else.
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

Levi Kreis (Hermes) and Company in ‘Hadestown.’ Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Hadestown (first national tour), The Kennedy Center
Levi Kreiss as Hermes
On Broadway, Hermes was played by the incomparable André de Shields, who won a Tony for the part. Those are some big winged shoes to fill, but Levi Kreis (a Tony winner in his own right for his performance in Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet) puts such a unique stamp on the character that it is fascinating to see a completely new, yet equally transfixing, interpretation of the character.
Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus
Nicholas Barasch brings energy to Orpheus that I found lacking in the Broadway original. For anyone who didn’t get to see Barasch in Broadway’s She Loves Me, a role that earned him a Tony nomination, this was a chance to see one of Broadway’s greatest rising talents take on a meaty role that truly showcases his skills and his enchanting tenor voice.
Sophia Howes’ full review
Read Jordan Wright’s full review
Read Nicole Hertvik’s full review

Mason Alexander Park (they/them) in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Olney Theatre Center
Mason Alexander Park as Hedwig

Mason Alexander Park (Netflix’s Cowboy BeBop) is magnificent as Hedwig, a punk-rock performer who rebuffs typical description and stereotypes in the opening number, “Tear Me Down.” A steady undercurrent of insecurity is palpable from Hedwig; even as she gains laugh after laugh from her hilarious jokes, they are always at the expense of others (not even the audience is safe!). She is incredibly entertaining, but she is also cold to those around her, and only seems truly comfortable while performing her songs. The musical numbers run the emotional gamut, from the enraging “Angry Inch” to the poignant “Wicked Little Town.” As Hedwig’s story winds toward a cathartic ending, Park’s portrayal is guttural, derisive, and also endearingly vulnerable. The amount of energy needed for one evening as Hedwig seems monumental, and Mason gives it their all. The resultant performance is masterful and guaranteed to stay with you for a long time after.
Read Julia Amis’ full review

Felicia Curry as Marian Anderson and Christopher Bloch as Albert Einstein in ‘My Lord, What a Night.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

My Lord What a Night, Ford’s Theatre
Christopher Bloch as Albert Einstein

Einstein is brought to adorable life by Christopher Bloch, who portrays the scientist like a delightful teddy bear. His Einstein is a disheveled genius whose humor brightens the room and whose discarded equations cover tables and chairs throughout his Princeton cottage. His humble and somewhat absent-minded bumbling feels like an accurate and endearing portrayal of the man who is known as the world’s most famous physicist and who, through Bloch’s performance, also seems like one of the world’s kindest humans.
Felicia Curry as Marian Anderson
It is supremely difficult to play an iconic figure like the legendary Marian Anderson, but Felicia Curry made it look easy. Her civility, grace, and charm were impressive throughout; and she thrilled us with her final rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”.
Read Ramona Harper’s full review

Sara Barker, Aniko Olah, Lisa Hodsoll, and Karin Rosnizeck in ‘Pankrác ’45.’ Photo by Marvin Bowser.

Pankrác ’45, ExPats Theatre
Karin Rosnizeck as Adina

The Nazis have been defeated; it is the summer of 1945. The Prague People’s Court is sending traitors to public execution or prison. Death sentences are meant to be carried out within two hours, which can be postponed by one hour at the request of the accused. Artists, being in the public eye, are a particular target. We are in the presence of five women who share the same cell in Prague’s famous Pankrác Prison. One is the notable actress, Adina Mandlová (Karin Rosnizeck). She is accused of a relationship with Karl Hermann Frank (1898–1946), a Sudeten German who worked closely with Hitler. Rosnizeck is wonderfully flamboyant as Adina, a strong personality with a wicked sense of humor. She uses talent and sexuality to survive, and she has few illusions, about the Germans or anything else.
Sara Barker as Hana
Sara Barker as Hana keeps us guessing throughout. Is she really a member of the resistance, or did she inform? She tells a touching story about how she met her husband. Her love for him seems sincere. But, to Barker’s credit, we are never sure who she is or what her convictions are. Resistance, as a strategy, has value. But is that what she is doing? Barker excels in the difficult task of playing a character with a morally challenging secret.
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

Herbert Siguenza (Don Quixote/Jose Quijano) and Ernie González Jr. (Sancho Panza/Manny Diaz) in ‘Quixote Nuevo.’ Photo by Margot Schulman Photography

Quixote Nuevo, Round House Theatre
Ernie González Jr. as Sancho Panza/Manny Diaz

The character of Manny Diaz is the shining beacon of this show, and Ernie González Jr. plays Manny with brilliant deadpan comedy. Line after delicious line of Manny’s dialogue places him in the tradition of the comedic fool, whose simplicity hides wisdom and whose sincerity empowers his friend. “Maestro remembers everything,” Manny tells Jose’s family at the end of their quest. “Even things that never happened to him.”
Raúl Cardona as Papa Calaca
Played with appropriate gravitas by Raúl Cardona, Papa Calaca infuses the show with sometimes sinister, sometimes playful song and dance, reminding us that death is never far away, but willing to wait.
Herbert Siguenza as Don Quixote/Jose Quijano
Herbert Siguenza inflects the role of Jose with comedy, sincerity, and fragility. There are tender moments when Jose processes disappointments from his youth. And there are plenty of laughs as Jose marches through town, enmeshing unwitting bystanders in his fantasy.
Read Nicole Hertvik’s full review

Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski, Shakespeare Theatre Company
David Straithairn as Jan Karski

Jan Karski’s heroism, as revealed in Remember This at STC, reminds us that there is no substitute for telling the truth. The spectacularly affecting performance of David Strathairn as Jan Karski, the man who tried to warn the world about the Holocaust, becomes not only an emotional but a moral experience.
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

Arianna Rosario (Mimi Marquez), Jake Loewenthal (Mark Cohen), Ines Nassara (Joanne Jefferson), Katie Mariko Murray (Maureen Johnson), Josh A. Dawson (Tom Collins), and Vincent Kempski (Roger Davis) in ‘Rent.’ Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Rent, Signature Theatre
Josh A. Dawson as Tom Collins

The touching relationship between the characters of Angel and Tom Collins carries the tender heart of Signature’s production of Rent. Josh Dawson plays Tom with the intellectual gravitas of the philosopher professor he is meant to be. He successfully maps the arc for his character and their relationship, including falling in love and his commitment to enduring tragic loss. His singing abilities match his acting chops, standing out in both tone and diction. I’ve seen several professional productions of Rent and his performance as Collins was far and away the best of them all. If people aren’t buzzing about Dawson, they should be.
Read Susan Galbraith’s full review

In rehearsal for the Balcony Scene in ‘Romeo and Juliet’: Joe Mucciolo, Alecia Cole, Joshua M. Castille, and Surasree Das.

Romeo and Juliet, Endangered Species (theatre) Project
Joshua M. Castille as Romeo and Joe Mucciolo as Shadow Romeo

In this mixed Deaf/hearing production, one can’t separate the towering twin talents of the Romeos. As a Deaf actor, Joshua M. Castille’s fresh take on the lovesick lad — combining exuberance, irreverence, pantomime, and pathos — was transfixing. And Joe Mucciolo, who voiced the part, proved the linchpin holding together this Frederick, Maryland, troupe’s bobbling extravaganza.
Read Terry Byrne’s full review

Melissa Strova-Valencia and Delbis Cardona in ‘La llamada de Sylvia Méndez: Separate Is Never Equal.’ Photo by Stan Weinstein.

Separate Is Never Equal, GALA Hispanic Theatre
Melissa Strova-Valencia as Sylvia Méndez

GALita, a program of GALA Hispanic Theatre for the whole family, presented La llamada de Sylvia Méndez: Separate Is Never Equal, celebrating a young girl whose story we should all know: Sylvia Méndez. Since 1976, GALita has produced bilingual theater for young audiences. Its goal: to “inspire a sense of joy, discovery, pride and identity in our community’s children.” In a time when the debate over critical race theory is pervading the political airwaves, it is essential to acknowledge how initiatives against racism can and must succeed. Melissa Strova-Valencia pulled at our heartstrings as the young Sylvia, who with her family helped integrate California schools and made history in the process.
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

(Left:) Joy Jones and Roz White, (right:) Dane Figueroa Edidi in ‘Seven Guitars.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Seven Guitars, Arena Stage
Roz White as Louise

Roz White’s Louise had the text by the throat and wrapped around her finger. Each of the actors in this production makes pointed use of their featured solo monologue amid the ensembles. But on opening night, during Roz White’s monologue, the audience was unable to contain itself and broke into spontaneous applause before she could finish speaking. The joint was jumpin’, as they say.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

Teenage Dick, Woolly Mammoth
Gregg Mozgala as Richard Gloucester

Teenage Dick at Woolly Mammoth re-envisions Shakespeare’s Richard III as a high schooler named Richard (Gregg Mozgala) who hopes not only to be elected senior class president but to crush his enemies. Mozgala was marvelous in the role, and, like Shakespeare’s Richard (let’s call him RIII), eager for revenge after a lifetime of being bullied and looked down upon. Of course, like RIII, he was not a particularly nice guy. And Richard’s disability is different: unlike Shakespeare’s RIII, he has cerebral palsy. His opening monologue (“Now that the winter formal gives way to glorious spring fling”) is stunning.
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

E. Faye Butler as Sister Moore in ‘The Amen Corner.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

The Amen Corner, Shakespeare Theatre Company
E. Faye Butler as Sister Moore

There are light moments in The Amen Corner. Surely the brightest is the force of nature that is E. Faye Butler. Butler is a bust-a-gut breath of fresh air in the drama. Sure, her Sister Moore is a backbiting, sanctimonious hypocrite, but you can’t help but recognize her and love her. She’s the voice in the congregation that cuts through all with deafening decibels. She’s saving herself for Jesus, she constantly assures everyone, but those electric hips when they get Jesus-juiced by the spirit go positively orgasmic. But watch more closely, Butler’s Sister Moore is no dumb clown; she’s sly as a fox. She’s on her way up and she has a plan.
Read Susan Galbraith’s full review

Dan Crane as John Jones, Kimberly Gilbert as Pony Jones, Lisa Hodsoll as Jennifer Jones, and Todd Scofield as Bob Jones in ’The Realistic Joneses.’ Photo by Alec Wild.

The Realistic Joneses, Spooky Action Theater
Kimberly Gilbert as Pony Jones
Spooky Action’s deft treatment turns this delectably peculiar play into a full-on pleasure. The text keeps us off-kilter in a way that tickles us silly even as a sobering undercurrent churns about two husbands’ parallel progressive illnesses, their respective wives’ hopes to cope, their awkward flirting with each other’s wives as if wishful swingers. Kimberly Gilbert, who does delightful dim bulb better than anybody (“I don’t really have an attention span”), is utterly transfixing—and reason enough to see the play. She is the effervescent Energizer Bunny of every scene she’s in.
Read John Stoltenberg’s full review

Dani Stoller, Megan Graves, David Schlumpf, and Parker Drown (kneeling) in ‘The Thanksgiving Play.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

The Thanksgiving Play, Olney Theatre Center
Dani Stoller as Alicia
The snark is laid on pretty thick in Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, a satire that explores the lunacy behind America’s ability to construct a wholesome family holiday out of genocide and land theft. While all the actors turn out entertaining performances, Dani Stoller as Alicia is a laugh from start to finish. She dives headfirst into Alicia’s simplemindedness and provides a refreshing contrast to the belabored political correctness of everyone else on stage. “I’m not smart,” she says at one point. “I was tested.”
Read Nicole Hertvik’s full review

Michael Russotto as Morrie Schwartz in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Tuesdays with Morrie, Theatre J
Michael Russotto as Morrie Schwartz

Michael Russotto plays a youthful Morrie, who at age 78 and facing a fatal disease, still loves to dance and dispenses hugs like candy. Russotto is quickly becoming one of my favorite DC performers for the warmth he brings to every character he inhabits. As Morrie, Russotto is the personification of childlike wisdom, with a fondness for dad jokes that frequently contain deep wisdom just below the surface. Morrie’s delightful sense of humor keeps Tuesdays with Morrie upbeat, in spite of the subject matter. Russotto delivers joke after delightful joke, finding ways to laugh about his situation. After attending a friend’s funeral, he decides that funerals are wasted on the dead and that he is going to throw his own funeral while he is still alive. “I kept thinking that Morrie would have liked this,” he tells Mitch about the event. “And I did!”
Read Nicole Hertvik’s full review

SEE ALSO:

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Design Elements in Professional Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Design Elements in Community Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performances in Community Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Community Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Professional Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Digital Theater