Performing Arts: Molly Smith on Arena Restaged

by Editorial

Arena Stage’s artistic director Molly Smith celebrates the past while looking toward the future

Arena Stage

Sabra Lewis, DeMoya Watson, Maurice Hines, Kristyn Pope, Hollie E. Wright, Marva Hicks, Karla Mosley, Janine DiVita and Wynnona Smith in the Arena Stage production of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Ladies" April 9-May 30, 2010. (Photo by Scott Suchman)

There is much to celebrate at Arena Stage these days. We are close to finishing our new home, the Mead Center for American Theater, after 11 years of hard craftsmanship. We recently announced the shows that will inaugurate the theater, and each time I am on-site I can imagine the audiences and artists that will fill the seats and perform on stage. Until then, the show must go on.

From April 9 through the end of May, I’ll be tapping my toes in the Lincoln Theatre to the music of Washington’s own Duke Ellington during “Sophisticated Ladies.” The venue is a fitting location for this celebration of Ellington’s dynamic influence on music, dance, and style as jazz greats like Nat ‘King’ Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ellington himself were all Lincoln Theatre regulars.

This production of “Sophisticated Ladies” is an example of the amazing synchronicity that sometimes happens in the theater world. I had just programmed “Sophisticated Ladies” for this season, but decided to call upon great American artists Maurice Hines and Charles Randolph-Wright to see what projects were on their ‘wish lists.’ As luck would have it, they had just discussed their desire to work together on a new production of “Sophisticated Ladies.” The stars –  including a Broadway legend and a noted director – had aligned.

Hines stars in and choreographs our production of Ellington’s masterpiece, a role he performed in the original Broadway production. He is joined by Randolph-Wright, a renaissance man with a long history of successful collaborations with Arena Stage. Among many other accomplishments, he broke our box-office records in 2000 with “Blue” and together with Hines brought down the house when they collaborated on “Guys and Dolls” in the Fichandler.

Hines and other members from the company, including the teenage Manzari brothers, (locals in the show that Hines discovered in a master class), will also lend their talents to a special benefit, “Swingin” with “Sophisticated Ladies,” on May 4 at the Lincoln Theatre. This marks our 18th annual benefit to support Arena’s Community Engagement and includes dinner followed by an original performance featuring prominent Capitol Hill leaders sharing their Ellington-inspired talents.

In addition, legendary actor James Earl Jones and Representative Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) will be honored with the American Artist and American Voice Awards, respectively, for their contributions to the national arts community.

The two-year “Arena Restaged” Festival has been an exciting journey in our temporary Crystal City space, and I hope Washington audiences have enjoyed the ride. We have one more show, “R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE,” before our staff returns to Southwest Washington this summer to prepare for our homecoming celebration. I look forward to welcoming everyone home to Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater at our opening gala on October 25, 2010.

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