Metro Weekly

The Kennedy Center: A (Mostly) Non-Holiday Show Roundup

The holidays find the Kennedy Center bustling with activity, from a uniquely original ballet to a visit from a familiar wicked witch.

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo: Cendrillon with Anissa Bruley,  Alessandra Tognoloni et Anne-Laure Seillan -- Photo: Alice Blangero
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo — Photo: Alice Blangero

Fall is in full swing at the Kennedy Center, with a dizzying array of events scheduled between now and the end-of-year holidays that launch us into winter. What follows is a highlights reel of the top performances on tap over the next month or so.

Right off the bat is the special one-night-only gathering in the Concert Hall this Sunday, Nov. 13, featuring a top-tier lineup of R&B/hip-hop artists — namely, yasiin bey (fka Mos Def), Lalah Hathaway, Meshell Ndegeocello, Bilal, and Amir Sulaiman — accompanied by the 32-piece Black Radio Orchestra to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Black Radio, the star-studded, Grammy-winning R&B album that spawned a genre-shattering series and brand for its creator Robert Glasper.

As it happens, Glasper the pianist/composer/producer will be the second of two multi-Grammy-winning, jazz-rooted, avant-garde musicians featured at the nation’s cultural center this weekend. One night earlier brings vocalist/composer/visual artist Cécile McLorin Salvant and her new, Kennedy Center co-commissioned song cycle Ogresse, a “jazz meets theater” piece with a libretto about a lonely, lovesick black monster-woman, performed by Salvant with a 13-piece chamber orchestra; a SFJAZZ staff writer dubbed the production “Salvant’s Sweeney Todd” (11/12, Eisenhower).

The following weekend ushers in the Kennedy Center debut of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the official national ballet company of Monaco, performing Cendrillon, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s strikingly original adaptation of Cinderella that retains Prokofiev’s score while doing away with the iconic material trappings, from the golden carriage to the glass slippers, for a dramatically heightened examination into the characters’ psychology instead (11/17-20, Eisenhower).

Next weekend also offers Wynton Marsalis leading the 15-member Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as featured accompaniment for a daytime recital by Vikingur Ólafsson, the Icelandic pianist dubbed “the new superstar of classical piano” by the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph (11/19, Terrace Theater). Later that evening brings two Juicy Scoop shows by the “#1 Female Podcaster in Comedy,” Heather McDonald, the incredibly funny stand-up sensation who got her start with Chelsea Lately (11/19, Terrace).

Two days later it’ll be time for a super-early “Holiday Celebration.” Yep, three days before Thanksgiving, who should come ho-ho-ho’ing into town but a performer famous for his seasonal merry-making ways, Harry Connick, Jr. (11/21, Concert Hall). Meanwhile, Thanksgiving will be bookended with performances by the Kansas City Ballet and its take on The Nutcracker, touted as “an enchanting theatrical experience” featuring live accompaniment by the Opera House Orchestra (11/23-27, Opera House).

For a non-holiday-themed treat over Thanksgiving weekend, you could consider the National Symphony Orchestra, led by Steven Reineke, to experience a live rendering of Christophe Beck’s score as Disney’s Frozen is projected on the big screen (11/25-26, Concert Hall).

On the eve of World AIDS Day, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle will sing in honor of the lives lost to the disease in the “It’s Not Over” concert presented by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation that is already sold out (11/30, Concert Hall). Another international diva, the late Eva Perón, will be honored by New York’s innovative Ballet Hispánico with Doña Perón, an explosive new portrait of Argentina’s most famous First Lady from internationally renowned choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and set to live music from Peter Salem (11/30-12/3, Eisenhower). The first weekend of December brings the annual sell-out sensation NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas, an international holiday hodgepodge this year featuring Japanese musical phenom Hiromi, Mountain Stage‘s Bob Thompson, and Bolivian prodigy José André Montaño (12/3, Terrace).

Last but not least are three very different theatrical productions opening in December, two of which are buzzy Broadway titles that will run well into the new year. And then there’s the Improvised Shakespeare Company, which boldly promises a different show each night of its two-week run, as quick-witted performers skilled in both long-form improv and the vaunted works of the troupe’s namesake devise an “off-the-cuff comedy using the language and themes of William Shakespeare,” taking their cue from an audience suggestion for play title (12/6-18, Theater Lab).

Meanwhile, the winner of last year’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play, comes to the Kennedy Center 40 years after it garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Focused on the murder and subsequent investigation of a Black sergeant in the segregated south of the 1940s, the thriller, a loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd and revived with a powerhouse cast led by Norm Lewis, “keeps you guessing all the way to the final curtain,” as the Wall Street Journal put it (12/13-1/8, Eisenhower).

Finally, theatergoers on the other side of the Hall of States will be trying to defy gravity once again to the soaring melodies of Wicked, the Broadway blockbuster and perpetually touring juggernaut that musical mastermind Stephen Schwartz concocted as “the untold true story of the Witches of Oz,” pre-Dorothy, almost 20 years ago (12/8-1/22, Opera House).

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