Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director Ethan Heard nimbly brings out both the heart and the sometimes excessive behavior of his leading characters on Richard Ouellette's set, which depicts the area around the stage door of Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre during the year stage diva Idina Menzel starred there in the musical If/Then. Judy (Dani Stoller) is a real estate agent and struggling actress trying to break into big-time musical theater; her longtime friend Jeff (Mike Millan) is an affable fellow and professional drag queen who also teaches movement classes. They both worship Idina and seek her validation by repeatedly visiting the stage door in hopes of getting her autograph.
Stoller gives an appealing, often moving performance. However, for most of the play Millan gets more of a chance to stand out by stepping away from the expected, particularly in his astonishing drag tribute to Idina.
The concern here is that the single-mindedness of the lead characters may put off audience members who don't argue at length over which Broadway production of Gypsy featured the definitive performance of "Rose's Turn" and wouldn't tease their new friend Mark (Michael Tacconi), former investment banker and now aspiring actor, for the fact that he enjoyed the current, ongoing revival of Chicago and had never listened to the cast album of the original production from 1975. The homages to Stephen Sondheim and the use of Avenue Q as a touchstone resonate with those who share the characters' obsessions but may seem esoteric to those who don't.
That said, costume designer Frank Labovitz has created some amazing fashion statements for the two leads, as well as amusing character wear for Nina-Sophia Pacheco in her three widely divergent roles.
Which Way to the Stage runs through January 22, 2023, in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or visit www.SigTheatre.org.
By Ana Nogueira