UrbanAria’s ‘Blue Viola’ at Artisphere

Feelin’ Blue?

Are you a violist who’s feeling unwanted and underappreciated?

Then run down to UrbanArias‘ entertaining and high-strung English sung short opera Blue Viola, and you’ll be playing more inspiring music when you leave the intimate Artisphere Black Box.

Do you own a Stradivarius violin?

Then you too should be russian over there, and I promise your self-worth – or your ego – or at least your instrument – will feel like a million bucks.

Alicia Olatuja (Arnita Seward). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Alicia Olatuja (Arnita Seward). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

UrbanArias is presenting an hour-long new English opera with music by Peter Hilliard and libretto by Matt Boresi, directed by Tazewell Thompson, that is filled with gorgeous music, a clever and often-funny and tongue-in-cheek libretto, and a cast of talented singers – each possessing a gorgeous voice.

Set and Lighting Designer Donald Eastman created 3 sets of large walls created from boxes that were rolled around and lit to take us to the new venue of each new scene. Harry Nadal designed the effective and colorful costumes, and for Arnita he createdmulti-colored and ‘loud’ colors and patterns whuch accurately reflect her colorful and outrageous personality. No one is credited in the program with the swooshy windy sounds we hear during the production, but it was so effective that I put my scarf on when the winds picked up.

I had so much fun at Blue Viola that I hope they record it because I would wear it out that CD very quickly.

This story of Blue Viola is wacky fun.

Vernon Addams (Jorell Williams) and Arnita Seward (Alicia Olatuja). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Vernon Addams (Jorell Williams) and Arnita Seward (Alicia Olatuja). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

A Chicago Symphony musician has accidentally left his viola on a street in The Windy City and an assertive dealer of junk and tchotchkes (nick nacks), named Vernon Addams (Baritone Jorell Williams), vocally introduces himself as “A King of Lost Things.” He takes his newly-found instrument home and nurtures it like it’s his own son. He sits and smiles at it and admires it.

In walks his friend/girlfriend- the ever-kvetching and frustrated Arnita Seward (Mezzo-Soprano Alicia Olatuja), who sings, “Ain’t Never Had a Good Day,” and who gets this hairbrained idea that this instrument – which she believes to be an expensive violin – is going to make her rich.

She and Vernon have a loud fight and she scoops up the ‘violin’ and runs to her off-the-wall boss ‘Mikey’ Stearns, played by Baritone Keith Phares, (who owns a cookie company and also sells beef sandwiches-who sings about “South of the Loop”) and he instantly believes that what he has in front of him is a priceless Stradivarius violin. You can hear the cash register keys in their minds go “Ka-Ching, Ka-Ching,” as visions of Annie’s “Easy Street” filled the space. These two cartoon characters are hilarious.

Keith Phares ('Mikey' Stearns) and Ben Lurye (Fritz Humboldt). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Keith Phares (‘Mikey’ Stearns) and Ben Lurye (Fritz Humboldt). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Mikey bring the ‘violin’ to a clever and all-knowing instrument dealer, Fritz Humboldt (Tenor Benjamin Lurye), who sings an uproarious ode to the under-appreciated viola: “The Story of the Viola.” And then more craziness occurs. Get off my case – I am not giving any more of the plot away!

Robert Woods energetically conducted the talented members of the Inscape Chamber Orchestra.

Violist Megan Yanik was hardly blue as she reminded the audience how the violin is not the only stringed instrument that makes beautiful music. Her fellow musicians cellist Natalie Spehar, pianist R. Timothy McReynolds, bassist Ali Cook, guitarist Christopher Wass, and clarinetist Evan Ross Solomon also performed Peter Hilliard’s new, jazzy, bluesy, and operatic score with great emotion.

I will be honest with you-I am a huge fan of UrbanArias and I have sent reviewers who have never stepped into an opera in their lives before they saw an UrbanArias production. Each of them has returned on their own to see other UrbanArias’ works, and have attended full-length operas. UrbanArias is a great place to introduce your family and friends to the world of opera, and Blue Viola is the perfect opera to take an opera newbie to see.

I’ve seen a lot of UrbanArias’ new operas, but Blue Viola is my new all-time favorite and blue is my new favorite color! Come and find out why this viola is a liar. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission. A talkback followed the performance.


Blue Viola plays through March 29, 2015 at UrbanArias performing at the Black Box Theatre at Artisphere – 1101 Wilson Boulevard, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (888) 841-2787, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif


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Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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