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

These professional design elements made an indelible impression on our writers this year. Did we overlook a favorite of yours? Let us know in a comment!

As 2021 drew to a close, we asked DCMTA writers to think back on the shows that left an indelible impression on them as theaters reopened this year. In this category, outstanding professional design, we recognize:

  • Design elements including set, sound, lighting, and costume
  • Directors and Choreographers
  • Music Directors and Artistic Directors

Here are the professional theater designers that left the biggest impression on our writers in 2021. Recipients are listed in alphabetical order by the show they are being recognized for.

Ro Boddie as Jay in ‘A Boy and His Soul.’ Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.

A Boy and His Soul, Round House Theatre
Matthew M. Nielsen, Sound Design

Music takes center stage in this streaming production. Sound Designer Matthew M. Nielsen does an excellent job weaving the blend of disco, R&B, and classic soul through the scenes. The songs ebb and flow throughout the production, at times taking over the moment and lulling Jay into the memory of the song, sometimes singing along, sometimes swaying, and always carrying the audience with him.
Read Kendall Mostafavi’s full review

Poster art by Kel Millionie

A Fairy Queen, IN Series
Timothy Nelson, Concept and Execution
Emily Baltzer, Head of Music

Placing A Fairy Queen (based on Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera The Fairy-Queen) in a radio studio goes right along with 17th-century versions of the practices of sampling, remixing, and mashup. And in Nelson’s knowledgeable hands it comes off not like a gimmick but as a doorway into discovery of connections between human emotion and experience in the two different eras. Who knew that lust and naughtiness in 17th-century Europe were not merely academic? Hearing Alleluias sung by Lucy Page with unmistakable orgasmic intent made me wonder “How long has this been going on?” and how much have I been missing when I encounter these older works?
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

Master of Ceremonies Percy Calhoun (Fashad Tyler) introduces the Dew Drop Inn performers in ‘A Snowy Nite at the Dew Drop Inn.’ Photo by Bill Lee.

A Snowy Nite at the Dew Drop Inn, Anacostia Playhouse
Stephawn Stephens, Director
William Knowles, Music Director
For its production of A Snowy Nite at the Dew Drop Inn, the Anacostia Playhouse is set up as a nightclub: tables, bar, stage, and a huge tip jar. The show is all music and dancing with well-executed patter between songs. There is a premise, but there is no book. We don’t need one. We are being invited to enter into this place to remind ourselves of our capacity, need, and responsibility to summon joy. While there may be many places that are called The Dew Drop Inn, it’s better to think of the establishment on stage as a product of imagination and memory. Anyone will find something in this show to delight. It’s just so much fun. At the same time, some Aframericans may experience A Snowy Nite at the Dew Drop Inn differently than people who are not from this culture. That’s because the show consists of popular songs from the rhythm and blues catalog that featured Aframerican performers. These songs documented the social progress of Aframericans’ access to American society as accurately as any poll. They also document the frustration and consolation from encountering obstacles to that social progress. Director Stephawn Stephens and Music Director William Knowles have taken care that the short time we have with this troupe is never anything short of entertaining.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

Antwayn Hopper (Thought 6), L Morgan Lee (Thought 1), Jason Veasey (Thought 5), Jaquel Spivey (Usher), James Jackson, Jr. (Thought 2), John-Michael Lyles (Thought 3), John-Andrew Morrison (Thought 4) in ‘A Strange Loop.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

A Strange Loop, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Stephen Brackett, Director
Raja Feather Kelly, Choreography
Rona Siddiqui, Music Director
The script is loaded with laughs; it whizzes by with like a zillion zingers, and Director Stephen Brackett paces the show brilliantly and hilariously.  And yet savor those amazing moments when the laughs abruptly halt, as though the audience as one just got gobsmacked by a damn-that-was-deep truth. The vibrant vocals (music direction by Rona Siddiqui) and vigorous choreography (by Raja Feather Kelly), combined with the Ensemble’s countless character impersonations, make for a musical theater lover’s dream team.
Read John Stoltenberg’s full review

Beauty and the Beast, Olney Theatre Center
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Direction

Helen Hayes Award-winner Marcia Milgrom Dodge successfully breaks Beauty and the Beast out of dated molds by casting leads who don’t fit traditional stereotypes. The result is a production that allows children of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds to imagine themselves on stage, or living in a fairy tale. Dodge’s directorial decisions change everything about the musical, bringing fresh diversity and new energy to a stultified formula.
Walter “Bobby” McCoy, Musical Direction
McCoy and his team of musicians create an enchanting musical backdrop that brings to life the reinvigorated tale of love and acceptance on Olney’s stage.
Narelle Sissons, Scenic Design
Sissons set centered around the interior of a two-story decayed mansion, home to the Beast. The design allowed outside elements, such as tree branches from the surrounding forest, to penetrate the mansion walls. Inside the mansion, the action was carried out on two levels, with the Beast roaming from an upper floor featuring a stained-glass rose counted down the time until his curse would be permanent, and a lower floor where he would descend to meet Belle on her own terms.
Read Darby Dejarnette’s full review

Boheme in the Heights, IN Series
Emma Ayala, Kat Navarro, Ezra Pailer, Alexi Scheiber, John Martinez, Animators
Carlos Cesar Rodriguez, Music Direction and Piano

In this production, the story of La Boheme is presented as a silent film that includes live-action images of the actor-singers embedded in animation that fluidly portrays the feelings and thoughts that permeate and affect the everyday reality around the characters. The singing that is meant to come from the characters on the screen is performed live with keyboard accompaniment. The live singing sometimes synchronizes perfectly with the image onscreen and sometimes not. You might imagine that this lack of synchronization would be an irritation, but that was not my experience. Instead, it felt like there were multiple augmented realities that we were experiencing in the room. Contrary to what happens when the sound is on the same piece of film as the images you are watching, this live performance brought the breath and urgency that the on-screen characters were experiencing out into the same room that we occupied as audience members. We experienced these human sounds — of suffering, ecstasy, joy, and hope — without the intermediaries of vinyl and needle or cellulose acetate and light. At the same time, the images moved in confluence with the changes in the music.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

Morgan Siobhan Green (Euridice) and Nicholas Barsch (Orpheus) with, in background, Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne (The Fates) in ‘Hadestown.’ Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Hadestown, The Kennedy Center (national tour)
Michael Krass, Costume Design

Four-time Tony nominee Michael Krass brings color and imaginative flair to the costumes of Hadestown. This colorful, theatrical carnival evokes the likes of Thomas Hart Benton’s paintings of everyday American life, the unfettered dancing of Josephine Baker, the ground-breaking Jazz of Louis Armstrong, and the syncopated rhythms of Basin Street’s Afro-Caribbean diaspora with its syncopated “Strut.” It’s a huge kettle of N’awlins’ roots and shoots plunked down into a parable as old as time immemorial.
Read Jordan Wright’s full review
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

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

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Olney Theatre Center
Jacob A. Climber, Scenic and Costume Design
Christopher Youstra, Music Direction
Max Doolittle, Lighting Design
Matt Rowe, Sound Design
Patrick Lord, Projection Design

Scenic and Costume Designer Jacob A. Climber does a great job in transforming a historic theater stage into a cluttered and chaotic rock concert platform, complete with well-worn instruments and untidily stacked, duct-taped speakers. Music Director Christopher Youstra leads a live band on stage, and with effects from Lighting Designer Max Doolittle and Sound Designer Matt Rowe, the combined atmosphere brings about the same awed reaction as a Fourth of July fireworks display. Projections designed by Patrick Lord bring another layer to the show and are especially helpful in illustrating Hedwig’s anecdotes.
Johanna McKeon, Director
Part musical, part rock concert, and part stand-up comedy, this avant-garde production, as directed by Johanna McKeon, packs a thrilling punch. A steady undercurrent of pain and insecurity is felt from Hedwig throughout the show and the historic space is transformed into an immersive dive bar. Olney’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch isn’t for the faint-hearted. Aside from its general raucous nature, it’s also LOUD, and not just from the music…the audience’s standing ovation was so enthusiastic that it left my ears ringing.
Read Julia Amis’ full review

Tsaitami Duchicela (Liesl), Savina Barini (back, Young Lupita), Patrick Ko (front, Leopold), and Christopher Rios (Father) in ‘Luchadora!’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Luchadora!, Adventure Theatre
Kerry McGee and Vanessa Losada, Choreography

Written by the award-winning playwright Alvaro Saar Rios, Luchadora! dives into the exciting world of lucha libre — Mexican freestyle wrestling, which dates back to 1863 and was developed and invented from Greco-Roman wrestling. Co-Fight Choreographer/Wrestling Expert Kerry McGee and Co-Fight Choreographer Vanessa Losada created fantastic fight sequences for Adventure Theatre’s Luchadora! The fights are realistic-looking and exciting, complete with flips, elbow drops and throws against the ropes. The responses from the crowd were especially loud and exuberant during these matches. My son “oof”ed and cringed, while a group of young girls screamed in delight whenever a spectacular move was executed. The energy was palpable as, quite literally, a woman battles against toxic masculinity.
Read Kendall Mostafavi’s full review

Show art for Ovations Theatre’s 2021–22 season.

Multiple productions, Ovations Theatre
Darnell Morris, Founder and Artistic Director
DCMTA recognizes Darnell Morris for creating nurturing educational opportunities for area youth throughout the pandemic (and before). Under Morris’ leadership, Ovations grew into a theater school with its own venue, an accomplishment on its own even without the complications of the Covid economy. Throughout 2021, Morris oversaw several high-quality productions for teens and young people allowing them to learn the craft of theater and broaden their horizons.
Read about Ovations Theatre

Herbert Siguenza (Don Quixote/Jose Quijano) and the cast of ‘Quixote Nuevo.’ Photo by Margot Schulman Photography.

Quixote Nuevo, Round House Theatre
Milagros Ponce de León, Set Design

Scenic design by DC-area veteran Milagros Ponce de León features a rough-hewn adobe building that doubles as a border wall when tilted, a reminder of the impact of the border on those living near the US/Mexico border and a nod to the political and humanitarian impacts of the divisive border wall.
Helen Huang, Costume and Puppet Design

Helen Huang’s costume and puppet designs punctuate the stage with pops of Mexican colors, dancing calacas (skeletons), and puppets that grow in splendor and significance as the story progresses. The puppets perform a central role in the show’s climax as they come to represent Quixote’s dreams and delusions.
Read Nicole Hertvik’s full review

‘Red Bike’ show art courtesy of Pan Underground.

Red Bike, Pan Underground
Aria Velz, Sound Design

In Pan Underground’s inaugural production, Caridad Svich’s play Red Bike was re-imagined as an outdoor production designed to be viewed casually or intently as part of an outdoor festival. The script (originally written for one voice) was recorded by three separate performers. Aria Velz’ then combined the separate recordings to create the effect of a dialogue between three separate voices. This recording was then played at the live event during which time a fourth actor mimed the actions of the script. The overall effect was that audiences experienced the inner workings of a child’s mind as several voices competed for primacy in the child’s thoughts.
Read Nicole Hertvik’s feature

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
Matthew Gardiner, Director

Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner has directed Rent as if we were in the midst of the characters’ challenges with the story happening all around us. The take on the production, more than 25 years after it first opened, proves once again that groups of young people may suffer greatly and will face enormous odds at being included in society’s plan; they will be blamed and shunned for society’s ills but will find community with one another and ultimately choose love.
Paige Hathaway, Set Designer
In Set Designer Paige Hathaway’s masterly immersive world, we’re all pushed out on the street, outside abandoned tenements, forced to rub up against each other and form uneasy alliances and open ourselves to new life experiences, perspectives, and identities. Signature has a great space to play with for musicals and Hathaway did a fantastic job of utilizing it and providing small details that connect the audience to this particular time and place in NYC.
Read Susan Galbraith’s full review
Read John Stoltenberg’s interview with Matthew Gardiner

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

Seven Guitars, Arena Stage
Tazewell Thompson, Director

Under the direction of Tazewell Thompson, the production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Arena Stage has a running time of almost three hours. And it’s worth every minute. Director Thompson has created an atmosphere that encourages his actors to literally physically embody the musicality that is in the language. That embodiment demonstrates this cooperative and collective relationship between Floyd, the putative protagonist of the play, and all of the rest of the characters in this community. That embodiment by the actors is contagious, and under its influence, this show soars. The actors don’t just speak their dialog, they almost dance it.
Harry Nadal, Costume Designer
Harry Nadal’s costumes for Seven Guitars were sensual and eloquent. When everyone got dressed up to go to the nightclub to hear the men play, the sense of occasion-appropriate sexiness was delightful, with each costume amping up the titillation until Ruby’s scene-stealing entry in a hussy-red gown.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review
Read Ramona Harper’s interview with Tazewell Thompson

The cast of ‘The Amen Corner.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

The Amen Corner, Shakespeare Theatre Company
Whitney White, Direction

With the brilliant directorial conception of Whitney White, who previously helmed Aleshea Harris’ ritualistic What to Send up When It Goes Down at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, The Amen Corner pays homage to ritual through the vernacular of the Black Church in the rhythm, music, and movement of this emotionally moving play-with-music. The Beloved Community is at the heart of The Amen Corner’s message. But the heart is on trial in a village struggling to express love when the real issue is lack of self-love and yearnings that cannot be hidden in safe spaces.
Victor Simonson, Music Direction
Under Music Director Victor Simonson, the affirmation of song completes each dramatic crescendo in storytelling. Just like a Greek chorus that exchanges tragedy for jubilation, the choir’s powerfully pleasing voices could resurrect Dionysius. The soul-stirring singing adds clout to a joyous shout, while the piano man takes the jazz out of the club and blasts it at the altar.
Daniel Soule, Set Design
The set, brilliantly designed by Daniel Soule, defines the two worlds colliding in James Baldwin’s drama, the inside world of a Black congregation church against the dark and oppressive backdrop of a tenement apartment block. Behind that char-grey wall, not only do you feel for the poor trapped inside these prison-like cells, but as faces peer out and down you understand how such neighbors become both spies and judges of human behavior. These walls remind us, if we need reminding, what a character says later on: “Our only sin was being poor, Maggie.”
Read Susan Galbraith’s full review
Read Ramona Harper’s full review
Read John Stoltenberg’s interview with Whitney White

Michael Russotto as Morrie Schwartz and Cody Nickell as Mitch Albom in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Tuesdays with Morrie, Theatre J
Andrew R. Cissna, Lighting Design
Debra Kim Sivigny, Set Design

Andrew R. Cissna’s lighting adds texture to the show during scene changes that could otherwise have felt static. Scenic Designer Debra Kim Sivigny’s design riffs on the Japanese Maple that Morrie can see outside his window. A large stenciled tree appears to the rear of the stage, and autumn leaves that descend from the sky hint at the cyclical nature of life and seasons.
Read Nicole Hertvik’s full review

Vaughn Ryan Midder, Alicia Grace, David Landstrom, Lynette Rathnam, and Tyasia Velines (Puppet by Matthew McGee) in ‘A Wind in the Door.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

Wind in the Door, The Kennedy Center
Matt McGee, Puppets
Ivania Stack, Costumes
Luciana Stecconi, Scenic Design

Wind in the Door, the sequel to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, features a gorgeous set designed by Luciana Stecconi. The production includes a towering puppet (by Matt McGee) and a lovable dragon-esque creature named Progo, charmingly played by Tyasia Velines, with a magically colorful costume (designed by Ivania Stack) using Velines’ arms as dragon necks with a head on each hand. The overall effect is wildly imaginative and breathtaking.
Read Kendall Mostafavi’s full review


DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performances 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


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