Glimpses of the Moon
By Gary McMillan
September 17, 2010
Pop, fizz, deliriously good. Mash up the sensibilities of
Gatsby and Thoroughly Modern Millie; pour over jazz-kissed show tunes laced
with interesting harmonies (John Mercurio); stir in a
witty book and lyrics (Tajlei Levis) — especially
dazzling when cross-talking lyrics float on the intricate score; and before you
can say, “Gilded Age” or “Roaring Twenties,” you have Metro Stage’s ‘ champagne cocktail ‘ season opener, Glimpses of the Moon, a romantic musical comedy based on the Edith
The story revolves around penniless
Susy Branch (Natascia Diaz,
headlining a talented cast of seven) who is having a madcap (if not care free)
existence living off the largess of her socialite friends, while longing for a
nest egg of her own. For pals Ellie Vanderlyn (Gia Mora) and Ursula Gillow
(Lauren “Coco” Cohn), no dinner party is
complete without a sprinkling of guests outside their income bracket and/or
social circle to add interest and amusement. Susy is
on tap to demonstrate the latest dance craze. Ursula has scholar Nick Lansing
(Sam Ludwig) in tow. His specialty is antiquities, but Ursula couldn’t be
bothered to know her potters from her poets (providing a slight hint of Cohn’s
comedic gifts in the first of her three roles). Like Susy,
Nick only can pursue his research on expeditions financed by wealthy
dilettantes who are more interested in plundering relics than preserving them
(a five thousand year old earthenware pots can be repurposed as a charming
backyard bird bath).
When Susy and Nick are thrown
together, they lament their common bond of dependency. All would be swell if they could each “marry up.” But single girls of a
certain age are often excluded from fashionable parties and the best homes,
whereas married couples are asked everywhere. In a fun duet, “The Proposal,” Nick
suggests a marriage of convenience. Susy cozies up to
the idea with glee, almost as giddy as Sweeney Todd’s Mrs. Lovett when she
realizes where her next meal – literally – might be coming from. It’s wedding
bells for Nick and Susy, and they are off on a year
long quest to find wealthy mates while residing in a series of accommodations
provided by their network of friends and benefactors with expenses covered by
hocking the wedding presents along the way.
Several subplots are cleverly interwoven into the story as
well. Ellie provides summer lodging to Susy and Nick
as cover for own summer dalliance with a lover who is even more wealthy than
her husband Nelson (Stephen F. Schmidt). Susy’s
friend Streffy (Matthew A. Anderson) is smitten with
her but has limited financial resources himself, being way down the succession
totem pole in the aristocratic Strefford family.
Finally, Coral Hicks (another Lauren Cohn role) – a character echoing such
iconic roles as Agnes Gooch and Zelda Gilroy – enters decked out in explorer
gear like some demented National Geographic cover girl. She is determined to
bag Nick, married or not.
Natascia Diaz’s talent has graced Broadway
and off-Broadway productions and garnered several regional awards (including
the Helen Hayes for her performance in Metro Stage’s ROOMS, a rock romance). As Susy, she is
bright and beautiful, a triple threat of acting, singing and dancing talent,
enchanting in the romantic scenes but equally as adept at comedy of the vintage
madcap variety. Gia Mora embodies sophistication, but
with enough brass beneath the class to add an interesting edge to the
philandering Ellie Vanderlyn. As she sings the text
of letters sent to her husband, designed to make her husband believe she
actually is at their summer home by lamenting the domestic drudgery of running
a household and managing the servants, she coaxes every laugh with a subtle
look, gesture or turn of phrase. She’s a real minx with a fox stole as well.
Cohn fits the bill as society
matron and maid, but pulls out all the stops when playing Coral (“Take a Chance
on Me”) Hicks. In one scene, she tackles the song “The
Glories of Greece” and wrestles it to the floor by shear determination, and
manages to send the audience into roaring laughter with her rendering of the
word “unearth.” She’s equally hilarious in a scene where she gets a makeover
under the direction of Ellie, who is more than willing to show her a thing or
two about stealing a husband. Unlike the classic setup where the ugly duckling
removes her glasses, lets down her hair and, voilà,
transforms into a swan, Coral stumbles around blind as a bat trying not to fall
off her high heels.
The male trio also deliver
excellent performances. Sam Ludwig makes a very dashing leading man, deftly
making his way through a somewhat problematic role which has him jumping into
an arranged marriage while also assuming the role of moral compass for the
couple. But what is madcap comedy without the human foibles and glaring
contradictions. Matthew A. Anderson as Winthrop
“Streffy” Strefford turns
on a dime from good-hearted buddy to stuffy upper crust when three of his
relatives perish in a disastrous regatta – his ship comes in because theirs go
down. Anderson can’t help flying into a joyous jig
amid the mourners at the funeral to the very funny song “Terrible News.”
Stephen F. Schmidt as Ellie’s deceived and abandoned husband, Nelson, fills the
role with pathos in his standout moment of song, “Tell Her I’m Happy,” serving
as the evenings most poignant object lesson that money cannot buy happiness.
One last performer rounds out the cast. When the estranged
couple Susy and Nick have an awkward meeting with
their new attachments in a supper club, a cabaret singer suggest in song –
“Right Here, Right Now” – that they patch up their differences. Glimpses was
originally performed Monday nights in the Oak Room Supper Club in the Algonquin
Hotel, so it’s only natural to have a scene set there. Metro Stage has arranged
for three divas to rotate in the role of the cabaret singer, Lori A. Williams
(who brought down the house on opening night), Tracy McMullan and Roz White.
For an intimate show, the
production values are wonderful. The set design (Daniel Pinha)
in blue and white, complete with crystal chandelier, is the hallmark of elegance,
namely simplicity. Andrew F. Griffin’s lighting design complements the sets
whether suggesting the warm glow of a sunset or perking up a party atmosphere.
Lisa Zinni’s costumes –she’s assembled enough to give
Neiman Marcus a run for its money – capture the glamour of the era with evening
gowns, cocktail dresses, a wedding
dress, and scarves, furs and other finery, including Coral’s tomb-raider
ensemble and a sporty sailor suit for Susy (I can now
picture Natascia Diaz as Reno Sweeney). The gents are
also dressed to the nines.
Of course, there would be no beautiful music without the
terrific three-piece band: Darius Smith, both musical director and conductor,
on keyboard, Brent Birckhead on woodwind/reeds, and
Greg Holloway on percussion. Steve Baena’s sound
design ensures that voice and instruments blend and fall clear as day on the
If this production is any indication, Glimpses of the Moon will find its way into the repertoires of
regional professional and community theatres across the country.
Moon Shine: With the
new musical Glimpses of the Moon, Alexandria's
MetroStage puts on a dazzling, transporting show
By Doug Rule
September 23, 2010
Marry for money? Why not? If one marries up, life can be
that much better.
That, at least, is the guiding philosophy of Susy Branch, lead character in the new old-fashioned
musical Glimpses of the Moon, now
enjoying its World Premiere at Alexandria's
MetroStage. In Branch's 1920s America, the
benefits that accrue from a marriage -- not just wedding gifts but also
invitations to high-society events -- keep on giving long after the ceremony.
Based on a 1922 novel by Edith Wharton, Glimpses of the Moon crackles with wit
and barbed cultural references. Writer Tajlei Levis
embellishes Wharton's satiric tale by poking a little fun at some of the dated
gender dynamics at play, and certainly at the cliché
that money can't buy you love. Oh, but money can help love along.
Glimpses of the Moon also confirms that real love is
blind and can overcome financial hurdles -- and also that new, quality theater
isn't just the preserve of the better-known, better-funded and better-located
MetroStage may be housed in a glorified tin
barn, tucked away in a bland, almost barren part of Alexandria. But expectations can be
deceiving. This unassuming company certainly knows how to put on a dazzling,
In this case, MetroStage
transports us to the Jazz Age high society, where strivers Suzy (Natascia Diaz) and Nick Lansing (Sam Ludwig) meet at a Manhattan brownstone and
hash out a plan to marry. There is obvious chemistry between the two from the
start, but Suzy, especially, can't see it for the dollar signs in her eyes.
She's transfixed by all the lavish
wedding gifts the Lansings
will earn from their rich friends, which they can then pawn, living off the
earnings for a good year or so. By then, they can each find a wealthy suitor to
get hitched to. Of course love complicates the scheme, as does the arrival of
wealthy suitors, literally begging for their respective hands in marriage.
Glimpses of the Moon drags a bit in spots,
and John Mercurio's very contemporary but not
terribly memorable score, serviceably brought to life by a three-piece band,
doesn't hasten the proceedings. It's often both buoyant and plodding at nearly
the same time, such as in the opening company number. But Lisa Zinni's sumptuous costume designs will captivate you. Zinni helps make high society living look as appealing as
Also richly aiding the story, making it glow, is a strong
cast. Particular praise is due Diaz, a New
York actress who won a Helen Hayes Award for her last
stint at MetroStage (ROOMS, a rock romance). Diaz, whose voice calls to mind Bernadette
Peters, has the star power to suggest we'll be seeing and hearing a lot more
That verdict solidifies even more when you learn that Diaz
only assumed the lead role just a week or so before the musical opened earlier
this month. You'd never know she hadn't been rehearsing the role from the
get-go. On that score, Lauren Cohn is perhaps even more impressive. She only
joined the cast the last week of rehearsals to assume Diaz's former roles --
yes, roles, plural.
Cohn is such a professional, she not only acts as if she's
been at all three comedic roles as long as the rest of the cast, she even
steals the show as Coral Hicks, a wealthy intellectual obsessed with wooing
''Until we find love, we'll have a lovely time,'' goes a
line from the show. The nuance in that statement perfectly captures the feeling
you'll have leaving the theater, stepping out into the moonlight, preparing to
head back to the hustle and bustle.
Glimpses of the Moon
By Susan Berlin
Glimpses of the Moon, the "Jazz Age musical"
receiving its world premiere production at MetroStage
in Alexandria, Virginia, is a slight but charming piece of
work, worth seeking out because of its richly talented cast—two members of
which had the task of learning their roles on very short notice.
The musical by Tajlei Levis (book
and lyrics) and John Mercurio (music), based on a
novel by Edith Wharton, examines—in a more lighthearted way than such other
Wharton works as The House of Mirth—the dilemma that faced an early
20th-century woman born into society but short of money. She could either marry
a rich man, regardless of what else he had to offer, or live as what Susy Branch (Natascia Diaz) calls
a "parasite" in the homes of wealthy friends.
The year is 1922; the setting, a world of
elaborate vacation "cottages" and glittering New York penthouses. Susy
and her friend Nick Lansing (Sam Ludwig), a historian and aspiring novelist who
pays the bills by leading private tours of ancient Greek sites, set the plot in
motion by banding together in their respective searches for a husband and a
patron. Their plan: marry each other and live well off the proceeds of their
generous friends' wedding gifts as they seek out more likely prospects. The
surprises come from the moral quandaries Susy and
Nick have to confront as they navigate the unfamiliar currents of acquisition,
propriety, and even love.
Diaz, who received the Helen Hayes Award for her
performance in Rooms... a rock romance
at MetroStage, took over the role of Susy when the original performer had vocal problems and had
to leave the cast. She may not be ideally cast as a post-debutante taking her
first independent steps, but her presence is so assured and her voice so strong
that it doesn't really matter. She also partners well with the boyish Ludwig.
The rest of the cast includes Gia
Mora as a duplicitous socialite; Stephen F. Schmidt as her stodgy but loving
husband; Matthew A. Anderson as a louche minor
English aristocrat; and Lauren "Coco" Cohn, a bubbly singing actress
making her Washington area debut, in the three roles Diaz had originally
played—most notably a tweedy young woman who could be the rich cousin of Agnes
Gooch from Mame.
The songs are pleasant if evanescent, occasionally
derivative (a distracting bit of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" wanders
through the overture) and a good enough fit with Levis' witty book. Director-choreographer
David Marquez makes the most of the theater's small stage, and musical director
Darius Smith keeps things lively as part of a three-piece onstage band.
fizz in this Wharton-meets-Astaire/Rogers musical
By Bob Mondello
September 17, 2010
No Gain: For the most part, this Jazz Age musical has great fizz.
Glimpses of the Moon, a new Jazz Age musical based on the novel penned by Edith
Wharton right after she won a Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, may be
less than the sum of its parts at MetroStage in Alexandria. But oh, those
shimmering parts: sparkling rhinestone-in-the-rough Natascia
Diaz as a penniless, sweetly amoral flapper who can kick up her heels at
anatomically unlikely angles but has never learned to waltz; Sam Ludwig as the
equally penniless, slightly-less-amoral anthropologist who teams up with her in
a pawn-the-wedding-presents scam that can only go awry should they
inadvertently fall in love; Lauren “Coco” Cohn, who giddily channels Ruth Buzzi (ask your parents) as a pop-eyed,
anthropologist-smitten (“speak to me, in Greek to me”) heiress in desperate
need of a makeover; Gia Mora as a slinky,
silk-swathed slattern who’s just the gal to give her that makeover; Matthew A.
Anderson tapping up a storm as an impoverished earl-in-waiting who is three
cousins removed from his title; and Stephen F. Schmidt as a clueless rich guy
who’s never more appealing than when he’s hiding his anguish from an ex-wife
who doesn’t give a damn. All pretty splendid, if not always ideally cast (the
plot would have more tension if the leading man were Shrek-ish,
his competition handsome rather than the other way ’round). But that’s a
quibble, and considering that director David Marquez had to get the show up on
its feet and dancing, with fully a third of the cast arriving halfway through
rehearsals, let me just withdraw it. Performances are hardly Glimpses of the Moon’s only charms.
Composer John Mercurio has penned some appropriately
bouncy ’20s-ish tunes (along with some less appropriate power ballads that
could only hail from decades later). And Tajlei Levis
has framed them in a pleasantly smart-ass libretto that mixes musical comedy
directness (“you need a husband in order to find a better one”) with James
Joyce jests (“omitting punctuation doesn’t make a book modern, just hard to
read”). This does not, of course, even remotely capture the tone of Wharton’s
novel (sample sentence: “It was of the essence of the adventure that, after her
one brief visit to his lodgings, he should have kept his promise and not tried
to see her again”), but the show was designed to suit its first venue—the Oak
Roam of New York’s Algonquin Hotel, where Dorothy Parker and her buddies
gathered for roundtable quippery—and it’s generally
fun in performance. The show’s chief drawback is that it wants to tug at
heartstrings, but traffics almost exclusively in emotional shorthand, whereas
Wharton had time in her novel to have her principals change their minds about
principles. On stage, characters who’ve been blithely scamming rich folks all
evening develop scruples at such authorially
convenient moments, and with such logic-challenging abruptness in the second
act, that the show starts to seem a Glimpses
of the Moon for the Slightly Misbegotten, when it has aspired until
then—for the most part with considerable fizz—to be a latter-day Astaire/Rogers
MetroStage production gives ‘Glimpses’ of the
By Jolene Munch Cardoza
If you’ve ever visited Newport, R.I., and
frolicked among the grand summer “cottages” that dot the jagged New England coastline, then you’ve dreamt of spending
leisurely summers by the sea, drenched in the finest trappings money can buy.
Once boasted of as the summertime “playground for the rich,” Newport lavishly hosted the wealthiest of
American society at the height of the Gilded Age — one stroll along shady Bellevue Avenue and
you’re mingling with the Vanderbilts and the Astors, scheduling tea and croquet matches. It’s a fantasy
that’s easily indulged in such a romantic town.
Geography aside, who hasn’t
imagined life among the posh and pampered, draped in furs and jewels? It’s a
world curiously familiar to Susy and Nick, the two
broke protagonists in Tajlei Levis and John Mercurio’s
“Glimpses of the Moon,” an
irrepressible ode to happiness and the entrepreneurial spirit in us all.
Based on the 1922 novel by Edith Wharton, the musical
version of “Glimpses” grants mere
snapshots of the glamour and gore inside the lives of the upper crust at the
beginning of the 20th century, an alluring “expose” that allows our venturesome
young couple to scheme a way to ensure plush financial means, and thus, their
freedom. What better way to skimp off of their wealthy
socialite friends than to, say, get married? “Not for love, but for
money” and all that jazz, the two plot to wed and pawn off their wedding gifts
to pay the rent, just until they can wrangle more “suitable” mates with maisons. And as fate and Edith Wharton would have it,
naturally, they never planned on falling in love.
It’s an intriguing construct, and Wharton’s searing social
commentary is not lost in a whirl of strong musical acumen. At times
wonderfully witty and whimsical, “Glimpses”
retains its histrionic bite through David Marquez’s shrewd management of timing
and temperament. Once the action moves past the awkward opening number, overstaged with manic energy by Marquez, the music is
sparkling and the jazz smolders with fluid music direction from Darius Smith.
There’s not a weak performance in the ensemble cast, including Natascia Diaz and Sam Ludwig as the conspiring duo who
steal more than just the other’s heart. But it’s Lauren “Coco”
Cohn’s zany interpretations of three distinct characters that ultimately steal
Unfortunately, as with most conventions of music theater, there is a tendency toward the sanitized.
It’s 1922, but there’s nary a mention of the war or international politics, the
economy, or industry other than the passing fancy of an occasional syncopated
lyric. Everyone’s living it up on the cusp of the Jazz Age, yet the actors are overamplified and the champagne flutes are empty. Still,
there’s an inherent likability in “Glimpses” and whatever it may lack in
style, it more than makes up for in substance.
“Love and common sense never go together,” claims a padded
suitor in MetroStage’s giddy and game production, a
lovely tribute to “modern” matrimony and the charming chicanery of the wealthy,
both old and new.
low-life schemes and love
By Jordan Wright
Friday, October 1,
MetroStage’s worldwide premiere of “Glimpses of the Moon” is based on social
commentator Edith Wharton’s witty and incisive novel of the same title. It
focuses on a hilarious hustle set in Manhattan
and the posh watering holes of Maine, the Hamptons and Newport, Rhode Island
during the rip-roaring Jazz Age.
Down-on-her-luck flapper Suzy Branch and brainy, but
flat-busted Harvard archaeologist Nick Lansing have caviar tastes on a bathtub
gin budget. Together they concoct a calculated subterfuge to platonically wed,
amassing enough pawn-worthy wedding swag and visits to the palatial digs of
their well-heeled friends to last an entire year. During that time the
unscrupulous but adorable duo expect to divorce and marry up.
But, here’s the expected rub: They fall madly in love with
Notwithstanding the predictability of such familiar
characters, this fast-paced musical is a clever, sophisticated and captivating
dish served up with a huge scoop of humor.
The music, on par with Sondheim’s best, supported the plot
with 16 dazzling numbers, like, “Cigars,” a moralistic musing on whether or not
to pawn a host’s box of Havana
cigars. It’s a conundrum filled with catchy lines. In the song their host, Streffy, retorts, “You drank gin from my bar. Why not take
“Dinner Party with Friends,” a jaunty ensemble piece,
channels Noel Coward and F. Scott Fitzgerald and his East Egg swells with a
riotous seated dance as guests chronicle the social pressures of pretense and
how to maintain it.
Outstanding are Helen Hayes award-winner Natascia Diaz as the spunky and sensitive Suzy, whose
singing and dancing are pitch perfect; Gia Mora, as
the well-married seductress, Ellie Vanderlyn, who
brims with polish and stylish snap; Stephen Schmidt, as the suave and cuckolded
Nelson Vanderlyn, who tackles the part so
effortlessly it seems as though the part was written just for him; and Lauren
“Coco” Cohn a veteran of “Legally Blonde 2” and “Desperate Housewives,” who as
a hugely talented comedic character actor plays three roles including the
awkward heiress, Coral Hicks, and the conspiratorial maid.
Another winning performance comes from Matthew Anderson as Winthrop “Streffy” Strefford. Anderson is a
blonde-haired, blue-eyed version of Nathan
Lane who tears up the stage with his hoofing and
vamping. Look for him to return in MetroStage’s “A Broadway Christmas Carol” beginning
its run on November 18.
Although Sam Ludwig’s portrayal of Nick Lansing appeared a
bit tentative in the frothy pace, he ditched his hesitancy in his duets, and
his pure voice was a perfect harmonic counterpoint.
The catchy songs are supported by the cool flourishes of
veteran musicologist and pianist, Darius Smith; woodwind/reed doubler, Brent Birkhead who this
summer gained recognition from Downbeat Magazine as Best Blues/Pop/Rock
soloist; and D.C. native Greg Holloway on percussion, who recently backed Pam
Parker at Washington’s Blues Alley.
Most recently the partnership of John Mercurio’s
music and Tajlei Levis’s
book and lyrics had only showcased their numbers at New York’s famed Algonquin Hotel, where it
was performed in the Oak Room over a period of several months. The hotel, which
was the daily lunch spot of the illustrious “Round Table,” a coterie of elite
writers, editors and wry wits who gathered there in the ’20s, has a cabaret
where “Glimpses of the Moon” was
first shown and explains the appearance in the second act of the dazzling torch
singer, played by Rosalind White.