It’s like a cultural Moscow on the Potomac. Three back-to-back programs focusing on Russian performing arts are coming to Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville.
They reflect the large Russian population in the metropolitan area, observed Janet Bohm, president of the Washington Balalaika Society, whose Orchestra is presenting one of those events, and Anastasia Vorontsova, president of the Association of Russian-speaking Theatres, which is offering the other two.
“I Won’t Grow Up”
Opening what might be loosely called a festival is a Russian-language production of “Peter Pan,” a musical play both children and adults will appreciate, said Vorontsova. The music is an original score by Silver Spring composer Alexander Bondarev with lyrics by Boris Zakhoder.
There have been countless versions of “Peter Pan,” but the association is working with the original play by James Barrie — as translated by Zakhoder — not the Disney version.
The production has nearly all the elements audiences are used to in “Peter Pan,” except there is no Native American tribe since that is outside the radar screen of most Russians, said Alexandra Alekseyeva, who is playing Mrs. Darling and co-directing. Vorontsova and Elena Tkacheva-Wells are co-directing. “The production is by kids for kids,” said Alekseyeva, a sophomore at Winston Churchill High School.
Vorontsova said she chose “Peter Pan” to explore the themes of growing up and the unwillingness to grow up — as well as to “give children a sense of wonder.” She added that “the show is a good fit for the troupe we have, consisting of 13- to 14-year-olds. We can’t be choosers when it comes to the cast; there are only so many Russian-speaking kids in the area.”
Although the association sponsors the production, it is technically pulled together by Teremok, a Potomac-based children’s theater studio that Vorontsova compared to Imagination Stage.
As per a longstanding tradition in many theatrical productions and movies of “Peter Pan” — think Mary Martin — the actor playing the title character is female — Sasha Vasielieva. “She’s quite young, but takes the role’s responsibilities like a champ,” said Alekseyeva.
“Working with kids is a gargantuan task,” she added. “It’s not for the faint of heart. We all help out where we can to make a great show.”
“Peter Pan” is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors, students and children.
Russian Great White Way
Following “Peter Pan,” on Friday Nov. 16, a concert entitled “Moscow Broadway” will feature two stars of Russian musical theater: Diana Lyubimova and Igor Portnoi. “Both were in Moscow-based productions of Russian versions of Broadway hit shows, produced by Stage Entertainment Co. in Moscow,” Vorontsova said.
Portnoi is a graduate of the State Academy for Theatrical Arts in Moscow, where he played the leading roles in numerous productions, including Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” In 1992, Portnoi made a new home in Canada. His North American credits include “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Ragtime.” He has released two solo albums and has performed in 95 countries.
Among the well-known musical numbers he and Lyubimova will sing are “Be Our Guest” (“Beauty and the Beast”), “If I were a Rich Man” (“Fiddler on the Roof”), “Memory” (“Cats); the title song of “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mack the Knife: (The Threepenny Opera”).
“Diana is classically trained. She has played Madam Jury in ‘Phantom of the Opera,'” said Vorontsova. “All of these tunes are from shows that have been staged in Russia and translated into Russian. They’re popular there.”
In addition to Broadway hits, the duo will perform popular and jazz favorites.
“Moscow Broadway” begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16. Tickets are $35.
The Association of Russian-speaking Theaters (ART) is a membership organization that strengthens the artistic and cultural impact of theater for Russian-speaking audiences.
“ART’s purpose is to help preserve Russian language and culture in the United States, said Vorontsova. Founded in 2017, The Association offers workshops and summer camps in addition to public performances and master classes for both performers and directors.
The Washington Balalaika Society Orchestra will provide the final part of the “troika” in a concert titled “Russian Winter.” The musical selections will be both vocal and instrumental, and more than 55 members of the society will be on stage.
“I see three pieces that should be universally known in this country,” said Janet Bohm, society president. “One is ‘Korobeyniki,’ or ‘The Peddlers,’ which was used as the theme music for the video game Tetris and in the background for several commercials.”
“Senka Razin” also should be somewhat familiar, she added. It’s the story of a looting and pillaging sea captain who falls in love with a Persian princess and kidnaps her — with disastrous results.
“The most-famous piece we play is the final one: ‘Sabre Dance’ by Aram Khachaturian. It’s fast, loud, exciting, and everybody knows it.”
Vocal soloists are Irina Zagornova, an expert in Russian musical folklore, and Isaiah Trofimenko, who sings Russian liturgical music, Bohm said.
Peter Omelchenko will play several pieces on the prima domra, like a mandolin, while Andrei Saveliev, WSO’s principal balalaika player, will perform several traditional Russian pieces.
The program includes “Viennese Waltz” and “Triumphal Polonaise” by Vasily Andreyev, the Russian musician responsible for the modern development of the balalaika and several other traditional Russian folk music instruments.
“With these pieces, the orchestra will honor the 100th anniversary of his death,” said Bohm.
The orchestra’s composition is diverse. “Most members have no historical ties to Russia or Russian music,” just an attraction to the music, which she described as “infectious, giving you that shimmering, uplifting feeling.
Belonging to the orchestra is also unusual, Bohm said. There are only a few Russian orchestras in the United States, all part of the umbrella organization, The Balalaika and Domra Society of America.
Based in Virginia, the society was founded in 1988 by a group of Washington-area musicians interested in studying and performing the music of Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe on traditional Russian folk instruments. Svetlana Nikonova is artistic director and conductor.
One-third of the orchestra is made up of balalaikas, and another third of domras; the rest are flutes, oboes, clarinets, accordions (bayams) and percussion instruments, including the gusli, an 89-string instrument with keyboard.
There are two performances of “Russian Winter,” the first at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Fitzgerald Theatre, and the other at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 in Arlington. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors; $15 for students; and free for ages 12 and younger.
The F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre is located in Rockville Civic Center Park, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville. The number of the box office, which is open Tuesday-Saturday, 2 to 7 p.m. and before performances, is 240-314-8690.