Tag Archives: review

Off The Grid: Unbuilt Washington

Having grown up near Boston, a city that inspired the myth that its streets were laid out by wandering cattle, Washington’s grids and diagonal avenues carry an air of inevitability. Add to that the architecture of DC’s monuments, which explicitly call to mind the ancient structures of the Old World, and it is hard to imagine the capital being any other way. But, of course, it was anything but inevitable; each of Washington’s iconic structures could have come out completely differently–or not existed at all. Exploring these alternate histories is the goal of Unbuilt Washington, an excellent exhibit at the National Building Museum.

The largest portion of the exhibit deals with various proposals along the National Mall, particularly the Capitol and White House. Some of the proposals exhibited were submitted by complete amateurs; for example, a proposal for the Capitol featured a weathervane nearly as tall as the dome itself. More interesting is the implied drama from the rejected designs of Thomas Jefferson, who anonymously submitted designs for each under the pseudonym “A.Z.” Jefferson’s designs, while good, are totally different in character than the eventual buildings. It’s a fascinating experience to imagine these very different buildings replacing the buildings that stand there now.

Also featured are proposed and rejected designs for DC’s most significant memorials. The travails of completing the Washington Monument are well-known, and Unbuilt Washington features both the winning proposal (which included a colonnade at the base of the memorial), as well as a variety of proposals for completion of the memorial when construction resumed in the 1870s. And various proposals for the Lincoln Memorial range from the interesting to the bizarre (a several-hundred-foot tall ziggurat probably qualifies as both).

The exhibit contains a number of other curiosities–alternate designs for the Kennedy Center, the FDR Memorial, and complete re-imaginings of what the Mall and the city could look like structurally. On the whole, Unbuilt Washington is a fascinating glimpse of what might have been (even if some of these things would never have been built in a million years).

Unbuilt Washington is at the National Building Museum until May 28. Your $8 ticket also gets you into LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition, which features scale models of famous buildings worldwide and is every bit as awesome as you would imagine.

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Number 24601

Les Miserables

Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

October 20, 2011

Can I start with a confession? Although I hadn’t seen it until last week, I’m really not sure Les Mis is really a great musical. When adapting an epic story to a sub-3-hour musical, a real premium is placed on economy of plot. The problem is compounded with a sung-through musical like this one; in something like Ragtime, which similarly attempts an era-defining story of epic sweep, you can at least get some plot out of the way through dialogue.

With Les Mis, I found myself wondering whether the resource of time could be allocated better. It’s a fun song, but do we really need six minutes of “Master of the House” to establish that the Thernardiers are horrible people? Nor does the song exactly create a deep character moment; I ended up thinking about Seinfeld during the song more than anything else. That said, the songwriting-as-songwriting is extraordinarily good; it’s not for nothing that “I Dreamed A Dream,” “Can You Hear the People Sing,” “One Day More,”* and–yes–“Master of the House” are considered classics of the genre.

*Although again, parody overtakes real life, as I found myself wandering to “La Resistance” as the first act drew to its conclusion.

So, more on the production after the jump, then? Continue reading

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Weird Al In Concert

Weird Al Yankovic

Warner Theater, Washington, DC

October 19, 2011

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been a fan of Weird Al Yankovic since I was aware that there was such a person; at this point, then, for over 20 years. I’m slightly embarrassed (though apparently not so much so that I won’t write it in public) that there are many songs I think of as Weird Al songs first, rather than the parodied songs themselves. Which is a roundabout way of saying that it’s somewhat surprising that last week was the first time I saw the man in person.

The short version: two of the most fun hours I’ve had in years.

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