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“LIFE: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts” presented by the Del Ray Players of Alexandria, Va.

By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor

Poster for “LIFE: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts”
Poster by Neal Learner

The Del Ray Players will present the world premiere of “LIFE: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts,” Alexandria writer-musician Neal Learner’s sung-through musical, at the Capital Fringe Festival July 9-23 in Washington, DC.

This 60 minute musical centers on a family of four from the birth of twin children through the death of the parents. It’s written to be funny, absurd, thoughtful and sad as it explores our common humanity through life’s major milestones and will be performed entirely in song.  The score defies musical categorization, Learner says, blending classical, Broadway, pop, folk and rock styles.

Rehearsal photo: Dallas Milholland (Joan) and Joshua Simon (Charles)

Photo by Neal Learner

This 2017 Fringe Festival performance of LIFE is being produced by the Del Ray Players, a new nonprofit performing arts organization dedicated to presenting local theatre, music, and spoken word performances. The Del Ray Players also recently produced “The Great Del Ray Poetry Slam,” at Fireflies and an evening of cabaret with the Alexandria Singers at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, both in Del Ray.

Rehearsal photo: Stefany Pesta (Sally), Will Hawkins (Max), Joshua Simon (Charles), and Dallas Milholland (Joan)
Photo by Neal Learner

I sat in on a full cast rehearsal a little less than two weeks pre-opening and I can tell you this opera has all the elements to make it unforgettable! First, the voices are fresh, true, and in all four cases, beautiful.  Second, the actors/singers (and they are most definitely both!) coax the audience into the story through the fascinating ever changing rhythms and complex harmonies of the music; they easily draw us into childhood silliness and fun and the messy business of raising a family, then deliver an aching end of life sadness in the three part story arc of “LIFE.”  And lastly, the music is drawn from many genres and is therefore not only lush and interesting to hear, but as sung by this terrific cast, easy to love.  I certainly did and want to hear more.  If you never thought you’d be interested in hearing another opera or “sung-through” musical, think again.  I truly believe that this tiny opera in three short acts, corresponding to three phases of life, has something for everyone.

Rehearsal photo: Dallas Milholland (Joan), Will Hawkins (Max), Stefany Pesta (Sally), Joshua Simon (Charles)
Photo by Neal Learner

LIFE is being directed by Clare Shaffer, a professional DC-based director who specializes in new play/musical development. Musical direction is by Brandon Scott Heishman, choreography by Bryan Stopak, Stage management by Caelan Tietze and Lighting by E-hui Woo.. The four member cast is comprised of Will Hawkins, Dallas Milholland, Stefany Pesta and Joshua Simon.

This work will be staged five times from July 9 – 23 (see link below) at Eastman Studio Theatre, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002.

For times and tickets:  Visit

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