Sister Nancy
Jamaican dancehall vocalist Sister Nancy performs at Union Stage Friday with Nappy Nappa; courtesy of Sister Nancy

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Opens Friday: The Cake at Atlas Performing Arts Center

Not since Marie Antoinette proclaimed “Let them eat cake!” have three layers of baked flour and frosted sugar caused so much contention. Prologue Theatre will produce The Cake, a confectionary drama about love, marriage, and equality at Atlas Performing Arts Center. In this case of art imitating a landmark Supreme Court case, The Cake is inspired by the real-life event in which a baker refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple and the subsequent Supreme Court case: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The play focuses on a conservative Christian baker and her husband’s conflicting feelings after they are asked to create the dream wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Playwright and TV screenwriter Bekah Brunstetter (This Is Us, American Gods) also interweaves the personal and familial, as her father is former conservative North Carolina Senator Peter S. Brunstetter, who opposed marriage equality laws during his time in office. Director Aria Velz shares, “The theme of LGBTQ acceptance in The Cake is very important to me personally. Beyond that, the characters Bekah has given us are fully human—not stereotypes. All four are struggling with their own biases, questioning elements of their lives, questioning the health of their relationships, and deciding how they want to move forward.” Go ahead, take a second slice. The Cake runs from Feb. 3 to 26 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.  $25–$35 (Thursday performances are pay-what-you-can). —Colleen Kennedy 

Courtesy of Prologue Theatre

Friday: Sister Nancy With Opener Nappy Nappa at Union Stage

Jamaica dancehall vocalist Sister Nancy grew up as one of 15 siblings, many of whom liked to entertain and perform. But when 14-year-old Sister Nancy, then known by her birth name of Ophlin Russell, began to rhyme in her singsong voice over reggae rhythms in the mid-1970s, her pastor father was not happy. While her dad reluctantly tolerated her older brother Brigadier Jerry’s reggae rapping, he wanted Russell to stick with Christian music. She wasn’t having it. After hearing and being inspired by her brother practicing his singing at home in the bathroom, she was determined to keep orating over the bass-heavy secular Jamaican sounds of the era. Despite pressure at home, and the stress of being a woman in a scene largely dominated by men, Sister Nancy did not give up. By the 1980s, she was releasing records and became the first woman reggae dancehall vocalist to perform at Jamaica’s reggae music festival Reggae Sunsplash, and the first to tour internationally. Her 1982 album, One Two, contained her take on Toots & the Maytals’ “Bam Bam,” which has since become her calling card thanks to her distinctive tuneful voice on the track (a number of rap records and a Reebok ad have since sampled). “Bam Bam,” with its high-pitched nursery rhyme, simple chorus, and lower-pitched speedy verses over a minimalistic reggae riddim bottom has stayed vibrant for decades. After moving to the U.S. in 1996, Sister Nancy also worked a day job for 15 years as a bank accountant, but now she’s retired from that and again focusing solely on spitting verses in her trademark style over booming low-note dominated records. The show starts at 8 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Union Stage, 740 Water St. SW. $28. —Steve Kiviat            

Friday: A Night at the Symphony at the Anthem

A Night at the Symphony at the Anthem; Credit: Jordan A. Grobe, the Anthem.

Prime seats at the orchestra can be hard to come by. For those looking for a more accessible way to watch live performances, the National Symphony Orchestra is hosting A Night at the Symphony With Mozart and Dvořák at the Anthem. Designed to be a more casual affair, the one-night only event features a performance of Antonín Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony and the ballet music from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera Idomeneo. Mozart’s Idomeneo is one of his “lesser-known” operas, which received more attention in the 20th century. A drama focusing on a troubled romance and the mythical King of Crete, Mozart added a 15-minute divertissement for a mid-opera ballet performance. This section has been adapted for orchestral performance and performed throughout the 1900s. Dvořák’s status as one of the 19th century’s most talented composers was already secure before he composed his final three symphonies, but their success catapulted the Czech into the “all-time greats” list. His Symphony No. 7 in D Minor premiered in 1885 and has been a staple of the international repertoire ever since. Combining tense, dramatic string melodies, and Czech folk influences, Dvořák created more of a modern cinematic vibe than his contemporaries, making it a perfect introduction for new listeners. NSO’s program and venue are part of a campaign to change up the traditional symphony-going experience. The Anthem’s smaller size is a change of pace for the National Symphony Orchestra, which usually performs at the Kennedy Center. However, the venue offers a more intimate setting for classical music, giving listeners a chance to recreate some of the smaller settings typical of 19th-century European performances. There’s also no dress code, something younger fans will surely appreciate. With a 50-minute runtime, the concert is a great way for the public to experience the joys of classical music without breaking the bank or breaking out a suit and tie. A Night at the Symphony starts at 8 p.m. on Feb. 3 at the Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW. $25–$40. —Tristan Jung 

Saturday and Sunday: Fellow Travelers at George Mason University Center for the Arts

Virginia Opera’s Fellow Travelers; Credit: Dave Pearson

Opera may be an art form most associated with Italian, German, and French. But among American opera companies, there is a growing appetite for new operas, written and sung in English, set in familiar historical periods and dealing with more relevant social issues than, say, droit du seigneur or tuberculosis. In D.C. in recent years, operas dealing with racism and homophobia (Philip Glass’ Appomattox and Terence Blanchard’s Champion, respectively) made it to the Washington National Opera’s stage. Further south, the plucky Virginia Opera hasn’t shied away from cutting-edge works despite fewer resources and a peripatetic performance schedule spanning Norfolk, Richmond, and Fairfax. Its showcase this season is Fellow Travelers, written by Virginia composer Gregory Spears. Based on D.C. author Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel of the same name and originally produced for the Cincinnati Opera in 2016, the work is set during the Lavender Scare—running concurrent with the 1950s Red Scare, the Lavender Scare led to the blacklisting of LGBTQ individuals. Greg Pierce’s libretto focuses on the relationship between and persecution of two federal government employees, played by baritone Joseph Lattanzi and tenor Andres Acosta. And, perhaps most intriguingly, it also features baritone Joshua Jeremiah as Senator Joe McCarthy. Virginia Opera’s Fellow Travelers plays at 8 p.m. on Feb. 4 and 2 p.m. on Feb. 5 at George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4373 Mason Pond Dr., Fairfax. $40–$110. —Mike Paarlberg

Tuesday: Sheila E. and the E Train at the Howard Theatre 

Sheila E. Photograph by Rob Shanahan

Percussionist and vocalist Sheila E.’s 1984 Prince-written hit “A Glamorous Life” and her 1985 co-write with Prince, “A Love Bizarre,” remain the most memorable songs she is identified with, but this Oakland-raised daughter of jazz percussionist Pete Escovedo has kept busy for decades playing with other musicians and sometimes releasing her own albums. Before she ever joined Prince’s band, she had already performed in jazz-funk artist George Duke’s group, was a member of Marvin Gaye’s final concert tour ensemble, and added her stick work to Herbie Hancock’s 1980 album, Monster. Prince soon encouraged her to do lead vocals and add her instrumental chops to his compositions. Her albums, A Glamorous Life and Romance 1600, both featured her light but soulful singing as well as her skittering timbale work aided by Prince’s funky rhythms and tuneful melodies. This century, the Queen of Percussion (as she’s often called) has toured with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, played on Beyoncé’s song “Work it Out,” won a reality TV show called Gone Country, and penned an autobiography among many other musical projects. Touring now with her jazz-funk inspired E Train band, look for Sheila E. to bring her charisma and skills to her biggest hits as well as songs by the various artists she has worked with over the decades. The show starts at 8 p.m. on Feb. 7 at Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW. $50–$65.—Steve Kiviat