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Fisette not running for U.S. House seat

Jay Fisette, Arlington County Board, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette won’t run for Rep. James Moran’s seat. (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

Gay Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette announced late Wednesday that he has decided not to run this year for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. James Moran (D-Va.).

Fisette was among about a dozen prominent Northern Virginia politicians, including gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin, mentioned by political observers as potential candidates to run in the June 10 Democratic primary to seek the nomination for Moran’s seat in the 8th Congressional District.

The overwhelmingly Democratic district includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties and most of the City of Alexandria. The winner of the primary is expected to easily win the general election in November.

“Many friends and colleagues have asked of my interest in running for this seat and have encouraged me to run,” Fisette said in a statement. “While appreciative of those comments, I have decided that I will not seek this position,” he said.

“One reason for my decision is the contrast between the dysfunctional climate on Capitol Hill and the can-do atmosphere in Arlington,” Fisette said. “The state of politics at the national level is disheartening, with the outsized influence of shrill, well-financed forces and the disintegration of sincere efforts to forge compromise, respect one’s colleagues and realize the potential of government to make people’s lives better.”

Fisette became the first known openly gay elected official in Virginia in 1997 when he won election to an at-large seat on the five-member Arlington Board, which serves as the county’s governing body. He has won re-election four times since then by wide margins, with his latest electoral victory last year.

Although Ebbin has yet to make an official announcement, a prominent gay Democratic activist in Arlington has said “the word is out” that Ebbin plans to run for the congressional seat.

Ebbin became the first out gay to win election to the Virginia General Assembly in 2003 when he won his race for a seat in the House of Delegates. He won election to the State Senate in 2011 in a district that covers most of the territory of the 8th Congressional District.

In a related development, the Washington Post reported that Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) planned to announce on Thursday he was forming an exploratory committee to assess whether to run for the 8th District congressional seat. Businessman and former Navy fighter pilot Bruce Shuttleworth announced his candidacy for the congressional seat last week. Both are Democrats who have expressed strong support for LGBT rights as have all of the Democrats thought to be considering running for Moran’s seat.

In his statement saying he isn’t running, Fisette added, “There are many qualified Democrats who could represent the Eighth District very capably. I will work with our party’s nominee to secure a victory in the November election and keep the Eighth District in the progressive ranks.”

23
Jan
2014

Witeck won’t run for Congress; backs Ebbin

Bob Witeck, gay news, Washington Blade

‘I plan to give my unqualified support to Adam Ebbin now,’ said Bob Witeck. (Photo courtesy of Bob Witeck)

Gay public relations executive Bob Witeck informed the Blade on Sunday that he won’t run for the U.S. House seat in Northern Virginia being vacated by retiring Democratic Congressman James Moran and will instead support state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s bid for the seat.

Ebbin, who’s gay and a Democrat, served for eight years in the Virginia House of Delegates before winning election in 2011 to the Virginia Senate. He announced his candidacy for the congressional seat last week.

“Over the weekend, and upon careful consideration and lots of conversations with my partner, I have decided not to run for the 8th District congressional seat,” Witeck said in a statement.

Witeck, a longtime LGBT rights advocate, was among more than a dozen Democrats who either announced their candidacy for the 8th District seat or said they were considering running for the seat  in the June 10 Democratic primary. The winner of the primary is considered the strong favorite to win the general election in November in the heavily Democratic district.

In a statement released to the Blade, Witeck said the race has attracted other highly qualified candidates.

“While I am sure that I can work hard, raise funds and be competitive, I am equally if not more happy to get behind the ultimate Democratic nominee – so long as that candidate is as committed to LGBT equality, human rights and economic fairness issues that I care about,” he said.

Witeck said he’s a longtime supporter of the mission of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that helps elect openly LGBT candidates running for public office.

“I therefore plan to give my unqualified support to Adam Ebbin now,” he said. “He is working doggedly to win the primary, and I’ve spoken to him today to give him my help.”

03
Feb
2014

Joseph F. Vivalo, Jr. dies at 53

Joe Vivalo, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr. in 1987.

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr., 53, a former resident of Washington and Arlington who was active in political and AIDS charity fundraising and events management, died in Key West, Fla., on Feb. 5.

His death was from suicide, according to Terry Michael, with whom Vivalo shared an apartment on Capitol Hill in 1986-87 and again in 1992-93. Vivalo, who was gay, worked as a waiter at Mr. Henry’s restaurant, Michael said, after moving to the District from Portland, Ore., in July 1986. Living in New York from 1988-92, he returned to Washington in November 1992, where he resided again on Capitol Hill and later in the Logan Circle area, before settling in Arlington. At the time of his death, Vivalo had been living and working at a guesthouse in Key West.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Vivalo was a director of the Pallotta TeamWorks AIDS Ride in Washington in the late 1990s and was director of the Whitman-Walker Health AIDS Walk in 2000, when he also produced a fundraising concert for Whitman-Walker at the Kennedy Center, featuring singer Patti LaBelle. He worked in several AIDS walks in Manhattan in the late 1980s.

Specializing in arts and entertainment fundraising, Vivalo was fundraising director for former U.S. Rep. and 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, in her unsuccessful race for the U.S. Senate in New York in 1992. He had served in the Mondale-Ferraro presidential campaign in Portland, Ore., in 1984, as a young field worker. He worked on the Clinton-Gore Inaugural Committee in Washington in 1992. And he was on the facilities management staff of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. in 2012. For a time, he ran a bike restoration business in Arlington.

Born Dec. 30, 1960 in Youngstown, Vivalo was a son of the late Joseph Vivalo and Marie Ann “Dolly” Vivalo, who survives, along with siblings Debbie, Jeff, John, Katie, Jacqueline, Michael and Kimberly. He is also survived by friends in the Washington area, including Walter Quetsch of Capitol Hill, at whose Fire Island cottage Vivalo was a frequent guest during the past two decades, and Washington attorney Jim Prunty, whom Vivalo met during his years in Portland.

Vivalo attended Ohio University, where he earned a degree in political communication. He was an active swimmer in high school and college. He had a passion for dance music and was a friend of the late San Francisco disco icon Sylvester James, “who visited Joe at our apartment on Capitol Hill in late 1987,” Michael said, noting that “Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and ‘You Are My Friend’ tracks became Joe’s signature songs.”

A memorial service for Vivalo was held in Youngstown Feb. 8.

12
Feb
2014

Gay man loses race for Arlington school board

Greg Greeley, Arlington school board, gay news, Washington Blade

‘My campaign ends here, but I look forward to supporting our Arlington County Democratic Committee endorsee,’ said Greg Greeley. (Photo courtesy of the Greeley campaign)

Gay former Air Force Capt. Greg Greeley lost his bid for a seat on the Arlington County School Board on May 17 when he failed to win the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Greeley, a single father of two boys who has been active in school-related activities in Arlington for at least 10 years, came in third place in a three-candidate race in which all registered Democrats in the county were eligible to vote at two caucus meetings.

Under rules set by the party, Democrats running for the seat who don’t receive the party endorsement must withdraw from the race, even though they may legally continue as candidates in the non-partisan school board election in November under the county’s election law.

Public schools activist Barbara Kanninen received 1,549 votes in the first round of voting in the caucuses. Nancy Van Doren received 1,329 votes and Greeley received 839 votes. In an automatic “virtual” runoff between Kanninen and Van Doren, Kanninen won by an 18-vote margin, with 1,812 votes to 1,794 votes for Van Doren.

The voting system called for voters to identify their first, second and third choices among the three candidates on their ballots.

“My campaign ends here, but I look forward to supporting our Arlington County Democratic Committee endorsee, Barbara Kanninen, as we head toward the election in November,” Greeley said in a statement posted on his campaign website.

“While it is disappointing to end this six-month journey tonight, I am encouraged by the way the Arlington community came together today,” he said. “I saw supporters from every area of the county. And I want you to know: We could not have come so far without you.”

Incumbent school board member Sally Baird, who decided not to seek re-election this year, creating an open seat for which Greeley and the other two Democrats competed, endorsed Greeley. Baird became Virginia’s first out lesbian elected official when she first won election to the school board seat in 2006.

Greeley also received endorsements from gay Va. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who’s running this year for a U.S. House seat; State Rep. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), who’s also running for the same House seat being vacated by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.); and former Virginia Del. Karen Darner (D-Arlington/Alexandria), a highly popular figure in Northern Virginia.

“I don’t think we can put a gay lens on this because I don’t think that was a matter of concern to anybody,” said Bob Witeck, a longtime gay Democratic activist in Arlington and CEO of Witeck Communications public relations firm.

Witeck, who supported Greeley, said that while Greeley has had considerable involvement in school issues Kanninen and Van Doren appear to have been perceived to have more extensive experience. He said both may have been known by more of the relatively small number of people who turned out to vote at the two caucus meetings.

Don Hodgen, assistant registrar for the Arlington Election Board, said aside from Kanninen, the only other person to file papers so far to run in the November election for the school board seat is Green Party candidate Audrey Clement. The deadline for filing and submitting a required 125 voter signatures for ballot placement is June 10, Hodgen said.

03
Jun
2014

Why I support Adam Ebbin for Congress

Adam Ebbin, Democratic Party, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) (Photo courtesy of Adam Ebbin)

By SALLY BAIRD

It has been my privilege to know and work with Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin. I have supported his groundbreaking campaigns since he was elected as Virginia’s first openly gay member of the General Assembly more than 10 years ago. Adam was a role model as I campaigned to be elected as Virginia’s first openly lesbian elected official in 2006, and I was privileged to work with him as a member of the Arlington School Board to fight at the state-government level for our students and teachers.

I am proud to endorse Adam in his campaign for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, not because he is a gay rights pioneer but because he is the best qualified to replace Rep. Jim Moran, who remains a significant straight ally. If elected, Adam will be the first openly gay member of Congress from the South.

Adam Ebbin has represented Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County with distinction, longer than any other candidate in this race. A masterful coalition builder, Adam skillfully unites those with divergent interests around common goals. On issues as varied as advocating for an Arlington-Falls Church Office of the Public Defender to expanding healthcare coverage for immigrants, Adam is a strong, results-focused leader. With Adam in Congress, Northern Virginia will have an effective representative who stands up for them when it matters most.

Adam has championed and passed liberal legislation with unlikely allies. From expanding solar energy options to uniting groups from the right and left, Adam has brought together interests that normally won’t talk to each other. Adam’s commonsense appeal has united them to pass such strong legislation as fighting human trafficking and ensuring insurance availability for the LGBTQ community. Adam’s record speaks for itself. He has truly earned the right to represent us in Congress, where he will apply his skills to an equally dysfunctional House of Representatives.

Adam has been endorsed by more elected officials than any other candidate, by two major unions — the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA) — by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Congressman Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the U.S. House.

Adam has always stood up for our needs and values in the General Assembly and will do so in the U.S. Congress. Please join me in voting for Adam Ebbin as the 8th District’s next Representative.

Sally Baird is a member of the Arlington School Board and the first openly lesbian elected official in Virginia.

06
Jun
2014

Proud to be an ‘A’ at Capital Pride

By ATIMA OMARA-ALWALA

This weekend, members of the LGTBQQAA community will descend on Washington for America’s third-largest Pride festival. For many years, I have participated in the mission of obtaining equality for all Americans. Within the community’s string of letters, I’m very glad to be counted as the final “A” — the allies.

As the Pride Parade makes its way from Dupont Circle to Logan Circle, community members and supporters have a lot to celebrate. Twelve states and Washington, D.C. have now approved marriage equality. But, we are pushing for more.

As the Mr. & Miss Capital Pride pageant gets underway at Phase 1, a clerk at the Supreme Court, about four miles away, is, I hope, working on a majority opinion that will overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, thereby opening the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage to all couples.

Pride events across the country have a lot to celebrate but I think it is important to take a quick look back at how we have finally arrived at this place.

For those of us that love political polls and messaging documents, Third Way’s Director of the Social Policy & Politics Program, Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, has written one of the best message guidance ever seen. Based on their several polls, including Third Way’s July 2011 poll, they found that a commitment narrative is the most effective in transitioning the sentiment of voters to favor marriage equality.

A message carried by straight couples about gay couples wanting to join the institution of marriage has proven, in polling and in practice, to be the most effective argument to shift public opinion.

While I would like to claim all the credit for us “straight surrogates,” a huge driver of national support for marriage equality is our nation’s demographic shift. Older Americans are no longer with us and their hetero-normative views have not been passed down. As younger Americans that have grown up with gay and lesbian couples take to the ballot box, the pendulum is swinging to the right side of history.

As of March 2013, poll after poll showed a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality including 73 percent of Americans under the age of 30 per CBS. The ABC/Washington Post cut their data differently, finding extremely high support among younger Democrats 18-49 (73 percent) and Republicans 18-49 (52 percent).

However, the rest of the GOP has not joined younger Republicans, Democrats and independents in supporting equality. But, hope springs eternal and middle-aged and older Republicans both showed significant drops in opposition to marriage equality.

Still, as a proud member of the Democratic Party, I’m thrilled to state that a majority of Democrats in all age groups support marriage equality.

The LGTBQQAA have much to celebrate and I will certainly be lifting my brunch mimosa to the equality dozen this year but we still have a long way to go.

My gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in 37 states still cannot join the institution of marriage that my husband Clay and I joined last year. The Supreme Court still needs to overturn DOMA and 29 states still allow employers to fire LGTBQQA employees.  I must sadly confess that I live in one, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia continues to be on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the Potomac. I love the Commonwealth and it is my home but I have to say: “Seriously, Richmond, come on! Maryland and D.C. have equality can we maybe get our act together? We aren’t the cool kids anymore — we’re vintage, in a bad way.”

So this Pride weekend, let’s all celebrate our successes and get back to work on Monday!

Atima Omara-Alwala is vice president of the Young Democrats of America; she is running to be the organization’s first African-American president. She is a former board member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia and lives in Arlington with her husband, Clay.

05
Jun
2013

New cycling club debuts

OutRiders, Arlington, Gay News, Washington Blade

A recent gathering of the new OutRiders Arlington group. (Photo courtesy OutRiders)

Every year at Capital Pride, the LGBT sports teams of Washington take over a section of the Sunday Pride Festival to promote their clubs. A common question over the years has been, “Why aren’t there more options for cycling?”

CHECK OUT ALL OF OUR PRIDE COVERAGE HERE!

A few clubs such as Adventuring have offered recreational biking as an offshoot of their other activities, but none have focused solely on cycling. Last month, the OutRiders Arlington emerged as a new club to fill the cycling void. The group was founded by Scott Binde and Lee Mitchell and both are avid cyclists with a long history of leading bike rides.

“Both of us have a passion for cycling,” Binde says. “We have been plugged into the D.C. cycling community for years and even our vacations include cycling.”

There are no fees to ride with the cyclists and the group meets every Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. at the Clarendon Metro Station. There have only been two rides so far and the group is already attracting a diverse base of about 15 cyclists.

“We are looking to draw LGBT bike enthusiasts along with their straight allies,” Binde says.

The rides vary in difficulty and range from 12-25 miles. They utilize multi-use trails in the Arlington area, connecting one trail to the next and also venturing into bike-friendly residential areas. Depending on the amount of sunlight available, the treks last at least 90 minutes and all rides are pre-ridden by the leaders of the group.

The OutRiders will continue the bike series through August, and possibly longer based on interest. They are considering the possibility of weekend rides.

“Cycling is so accessible and most everyone knows how to bike,” Binde says. “We wanted to create something informal versus a highly structured sporting club.”

The next ride is Tuesday and the route is an 18-mile, moderately hilly loop which will pass by Ford Ward, an earthen Civil War era fort, and utilize the scenic Holmes Run Trail.

The wooded (yet paved) trail includes a forded stream crossing where sand and gravel can sometimes accumulate. Riders may want to leave their skinny tire bicycle at home or just walk their bike over the few feet of this section.

The group will convene by 6:15 p.m. at the Clarendon Metro station elevator entrance (Wilson Blvd. and Hudson St.), and the ride starts promptly at 6:30 p.m. Bring helmet and water.  Free on-street parking is available.

After completing the ride each week, the cyclists get together for optional socializing at spandex-friendly restaurants in the Clarendon area.

Contact the ride leader for additional information at vabikelegs@yahoo.com. You can also RSVP at their meetup site by searching OutRiders Arlington.

Show your pride, take a ride.

06
Jun
2013

Queery: Juan Carlos Loubriel

Juan Carlos Loubriel, Whitman-Walker Health, HIV/AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

Juan Carlos Loubriel (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When it comes to the task of having to tell a client he or she is HIV positive, Juan Carlos Loubriel has seen all the reactions you could imagine.

“Some people have tears, some are just in shock, others are very quiet and just sort of need a little space,” he says. “Sometimes you just need to be quiet and give them time to process it. It’s quite amazing how different human reactions can be.”

Thursday is National HIV Testing Day and Loubriel echoes the oft-heard advice that it’s good to be tested every six months.

Even for gay men who always use condoms?

Loubriel says yes in accordance with CDC guidelines.

“Knowing your status can help save your life and save other lives,” he says.

The 34-year-old San Juan, Puerto Rico native started in HIV prevention work in San Juan at a health department. His father, who was bisexual, eventually died of AIDS about 12 years ago inspiring Loubriel to stay in the field.

“He found out very late and at the time the medications weren’t very good,” he says. “I decided I was very passionate about the topic and really wanted to encourage awareness.”

He came to Washington about five years ago and has been at Whitman-Walker for four years. He’s engaged to Derek Neal and lives in Arlington. He enjoys working out and singing karaoke in his spare time.

 

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?

I have been out for six years. The hardest person to tell was my mom. She has been so supportive ever since I talked to her about being gay.

 

Who’s your LGBT hero?

I have so many different LGBT heroes who have fought hard for the rights we have today and who continue fighting for the rights we don’t have yet. Too many people’s lives have been taken just for being gay. They are my heroes.

 

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?

Sometimes you can find me at JR.’s or Number Nine.

 

Describe your dream wedding.

A destination wedding on the beach.

 

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

There are so many issues that I am most passionate about. I feel very strongly about the need for immigration reform. I am also very passionate about access to health care. I have become more and more passionate about politics because it can impact so many issues related to equality, human rights and our future.

 

What historical outcome would you change?

There are too many things that could and should be changed, but we learn from our mistakes and even from tragedies. Our history, the good and the bad, has made us who we are today: a more open and democratic society.

 

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

When I was 17 years old I auditioned for a role in the play, “The Passion of the Christ” through a Puerto Rican theater company. I was chosen to play the role of one of the Roman Soldiers. Ricky Martin, who was just getting famous with his first solo album in Spanish, played the role of Jesus Christ. It was a great experience! I will also never forget attending a Whitney Houston concert in Puerto Rico in 1994.

 

On what do you insist?

Honesty

 

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

To my Dad on Father’s Day, who passed away of renal failure brought on by his HIV: Missing you Dad … But in my thoughts … you are here … and you will always be in my heart. Happy Father’s Day.

 

If your life were a book, what would the title be?

“Believe in Yourself”

 

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?

Get married right away before my fiancé hears about it.

 

What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

God

 

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

We need to embrace all issues affecting diverse LGBT groups, including men of color, Latinos, etc. We need to speak with one voice. We cannot be divided by race, class, gender, religion or nationality.

 

What would you walk across hot coals for?

Love, family and faith.

 

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

Pretending to be something you are not.

 

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“Philadelphia”

 

What’s the most overrated social custom?

Being asked, “What do you do,” before a proper introduction.

 

What trophy or prize do you most covet?

My fiancé gave me a “best boyfriend” trophy early on in our relationship. I keep that on my desk at work. I also won a “best actor” trophy in high school.

 

What do you wish you’d known at 18?

I wish I would’ve known that being gay is not a sin, so I could accept myself at an earlier age.

 

Why Washington?

My mom moved to Virginia 15 years ago with her husband and I moved to join them.

19
Jun
2013

Library of Congress acquires papers of Lilli Vincenz

Lilli Vincenz, gay news, Washington Blade

Lilli Vincenz was a pioneer in the gay rights movement beginning in the early 1960s. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Lilli Vincenz, 75, a D.C.-area resident who worked with Frank Kameny as a pioneer in the gay rights movement beginning in the early 1960s, has donated to the Library of Congress some 10,000 papers, photographs, 16-mm films and memorabilia collected over a period of 50 years.

In a statement released on July 25, the Library of Congress said the papers and other items, which document Vincenz’s “personal biography and the larger gay rights movement,” will be available to researchers and the public once the materials are organized and catalogued.

The statement notes that Vincenz was one of the first lesbian members of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the nation’s first full-fledged gay civil rights organization co-founded by Kameny and then D.C. gay activist Jack Nichols. It says Vincenz became the first editor of the organization’s newsletter, The Homosexual Citizen.

In that capacity, Vincenz and lesbian activist Nancy Tucker co-founded in 1969 an independent gay newspaper as a spinoff of the Mattachine newsletter called the Gay Blade, which later evolved into the Washington Blade

“She marched in the historic [gay rights] picket of the White House on April 17, 1965, participated in annual July 4th gay rights demonstrations in Philadelphia, and was part of the delegation that met with U.S. Civil Service Commission officials in 1965 to discuss the continued federal ban on hiring homosexuals,” the Library of Congress statement says.

“Vincenz was also an early member of the Daughters of Bilitis, a national lesbian rights organization, wrote a bi-weekly column for the New York-based Gay magazine, and was interviewed often by the media with other lesbian leaders,” the statement says.

The Library of Congress statement says the donation of Vincenz’s papers was made through her agent, Charles Francis, the co-founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which donated Kameny’s papers to the Library of Congress in 2006.

Vincenz and her partner Nancy Davis live in Arlington, Va.

30
Jul
2013

Scaled-back ‘Saigon’

Miss Saigon, Signature Theatre, Diana Huey, Kim, Theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Diana Huey as Kim in ‘Miss Saigon’ at Signature Theatre. (Photo by Christopher Mueller; courtesy Signature)

‘Miss Saigon’
Through Sept. 29
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington
tickets start at $40
703-820-9771
signature-theatre.org

When “Miss Saigon” ran on Broadway in the ‘90s, there was big buzz surrounding the production’s life-sized helicopter.

The audacious prop was used to recreate the iconic photo depicting the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the Viet Kong when hordes of terrified pro-American Vietnamese fought for spots on a few C.I.A. aircrafts taking off from rooftops. Those who were left behind knew they’d likely be executed. For Signature Theatre’s version, director Eric Schaeffer — in his typical paring down fashion — merely suggests a helicopter, retaining the suspenseful element while losing the impractical spectacle.

From the composers who gave the world “Les Miserables” (Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil), the hugely successful “Miss Saigon” is a hard driving, sung through, rock opera based on Puccini’s 1904 classic “Madama Butterfly.” Its eclectic, ballad-heavy score is served beautifully here by a talented cast and a stellar 15-person orchestra tucked away on a perch behind corrugated metal panels. Despite some cloying spots and clunky lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., the music works. Memorable tunes include “The Heat Is On,” “I Still Believe,” “Why God Why?” and “The American Dream.”

Signature’s Schaeffer (who is gay) has also halved the 40-person Broadway cast, allowing his take to focus more intimately on the musical’s love story: U.S. Marine Chris (likable Gannon O’Brien) temporarily rescues wide-eyed, Vietnamese bar-girl Kim (vocal powerhouse Diana Huey) from a life of prostitution. Saigon falls and Chris goes home to Atlanta where he marries. Unknown to Chris, Kim has given birth to their son. Kim does what she has to stay alive, driven by the desire to one day reunite as a family. Eventually, Chris and his wife travel to Vietnam to meet the boy. A happy ending for all is hard to imagine.

But the best scenes of Signature’s “Miss Saigon” take place in Saigon’s sleazy hooker bar Dreamland and (later) a similar joint in Bangkok. It’s in a dimly lit, alcohol-fueled Dreamland that war-weary Marines and desperate Vietnamese civilians come together against a backdrop of feverish partying. And it comes off splendidly in Signature’s not huge MAX Theatre.

Dreamland is the domain of the Engineer, a host/pimp played by the unctuous and terrifically entertaining Thom Sesma (who played the role in the show’s second national tour). He bullies a chorus of sexy bar girls led by experienced Gigi (Cheryl Daro). The eye-catching Daro makes a big impression singing “The Movie In My Mind,” a dream about a new life in America, but unfortunately her part essentially ends there. The rest of the cast includes Erin Driscoll as Ellen, Chris’ outwardly sedate spouse. Chris Sizemore is Chris’ Marine buddy who after the war works to reunite Vietnam-born Amerasian children with their American fathers. Christopher Mueller plays menacing Thuy, an unpleasant figure from Kim’s past.

“Miss Saigon” can be melodramatic and overwrought — it’s not for everyone. But Signature offers an opportunity to see it done particularly well.

05
Sep
2013