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‘Velocity’ of D.C. theater

Sarah Marshall, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Sarah Marshall in ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane,’ one of several crackling family dramas produced in the Washington area this year. (Photo courtesy Round House)

The year in theater has been an intriguing blend of old and new.

Many works contained gay content or were written by gay playwrights and most productions benefited from the efforts of gay actors, directors and designers.

It’s also been a good year for the stirring family drama. The crop of memorable plays exploring dysfunctional relationships between parents and adult children was bigger and better than usual.

In the spring, Arena Stage presented the area premiere of gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,” a well-made play about an aging Republican power couple dealing with their liberal daughter’s soon-to-be-released tell-all autobiography. The production was compelling but uneven — the cast didn’t quite ring true as family.

Not the case with Arena’s “The Velocity of Autumn,” Eric Coble’s two-hander staged by Arena’s Molly Smith and beautifully acted by the enduringly vital Estelle Parsons as an elderly woman on the edge and Broadway vet Stephen Spinella as her estranged gay son who comes home to Brooklyn and saves the day. “Velocity” opens on Broadway in 2014 with Smith slated to direct the New York production (the local theater legend’s Broadway debut).

Round House Theatre explored family too with Bill Cain’s powerfully autobiographical “How to Write a New Book for the Bible.” In the touching drama, the playwright recounts many of the details of his 82-year-old mother’s death from liver cancer while also celebrating his life spent as the younger son in a mostly functional family. Out actor MaryBeth Wise gave a wonderfully nuanced performance as the practical and independent mother. The role called for her to age 40 years and she pulled it off brilliantly.

Round House’s family riff continued with Martin McDonagh’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” the dark tale of an isolated old Irish woman and her adult daughter who engage in an ongoing game of control with disastrous consequences. Sarah Marshall, who is gay, gave an admirably layered performance as the mostly immobile, but fiendishly domineering mother. The reliably terrific Kimberly Gilbert played the emotionally dependent daughter. The company’s most recent offering was “The Lyons,” gay playwright Nicky Silvers’ evisceration of a middle class family. Marcus Kyd played the damaged gay son.

In 2013, Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn shared his skills with the competition, directing “Torch Song Trilogy” at Studio Theatre, and “Pride in the Falls of Autry Mill” at Signature Theatre in Shirlington. Both shows are family dramedies rife with gay content. In “Torch Song,” New York-based actor Brandon Uranowitz triumphed as Arnold, the sharp-tongued, big hearted drag queen hell-bent on creating a happy family. “Pride” (penned by Paul Downs Colaizzo) featured a terrific cast including Christine Lahti as an unhappy suburban perfectionist and Anthony Bowden as her angry college-age gay son. Both shows boasted finely drawn performances.

At Signature last winter, Joe Calarco staged a production of “Shakespeare’s R&J,” an acclaimed all-male prep school-set take on “Romeo and Juliet” that he wrote and premiered in New York in the late ‘90s. Signature’s four man cast included talented out actors Alex Mills and Jefferson Farber.

In August, Slovenia’s Mladinsko Theatre performed its production of out playwright Norman Allen’s solo drama “Nijinsky’s Last Dance” at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint. Allen’s play about the tortured ballet dancer premiered in D.C. in the late ‘90s.

And 15 years after Matthew Shepard’s death, Ford’s Theatre presented an anniversary production of gay playwright Moisés Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project,” an affecting ensemble piece that gives insight into the community’s response to the 1998 brutal murder of Shepard, a young gay man living in Laramie, Wyo. The production (directed by Matthew Gardiner, who is gay) received roundly positive notices despite being plagued with venue issues due to the government shutdown (Ford’s Theatre is operated through a public-private partnership between Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service).

Memorable 2013 musicals included a cracking national tour of gay composer Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” starring triple threat Rachel York at the Kennedy Center; “Fela,” a tour of the energized musical bio of legendary Nigerian pop star and political activist Fela Kuti staged by gay choreographer and director Bill Cunningham at Shakespeare Theatre Company; a tight reworking of “Miss Saigon” at Signature; and Studio 2nd Stage’s “The Rocky Horror Show” with Mitchell Jarvis as Dr. Frank’N’Furter. Also of note was the Broadway-bound “If/Then,” an engaging production that revitalized the National Theatre with its buzz and star power (Idina Menzel, LaChanze and Anthony Rapp).

In 2013, some openly gay actors dug deep for accents. As the aforementioned scary old woman in “Beauty Queen,” Sarah Marshall successfully tried on a very thick Irish brogue. Out actor Will Gartshore adopted a sexy French accent to play a worldly doctor unwittingly entangled in the drama of a group of romantically challenged Americans in “This” at Roundhouse. And Rick Hammerly went British with a charming performance as jovial Fezziwig in Ford’s “A Christmas Carol,” a sterling production of the Dickens’ December standard. Jeffrey Johnson reprised the tones of old school New York society for the revival of his cabaret act “Edie Beale Live at Reno Sweeney” at the intimate Café L’Enfant in Adams Morgan.

Holly Twyford kicked off the year playing the boss from hell in Studio’s superb production of Mark Bartlett’s “Contractions.” A celebrated local actor, Twyford (who is gay) finishes 2013 back at Studio directing British playwright Sam Holcroft’s “Edgar and Annabel.”  Studio describes the play as “a dark and cheeky look at what the future might hold, featuring undercover agents, surveillance algorithms and explosive karaoke.” Not a bad way to close the year.

01
Jan
2014

Not forgotten

Michele Jouse, Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade

Filmmaker Michele Jouse with the late Matthew Shepard around the time they met in high school. (Photo courtesy Jouse)

The 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, a college student who was tied to a fence and tortured for being gay, is being commemorated with the East Coast premiere of Michele Jouse’s documentary “Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine” at the Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.) on Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and a month-long run of “The Laramie Project” at Ford’s Theatre (511 10th St., N.W.) beginning Sept. 27.

“Matthew Shepard Is A Friend of Mine” explores who Shepard was as a person, rather than the sensationalized LGBT rights icon he eventually became, through interviews with his family and close friends. Jouse, who met Shepard at boarding school, explains that making the documentary was therapeutic for her.

“It feels like yesterday sometimes,” she says. “I hadn’t really allowed myself to talk about it so much because it was so painful but its really helped with the healing process to talk about something that was so difficult.”

The film delves into personal moments between Shepard and his family and friends but also shows Jouse go through her own journey to better understand Shepard and the depression he dealt with before his death. Jouse visits Shepard’s home, the boarding school in Switzerland where they met and became friends and the University of Wyoming where Shepard was a student at the time of his death.

“The Laramie Project” begins its month-long run at Ford’s Theater today and goes through Oct. 27. Every Monday night at 7 p.m., a free panel discussion is scheduled with special guests Judy Shepard, Shepard’s mother, in conversation with Cokie Roberts Sept. 30 and former Laramie sheriff Dave O’Malley on Oct. 7. Ford’s hosts a special “Pay What You Can” preview performance Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

In celebration of National Coming Out Day, Dennis Shepard, Shepard’s father, will join leaders of the D.C. faith community in a candlelight vigil on Oct 11. There is also a world premiere exhibition showing through Nov. 3 of “Not Alone: The Power of Response” in which artist Jeff Sheng’s photograph “Where Matthew Lay Dying” is paired with a selection of letters sent to the Shepard family. Ford’s Theatre’s decision to participate in the anniversary is an important one for them.

“Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998 ignited a debate about the definition of hate crimes and strengthened the resolve of many to advocate for social justice,” says Paul Tetreault, Ford’s Theatre director.

Among these celebrations of Shepard’s life, the controversial new book “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard” by journalist Stephen Jimenez has been released. The book claims the reason for Shepard’s murder was not because he was gay, but because he was a part of the “drug underworld” in Laramie, Wyo., the place of Shepard’s death. Jouse refutes the claim and says she has no plans to read the book because the sources are “anonymous and unreliable.”

“If people would really like to learn more about Matt as a real person and what happened to him, I would hope they watch our film and hear about it through the point of view of people who actually knew him and loved him,” Jouse says.

Since his death Shepard has become a symbol for LGBT rights and major LGBT equality efforts with The Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Matthew Shepard Act. Shepard’s death sparked an outcry for change from the public despite the large number of hate crimes that have occurred since. The documentary states that 33 hate crimes were committed during the year Shepard died alone. Jouse believes the reason for the interest in Shepard is a personal connection.

“I think people saw Matt and recognized him as someone they could have been friends with or saw something in Matt that reminded them of themselves,” Jouse says. “The idea of a hate crime can become an abstraction that you hear about in the news, but Matt made that personal and showed how hate can encroach in their lives and in their circles of friends.”

Tickets for “Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine” are $16. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit nationalcathedral.org or matthewshepardisafriendofmine.com. For more information on “The Laramie Project” and to purchase tickets, visit fords.org.

25
Sep
2013

Seasonal staples

Elf: the Musical, gay news, Washington Blade, Kennedy Center, theater

A scene from ‘Elf: the Musical.’ (Photo courtesy the Kennedy Center)

Even if you’re fighting holiday “creep” and don’t want to think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving, it’s not too early to get tickets for your favorite holiday shows. Here are a few to consider.

The Nutcracker, Joffrey Ballet, gay news, theater,

A scene from Joffrey Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker.’ (Photo courtesy the Kennedy Center)

The Kennedy Center (2700 F St., N.W.) brings numerous holiday-themed performances throughout November and December. First, The Joffrey Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” Nov. 27-Dec. 1 in the Opera House. The holiday favorite includes a live orchestra, Victorian America scenery and costumes to accompany the dance. Tickets start from $29.

The Kennedy Center hosts Pro Musica Hebraica’s presentation “The Voice of the Clarinet in Jewish Classical Music: Alexander Fiterstein and Friends,” a Hanukkah concert that highlights the clarinet in Jewish art music, in the Terrace Theater on Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start from $38.

Also at the Kennedy Center, “NSO Pops: Happy Holidays! with Brian Stokes Mitchell” brings Tony Award-winner Mitchell alongside the NSO Pops to perform a holiday medley Dec. 12-14. Tickets start from $20.

“Elf The Musical,” the stage musical born from the popular Hollywood film, runs Dec. 17- Jan. 5. in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center. The story follows an orphaned man raised by Santa Claus and elves on his journey to reconnect with his biological father in New York City. Tickets start from $60. Visit kennedy-center.org for details.

The 31st annual Christmas Revels present “Echoes of Thrace: Music, Dance and Drama of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey,” a blend of seasonal carols and Slavonic harmonies with traditional folk characters, at the George Washington Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., N.W.) Dec. 7-15. Tickets range from $27-$50.

Grammy-nominated artist Matisyahu brings his “Festival of Light” Hanukkah celebration to the 9:30 Club (815 V St., N.W.) Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Experience the classic Christmas tale “A Christmas Carol” in various ways around the area.

MetroStage (1201 North Royal St., Alexandria, Va.) presents “A Broadway Christmas Carol” Nov.21-Dec. 22. The show mixes the song parodies of Broadway show tunes with the classic Dickens’s story. Tickets are $50.

Ford's Theatre, theater, A Christmas Carol, gay news, Washington Blade

Ford’s Theatre’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ one of several adaptations of the Dickens’ classic that will be on regional stages in December. (Photo courtesy Ford’s)

A one-man show of  “A Christmas Carol” plays Nov. 29-Dec. 29 at Olney Theatre Center (2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md.). The holiday favorite stars Paul Morella performing the tale in Charles Dickens’ own words. Tickets range from $18-$36.

Ford’s Theatre presents “A Christmas Carol” through Jan 1. The production stars Washington stage actor Edward Gero as Ebenezer Scrooge. Tickets range from $40.80-$99.60.

Metropolitan Community Church of Washington (474 Ridge Street, N.W.), D.C.’s largest mostly LGBT church, has its annual Christmas concert “A Homecoming Holiday” Dec. 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. featuring the church’s own groups Eclectic Praise, Joyful Strings, Moving Spirit as well as the church’s two choirs. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at mccdc.com.

D.C.’s Different Drummers has its “Holiday Prism Concert” featuring D.C. Swing! And the Capitol Pride Symphonic Band on Dec. 15. Tickets are $20 for aduots, $10 for seniors and free for children 12 and under. No further information is available now, but visit dcdd.org closer to the date for details.

The Birchmere and AM Productions team up to present “The Brian Setzer Orchestra ‘Christmas Rocks’ 10th Anniversary Tour” at The Warner Theatre (513 13th St., N.W.) on Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000.

On Dec. 14 at 8 p.m., The Birchmere also presents “What Christmas Means Tour 2013: A Holiday Experience” with JEM & Friends with special guests Patti LaBelle and Ron Isley at DAR Constitution Hall (1776 D St., N.W.). Tickets can be purchased on ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000.

Rams Head On Stage (33 West St., Annapolis, Md.) presents many diverse holiday shows. First, enjoy the Scottish/Irish traditional instrumental and vocal styles during “Christmas with the Celts” featuring Laura McGhee and Michael Stribling on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. The Celts’ Christmas show has been featured on PBS. Guests must be 21 and over. Tickets are $35.

Next, “Motown and More: A Holiday Celebration” on Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. showcases classic Motown tunes from singers such as The Temptations and The Supremes along with holiday favorites. Guests must be 21 and over. Tickets are $25.

Also, the 15th annual “An Annapolis Christmas” performance is Dec.16-17 at 7 p.m. Enjoy a mix of original and holiday songs performed by an array of local artists. Guests must be 21 and over. Tickets are $32.50.

“Christmas Gift!” runs at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (3800 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, Md.) Dec.13-14. The musical tells the story of the holiday gift exchange tradition in the African-American community. Tickets range from $10-$35. Purchase tickets at claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.

The Washington Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” plays at The Warner Theatre (513 13th St., N.W.) Dec. 5-14. Tickets range from $42-$107. Purchase tickets at warnertheatredc.com.

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) presents a couple Christmas-themed performances. Pianist/composer Matt Conner and his friends perform favorite Christmas tunes in “A Matt Conner Christmas” Dec. 11-15. Tickets are $48.60 and can be purchased at signature-theatre.org.

Signature’s annual holiday celebration returns with “Holiday Follies 2013,”a Christmas concert featuring special guest performers, Dec. 17-23. Performers include Madeline Botteri and Austin Colby. Tickets are $48.60 and can be purchased at signature-theatre.org.

Coyaba Dance Theater holds its annual Kwanzaa celebration at George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre (800 21st St., N.W.) Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Enjoy live music, dancing and singing in a performance for all ages. Tickets range from $15-$25 and can be purchased online at coyabadancetheater.org.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington presents “Sparkle, Jingle, Joy” at the Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., N.E.) Dec. 20-21. The performance features Grammy Award winner Matt Alber. Celebrate the holidays with classic holiday carols like “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and new songs like “The Christmas Can-Can.” Tickets are $54 and can be purchased at tickets.gmcw.org.

Wolf Trap (1645 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va.) presents its free annual holiday sing-a-long on Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. Choir and vocal groups from across the D.C. area will lead a sing along of Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs. There is also a performance by the United States Marine Band. Voluntary donations for Toys for Tots will be accepted at the entrance. Wolf Trap gift certificates or an annual membership also make great gift ideas! Visit wolftrap.org for the current schedule.

Town (20009 8th St., N.W.) presents “HEATWAVE: Back to the Beach Holiday Celebration” Dec. 5 from 7 p.m.-midnight. There will be musical performances from Ba’Naka and the cast from Town. Music and dancing provided by DJ Chord Bezerra. There will also be a best male and female holiday swimwear contest, drink specials, games and prizes and an underwear fashion show presented by Universal gear. Tickets are $10.

Lesbian gospel singer Jennifer Knapp returns to the region this year with her “Hymns of Christmas Tour” with Margaret Becker on Dec. 11 at Jammin’ Java (227 Maple Ave. E Vienna, Va.) at 8 p.m. Tickets are just $18. Visit jamminjava.com for tickets.

Gay film director John Waters returns to the Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Va.) again this year for his “John Waters Christmas” on Dec. 18. Tickets are $49.50 for the 7:30 p.m. show. Visit birchmere.com for tickets.

Out saxophonist Dave Koz brings his “Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2013” to the Modell Performing Arts Center (The Lyric) in Baltimore (140 W. Mt. Royal Ave., Baltimore) on Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. Oleta Adams, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui will also appear. Prices vary and a VIP package is available. Visit davekoz.com or Ticketmaster.com for details.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs “BSO: Holiday Cirque” at the Music Center at Strathmore (5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Md.) on Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. Listen to holiday favorites while watching a circus performance by Cirque Musica featuring strongmen, acrobats and contortionists. Tickets range from $31-86 and can be purchased at strathmore.org.

Also at the Music Center at Strathmore, the National Philharmonic performs “Handel’s Messiah” Dec. 14-15. Messiah is one of the most frequently performed works in Western choral literature. A free pre-concert lecture will be held before each performance. Kids ages 7-17 are free. Tickets start at $28 and can be purchased at strathmore.org.

Washington Concert Opera doesn’t have any holiday productions planned but is gearing up for its performance of “Il Corsaro” in March at the Lisner Auditorium. The classical music lover on your list would love tickets! Visit concertopera.org for details.

21
Nov
2013

Don’t miss ‘Our Town’ at Ford’s

Until recently, I thought of Thornton Wilder as a famous, but avuncular American playwright and novelist and of his Pulitzer Prize winning play “Our Town” as an iconic, but comfy play. I knew it is performed almost daily in high schools and community theaters, and I’d read it as a teen. I’d have seen it if little else was playing, but, while nourishing, it seemed as surprising – as innovative to me – as mac and cheese.  My thinking changed dramatically after I saw the 75th anniversary production of “Our Town” playing at Ford’s Theatre through Feb. 24.

Why did I want to see Ford’s production of “Our Town?” Because in the wake of the 75th anniversary of the opening of “Our Town” on Broadway, Wilder is the talk of the town. A production of Wilder’s play “The Skin of Our Teeth” will be presented Feb. 14-16 at the Harold and Sylvia Theatre at American University and a new bio of Wilder “Thornton Wilder: A Life” by Penelope Niven is just out. I wanted to take a fresh look at Wilder’s life and his renowned play.

Wilder, who lived from 1897 to 1975, was of a generation that was often closeted about its sexuality. Known for his intellect, Wilder spent most of his life with his work and his friends (which ran the gamut from Gertrude Stein to boxing champion Gene Tunney) rather than in relationships. “… Art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time,” Wilder wrote.

Still, even with the limitations of biographical gaydar, it seems as if Wilder likely was queer.  Growing up, his father was concerned about Wilder’s “peculiar gait and certain effeminate ways.” In her splendid biography, Niven says, “a case can be made” that Wilder was bisexual.

The story of “Our Town” is known from Peoria to San Francisco to Tokyo. Set in the fictional New Hampshire small town of Grover’s Corner’s from 1901 to 1914, Wilder’s play not only illuminates daily life (from falling in love to marrying to dying) in a particular time in America, but opens our eyes to the interconnectivity of human beings and to the need to embrace life in the face of our mortality. Using deceptively simple language, “Our Town,” when staged well, stops us in our tracks. As we hear the Stage Manager’s narration and watch George and Emily love, marry and deal with death in the early 20th century, in the 21st century, we come face-to-face with the transience and timelessness of life.

Ford’s production of “Our Town,” featuring a racially diverse cast, is poignant and engaging.  The company’s lively staging, which used the minimalist staging Wilder had wanted for the play, removed the mothballs that too often encase “Our Town.” By play’s end, I found myself asking with Emily, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”

“I’m always interested in reexamining classics,” Stephen Rayne, the director of Ford’s production of “Our Town,” said in a telephone interview. “When Wilder wrote the play, he saw himself as being in the forefront of the modernist tradition. He had become dissatisfied with theater on Broadway at the time.”

Wilder felt that theater wasn’t making any demand on the public, Rayne said. “With ‘Our Town,’ Wilder was hoping to get back to the purity of form that the Greek dramas had,” he added. “He wanted to make audiences use their imagination. Wilder wrote about falling in love, marrying and death –human moments for everybody, so that we would become more present while we’re alive.”

Now that same-sex marriage is becoming a reality, it would be great to see a production of “Our Town” featuring LGBT characters. Until then, check out Wilder’s play, which transcends differences in class, culture, sexual orientation and race. It’ll make you feel more alive.

13
Feb
2013

Theater: Stories and stages

Edward Gero, Nancy Opel, Ford Theatre, Hello Dolly, gay news

Edward Gero and Nancy Opel in Ford Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Hello Dolly.’ (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy Ford’s)

For local LGBT theatergoers, the spring season promises a wide selection of both fresh and familiar offerings, some light and others more compelling.

At Arena Stage, Robert O’Hara is directing “The Mountaintop” (March 29-May12), playwright Katori Hall’s “bold reimagining of the last night of the historic life of Dr. Martin Luther King.” Talented, multifaceted and gay, O’Hara is currently playwright in residence at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Arena (arenastage.org) is also mounting gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s newest play “Other Desert Cities” (April 26-May 26). While spending Christmas at the beige Palm Springs home of her aging Reaganite power couple parents, fragile adult daughter Brooke drops a bomb — she’s writing a tell-all memoir. Complications ensue. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley compared “Other Desert Cities” to sophisticated plays from the past. It’s like those “literate, thoughtful, well-tailored topical dramas in which people spoke with a fluency, wittiness and sense of timing we only wished we could command in real life.”

This spring will age MaryBeth Wise far beyond her years. She’s cast to play Mary in Round House Theatre’s (roundhousetheatre.org) production of “How to Write a New Book for the Bible” (April 10-May 5), playwright Bill Cain’s autobiographical work about a man who returns home to care for his dying mother. “It’s kind of a memory play,” says Wise, who is gay. “My part requires going from age 40 to 80, and back and forth.” She predicts a “funny and intense journey.” Ryan Rilette is directing.

Triple threat Bobby Smith will be spending a lot of time at Arlington’s Signature Theatre (signature-theatre.org) in the coming months. First, Smith (who is gay) plays Peter, a possibly gay man living happily with ex-wife Susan in Eric Schaeffer’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” (May 21-June 30), the award-winning musical about a marriage-phobic bachelor’s search for meaning. The show’s spectacular score includes “Being Alive,” “Side By Side,” “Little Things You Do Together,” “Another Hundred People” and “Ladies Who Lunch.”

And this summer, Smith is evil Richard Riddle in Signature’s “Spin,” a world premiere musical based on a Korean cult classic titled “Speedy Scandal.” Smith describes his character as a sort of Rex Reed-style gossip columnist villain.

At MetroStage (metrostage.org) in Alexandria, John Vreeke is directing “Ghost Writer” (April 25-June 2). When a famed novelist drops dead mid-sentence, his typist, Myra (Susan Lynskey), continues writing his unfinished book as if taking dictation from the great beyond. MetroStage’s artistic director Carolyn Griffin says Vreeke, who is gay, is brilliant at finding “the perfect tone and balance for gemlike plays with delicate scripts in which very special relationships are portrayed.”

At Folger Theatre on Capitol Hill (folger.edu), prolific gay set designer Tony Cisek is again collaborating with British director Robert Richmond — this time on Shakespeare’s gender bending comedy “Twelfth Night” (April 30-June 9). The cast features local favorites including Joshua Morgan (also gay) as Valentine, the gentleman attendant to Duke Orsino.

In Tysons Corner, 1st Stage (1ststagespringhill.org) is presenting gay playwright John Logan’s “Never the Sinner” (March 22-April 14), an erotically fraught telling of the real life Leopold and Loeb case in which a pair of affluent Chicago teenagers attempt to commit the perfect murder. The talented Jeremy Skidmore directs.

As part of the Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool 2013 (a month-long celebration of Scandinavian culture), Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre is presenting the U.S. premiere of “Fanny and Alexander” (March 7-9), its much ballyhooed stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s beautiful Oscar-winning feature film.

Also coming to the Kennedy Center: “The Guardsman” (May 25-June 23), a revival of the 1920s Broadway comedy hit that starred the famed married acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne as game-playing newlywed actors. Known for years as the first family of the American theater, Lunt and Fontanne, both gay, were married primarily for reasons of business and friendship. (kennedy-center.org)

On the Ides of March, Ford’s Theatre (in co-production with Signature) is rolling out that musical comedy chestnut “Hello Dolly!” (March 15-May 18) (fordstheatre.org). Based on gay playwright Thornton Wilder’s comedy “The Matchmaker,” the 1964 fun musical boasts a memorable score by gay composer Jerry Herman that includes enduring tunes like “Before the Parade Passes By,” and, of course, “Hello, Dolly!” The title role — most notably performed by Carol Channing in New York and on tour for what seems several centuries, and Barbra Streisand on the silver screen — will be played by Broadway veteran Nancy Opel. Terrific local actor Edward Gero is cast as Dolly’s grumpy romantic quarry Horace Vandergelder. Signature’s gay artistic director Eric Schaeffer is directing.

Philip Fletcher is taking on the lead role of the wronged Prospero in Synetic Theater’s (synetictheater.org) “The Tempest” (through March 24), the ninth installment of the fabulously innovative movement based company’s “Silent Shakespeare” series. Fletcher, who’s gay, won a Helen Hayes Award for his outstanding supporting actor effort as one of three witches in Synetic’s “Macbeth.”

Olney Theatre Center (olneytheatre.org) is mounting Jeff Talbott’s racially charged comedy “The Submission” (May 9-June 9). Here’s the premise: Using the pen name Shaleeha G’ntamobi, a nascent gay white playwright writes a about a black family dealing with ghetto life. When his play is selected to be produced by a prestigious theater festival, the playwright hires a black actress to stand in for him. Guess what? Things don’t go smoothly.

28
Feb
2013

Ford’s says ‘Hello Dolly!’

Edward Gero, Nancy Opel, Ford Theatre, Hello Dolly, gay news, Washington Blade

Edward Gero and Nancy Opel in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ at Ford’s Theatre. (Photo by Scott Suchman) (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy Ford’s)

Ford’s Theater (511 Tenth St., NW) opens the show “Hello, Dolly!” March 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Ford’s Theater Director on ‘Hello Dolly!’

The Tony-winning musical follows Horace Vandergelder, a half-millionaire, who hires matchmaker Dolly Levi to find him a wife. Dolly instead plans to woo Vandergelder for herself while arranging romantic matches for his niece, clerks and two eligible shop girls.

Tickets for this DC Theater gem are $25-$90. For more information, visit fords.org.

14
Mar
2013

Channeling Channing

Hello Dolly!, Nancy Opel, gay news, Washington Blade

Nancy Opel, center, as Dolly Levi with (from left) Jp Qualters, Harris Milgrim, Kyle Vaughn and Alex Puette in the Ford’s/Signature co-production of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ (Photo by Carol Rosegg, courtesy Ford’s Theatre)

‘Hello, Dolly!’
Through May 18
Ford’s Theatre
511 Tenth Street, NW
$15-90
800-982-2787
fords.org

It feels hard to imagine the musical “Hello, Dolly!” without Carol Channing in the title role. After originating the part on Broadway in 1964 and starring in two revivals, she made the part her own.

Yet director Eric Schaeffer’s new version now playing at Ford’s Theatre puts the raspy voiced blonde out of mind almost entirely. OK, maybe once or twice, you might momentarily miss Channing’s googly eyed mugging and over-the-top entrances, but on the whole, this charm-filled production (presented by Ford’s and Signature Theatre) fares splendidly despite the absence of Channing’s star wattage.

As the ever-resourceful Dolly Gallagher Levi, Broadway veteran Nancy Opel delivers presence, an appealing voice and honed comedic skills best demonstrated when she’s happily bulldozing the bad-tempered half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (played by an aptly grouchy Edward Gero) into a marriage he doesn’t yet know he wants. Opel’s Dolly is less loopy than Channing’s syrupy sweet yenta, but she’s definitely entertaining. Plus, her Dolly is a woman you might actually recognize.

Based on Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker,” “Hello, Dolly!” celebrates the possibility of happiness and new beginnings. It’s very American. Set in 1890s New York City and Yonkers, the musical (book by Michael Stewart; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman) follows the maneuvers of life-loving Dolly as she improves her circumstances and along the way brings a little joy to those around her. Among those benefiting from Dolly’s machinations is widowed milliner Irene Molloy (Tracy Lynn Olivera) who — with Dolly’s assistance — finds love with never-been-kissed shop clerk Cornelius Hackl played by boyish blonde actor Gregory Maheu. Olivera’s gorgeous rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back” is one of the show’s high points.

Similarly, Dolly bolsters love matches involving Irene’s young assistant Minnie Fay and Cornelius’ self-conscious co-worker Barnaby Tucker (Lauren Williams and Zack Colonna), as well as Vandergelder’s hilariously miserable niece Ermengarde (Carolyn Cole) and her artist boyfriend Ambrose (Ben Lurye).

Ford’s Hello Dolly trailer

When Jerry Herman came to Washington to receive a Helen Hayes Tribute in 2005, the famed gay composer shared that his goal has always been to make audiences happy. Herman’s score indeed does just that — filled with hummable, enduring classics like “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Elegance,” “Hello, Dolly!” and the stirring “Before the Parade Passes By,” it has long been an audience favorite. Herman also wrote, among others, the scores for megahits “Mame” and “La Cage Aux Folles.”

Celebrated for streamlining big musicals, Schaeffer (who is gay) has pared down his “Dolly” to a comparably small cast of 16, concentrating more on the show’s story and strong characters rather than spectacle. Adam Koch’s set is a rust-colored train station, the well-used link from Yonkers to the city and back, and though his set is spare, it’s filled with many beautiful things like Wade Laboissonniere’s gorgeous period costumes — plaid suits, bowlers, corseted slim silhouettes, outlandishly large hats — all realized in mostly muted tones; Karma Camp’s inventive, athletic choreography performed by an ensemble of graceful, top-notch dancers; the melodic strains of an on point, eight-man band led by the show’s musical director and keyboardist James Moore; and a spirited cast featuring a lot of local talent.

Earlier this year on a broadcast of “Radio 360,” comedian Sandra Bernhard talked about seeing “Hello, Dolly!” when she was a little girl. Bernhard remembered feeling she should be part of the cast. Then and there, she was ready to get on stage with Carol Channing and the show’s other bigger-than-life characters. Now it’s time for the next generation to get inspired by Ford’s “Hello, Dolly!” and join the parade.

18
Apr
2013

Calendar: events through Dec. 27

TODAY (Friday) 

Ford’s Theatre (511 10th St., NW) hosts Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” tonight at 7:30 p.m. It runs with performances planned throughout the rest of December. The musical was originally conceived by Michael Baron and acclaimed Washington actor Edward Gero leads the show as Scrooge. Tickets are $55-$100. For more information, visit fordstheatre.org.

Touchstone Gallery (901 New York Ave., NW) presents “Course Corrections” by Gale Wallar and “The Best of Touchstone” with artwork from 40 artists. Wallar’s pieces explore places we may not know. The annual holiday show features several artists whose artwork is affordable and great for gifts. The show runs until Dec. 30. For more information, visit touchstonegallery.com.

“Zoolights” is on display at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park (3001 Connecticut Ave., NW). The show includes around 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights that make animal silhouettes, musical light displays and new garden scene light sculpture. Admission is free, but parking costs $9 for members and $16 for non-members. For details, visit nationalzoo.si.edu.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre (641 D St., NW) presents “The Pajama Men: In the Middle of No One,” the highest rated comedy routine at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, tonight at 7. Tickets are $55. For more information, visit woollymammoth.net.

The Black Cat (1811 14th St., NW) holds its “Dr. Who Happy Hour” tonight at 7 p.m. on its backstage. There will be one episode of “Dr. Who” along with drink specials. For more information, visit blackcatdc.com.

Phase 1 (528 8th St. SE) has its weekly dance party with DJ Jay Von Teese tonight starting at 7:30. Cover is $10. For more information, visit phase1dc.com.

Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) hosts Bear Happy Hour tonight from 6-11 p.m. This event is for people 21 and older. There is no cover charge. Later the drag show will start at 10:30 p.m. and the GoGo boys come out at 11. Cover is $5 before 11 and $10 after. There are $3 drinks until 11. For details, visit towndc.com.

The Bachelor’s Mill (1104 8th St., S.E.) is having its happy hour tonight starting at 5 p.m. All drinks are half off until 7:30 p.m. After 9 p.m., admission is $10. The dance floor opens at 11 with DJ Tim-Nice and DJ Cameron. For details, visit thebachelorsmill.com.

The Black Cat (1811 14th St., NW) screens “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” tonight on its backstage at 9:30. This event is free. For details, visit blackcatdc.com.

Saturday, Dec. 22

Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) opens its doors at 10 tonight and the drag show begins at 10:30. Cover is $8 before 11 p.m. and $12 after. There are $3 drinks before 11. For details, visit towndc.com.

Burgundy Crescent, a gay volunteer organization, is helping in food preparation and packing groceries for Food and Friends (219 Riggs Road, NE) this morning at 8 and again at 9:45. For more information, visit burgundycrescent.org.

Green Lantern (1335 Green Court, NW) holds its “Tainted Love: ‘80s Dance Party” tonight starting at 10 p.m. Cover is $5. For more information, visit greenlanterndc.com.

The Black Cat(1811 14th St., N.W.) hosts, “Hellmouth Happy Hour” where attendees watch one episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with drink specials. Cover is free and doors open at 7 p.m. For more information, visit blackcatdc.com.

Sunday, Dec. 23

The National Symphony Orchestra gets into the holiday spirit by performing Handel’s “Messiah” today at 1 p.m. at the Kennedy Center (2700 F St., NW). Tickets are $10 to $85. For more information, visit kennedy-center.org.

Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.)  holds its weekly Martini Sundays and Homowood Karaoke. Karaoke starts at 10 p.m. and there is no charge for admission. For details, visit cobaltdc.com.

Monday, Dec. 24

Green Lantern (1335 Green Court, NW) has its normal hours and drink specials this evening from 4 p.m.-2 a.m. but there will not be “Bears Do Yoga” and karaoke. Admission is free. For more information, visit greenlanterndc.com.

Tuesday, Dec. 25

The Kennedy Center (2700 F St., NW) brings the annual traditon from Millennium Stage, “All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam” with Chuck Redd, Rober Redd, Lenny Robinson, Tom Williams, James King and Delores Williams. This event is free. For details, visit kennedy-center.org.

The Black Cat (1811 14th St., NW) hosts “James Brown Death-Mas Holiday Bash” tonight at 9. The party is to commemorate the death of the “hardest working man in show business” who died on Christmas in 2006. For more information, visit blackcatdc.com.

Wednesday, Dec. 26

Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., NW) holds its gay men over 50 support group this evening at 6:30 p.m. The group is for gay men entering a new phase of life. Registration is required to attend. For more information, visit whitman-walker.org.

Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., NW) holds its HIV+ Newly Diagnosed Support Group tonight at 7. It is a confidential support group for anyone recently diagnosed with HIV and the group welcomes all genders and sexual orientations. For details, visit whitman-walker.org.

Lambda Bridge Club meets tonight at 7:30 pm at the Dignity Center (721 8th St., SE). Newcomers are welcome and no reservations are needed. For more information, visit lambdabridge.com.

Thursday, Dec. 27

Whitman-Walker Health offers HIV testing at Miriam’s Kitchen (2401 Virginia Ave, NW) today from 4-6 p.m. For more information, visit whitman-walker.org.

Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W) is hosting its weekly Best Package Contest tonight at 9 p.m. There is a $3 cover and there are $2 vodka drinks. Participants in the contest can win $200 in cash prizes. The event is hosted by Lena Lett and music by DJ Chord, DJ Madscience, and DJ Sean Morris. For details, visit cobaltdc.com.

20
Dec
2012

Ford’s tradition revisited

‘A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas’
Through Dec. 30
Ford’s Theatre
511 10th Street, NW
$22-$89
800-982-2787
fords.org

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Anne Stone, Ford's Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade, Edward Gero

Edward Gero as Scrooge and Anne Stone as the Ghost of Christmas Present in the Ford Theatre production of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Ford’s Theatre)

Not yet in the holiday spirit? Then make a beeline to Ford’s Theatre for a jolt of yuletide cheer.

Ford’s has been presenting Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic since 1979, but for the last several years it’s been retelling the Scrooge story with an especially entertaining and timely adaptation by Michael Wilson titled “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.”

Adeptly staged by gay director Michael Baron, this version is spookier than previous productions with its haunted house effects (spinning bed, talking portrait, booming thunderclaps and flashes of lighting); but it’s also merrier. The show begins with happy 19th century Londoners ambling through the historic theater, welcoming audience members. Baron has also added song and dance including familiar carols like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “O Christmas Tree” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” And the holiday bash at the Fezziwigs’ (a pleasant memory from Scrooge’s youth) is a lively dance number led by a terrific Rick Hammerly as the jolly host.

But the heart of this “A Christmas Carol” is Edward Gero’s marvelous portrayal of that formidable miser whose icy heart is melted after nocturnal visitors open his eyes to the joys of the season. His Scrooge’s gradual transformation from miserable misanthrope to generous, joyous uncle, feels wholly believable.

As the kindly and elegant Ghost of Christmas Past, Felcia Curry floats above the stage, the dazzling incarnation of a sparkly little marionette seen earlier in the London marketplace. Other ghosts include James Konicek as Scrooge’s long dead friend and business partner Jacob Marley, Jane Stone as the saucy and straight shooting Ghost of Christmas Present and a floating silent specter (Curry again) as the terrifying Ghost of Christmas future.

Set designer Lee Savage supplies a soaring Victorian iron structure inspired by London’s Convent Garden marketplace and dominated by an imposing clock that portentously marks the comings and goings of Scrooge’s ghostly visitors. Alejo Vietti expertly costumes the cast in period top hats, bonnets, hoop skirts and night shirts — all that we’ve come to associate with strolling carolers and late night Christmas tales.

Wilson’s script is relevantly witty, sometimes a little darkly so: When raising a glass, old Scrooge makes a toast to “a quick foreclosure.” Ouch. Wilson also includes some nice glimpses into the modest life of Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his wife nicely played by John Lescault and Amy McWilliams respectively.

Other standouts in a fine cast comprised of many local actors include the fetching Helen Hedman who plays both gracious Mrs. Fezziwig and Scrooge’s wily housekeeper Mrs. Dilber; Tom Story as Scrooge’s good-humored nephew; and Gregory Maheu as the eager but slightly awkward young bachelor Topper. The cast’s children sing sweetly and give very natural performances. Holden Browne and Sam Ellis rotate the role of Tiny Tim.

Though Dickens’ Christmas story is old, its message and Ford’s production feel anything but.

20
Dec
2012