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Signature stages ‘Beaches’

Alysha Umphress, Mara Davi, Beaches, Signature Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Alysha Umphress and Mara Davi in Signature’s ‘Beaches.’ (Photo by Chris Mueller; courtesy Signature Theatre)

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) presents the stage revival of hit movie “Beaches” Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. It runs through March. 23.

The play is based on the 1985 novel by Iris Rainer Dart and was later adapted into the popular 1988 movie (a gay favorite) starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. The production, which chronicles the friendship between two women, stars Mara Davi as Bertie White and Alysha Umphress as Cee Cee Bloom.

Tickets range from $29-$69. For more information, visit signature-theatre.org.

13
Feb
2014

‘Henry,’ ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Hair’

Olympia Dukakis, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Actress Olympia Dukakis performs a reading of her one-woman show ‘Rose’ at the Strathmore March 13. (Photo courtesy Strathmore)

With so many new and familiar musicals, plays and performances busting out all over, spring is an especially busy time for D.C.-area theater. And many of the season’s hottest tickets are of special interest to LGBT audiences.

Signature Theatre is premiering a musical adaptation of “Beaches” (through March 30), based on the novel previously adapted for the big screen as the 1988 tearjerker starring Bette Miller and Barbara Hershey. Signature’s out artistic director Eric Schaeffer is staging the production. Broadway veterans Alysha Umphress and Mara Davi respectively play odd couple longtime friends Cee Cee and Bertie.

Also at Signature, out director Matthew Gardiner is staging a revival of the Berthold Brecht/Kurt Weill scathing musical critique of capitalism “Three Penny Opera” (April 22-June 1). The cast features Rick Hammerly (also gay) as scheming Lucy Brown, a part played memorably by Bea Arthur in the 1950s off-Broadway version.

WSC Avant Bard is currently presenting “Orlando” (thru March 23), playwright Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Virgnia Woolf’s 1928 novel about a man who becomes a woman. Talented local actor Sara Barker plays the title role. Amber Jackson directs.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington presents “Von Trapped” (March 12-14). It’s a sure-to-be gay parody of “The sound of Music” featuring those familiar characters and beloved songs but with a twist. James Ellzy is the director/choreography.

Mark Twain Prize, gay news, Washington Blade

Lily Tomlin (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Comic icon Lily Tomlin comes to the Strathmore in Bethesda, Md., on March 28. In her live act, Tomlin, who recently married longtime partner Jane Wagner, uses her familiar roster of characters like Ernestine the telephone operator and precocious brat Edith Ann to hilariously comment on the human condition. Olympia Dukakis will perform a reading of her one-woman show “Rose,” which tells of a Jewish woman who has survived major events of the 20th century, at the Strathmore on March 13.

As part of its World Stages: International Theatre Festival, the Kennedy Center presents a staged reading of gay playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s “A Great Wilderness” on March 22, a story of an older man who has devoted his life to counseling teen boys not to be gay. About to retire, he takes one last client who forces him to confront his own demons.

The Keegan Theatre (located on Church Street, N.W., a half block walk from JR.’s Bar) presents “Hair” (March 15-April 12), the acclaimed ‘60s rock musical that celebrates youth, protest, free love, and, of course, hair. The show’s co-creators James Rado and Gerome Ragni shared an intimate relationship that inspired the show’s groundbreaking relaxed attitude toward sexuality.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s out artistic director Michael Kahn is staging both “Henry IV Part 1” (March 25-June 7) with Stacey Keach playing Falstaff, and the “Henry IV Part 2” (April 1-June 8) with local big talent Edward Gero in the title role.

Synetic Theatre is reviving its Helen Hayes Award-winning production of “Hamlet,” the first in its enormously successful Silent Shakespeare series, which relies on movement rather than words to tell the story. Out actor Alex Mills plays the gloomy Danish prince. It runs March 13-April 6.

Every April 12, parties are held throughout the world celebrating Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic 1961 first manned space flight. D.C.’s “Countdown to Yuri’s Night” (C2YN) offers an artistic spin on this high-science holiday by combining an art exhibition, a space-themed burlesque show, band performances and a dance party. Entertainers include New York-based burlesque star Mr. Gorgeous and out performer Patrick Doneghy. This year’s venue is the spanking new Anacostia Arts Center.

In May, gay director John Waters brings his one-man show “This Filthy World” (May 16) to the Birchmere in Alexandria. For just one performance, the Baltimore-based film legend will share insights on his journey from trash genre cult favorite to bankable Hollywood director.

Gay playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s “The Totalitarians” (June 2-29) makes its area premier in a production staged by out director Robert O’ Hara at Woolly Mammoth. Set against the backdrop of Nebraska-based political campaign, this high-energy farce pokes fun at the inanity of political language.

With “Jarman (all this maddening beauty),” force/collision pays tribute to Derek Jarman, the British avant-garde artist and filmmaker who died of an AIDS-related illness 20 years ago. A mash-up of video and live performance, “Jarman” is written by playwright Caridad Svich and will be directed and performed by the ensemble company’s out founding director John Moletress. First workshop performances are scheduled for April 17-27 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Holly Twyford, celebrated local actor and now director who is gay, is staging Factory 449’sThe Amish Project” (April 17-May 11), playwright Jessica Dickey’s account of the tragic  Amish one-room schoolhouse shootings that took place in Nickel Mines, Pa., in 2006, and its effects on the community. The production will be mounted at the Anacostia Arts Center.

On April 21, it’s the annual Helen Hayes Awards, honoring outstanding work in professional local theater from 2013. The event will be held for the first time at the National Building Museum.

Over the last weekend in May, the D.C. Queer Theatre Festival marks its third annual celebration the underrepresented voices and diversity of queer artists. The festival features new plays with themes relevant to the D.C. area and local artists with roots in the community. It also aims to meld quality theater with activism and charity.

This spring, the Rainbow Theatre Project, D.C.’s new company committed to presenting LGBT-themed plays and musicals, continues its inaugural season with one night staged readings of  gay playwright Noel Coward’s “Long Island Sound (March 17), a comedy of bad manners featuring out actor Rick Hammerly; and “Yank!”(May 5), a musical about a gay romance during World War II to be staged by Hammerly, who must be among the hardest working local theater folks this spring.

07
Mar
2014

QUEERY: Joshua Morgan

Joshua Morgan, No Rules Theatre, gay news, Washington Blade

Joshua Morgan (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Joshua Morgan, an actor who’s been in the region for four years, has been named the first-ever executive director of No Rules Theatre Co., an outfit with dual headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Arlington, Va.

Board chair Violet Jacobson credits Morgan with a “major transition in the past year,” including a grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation that enabled the company to create the new position. It also moved in with Signature Theatre, raised significant amounts during a November campaign and kicked off a “terrific year of shows.”

“All [occurred] under the visionary leadership of Joshua,” she says. “No Rules Theatre Co. is poised for major success.”

Morgan, a University of North Carolina School of the Arts graduate, moved to Washington from New York and has performed at Woolly Mammoth, Signature, Arena and several other established companies in the D.C. area. As a director, he helmed sold-out productions of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” for No Rules in both North Carolina and Washington and received solid reviews for his work on Neil LaBute’s “Some Girl(s)” and Andrew Hinderaker’s “Suicide.”

Morgan was born in England and raised in Los Angeles and North Carolina. He’s in a relationship with Louis Phillips and lives in Eastern Market. He enjoys cooking, yoga and tennis in his free time.

 

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

I came out my freshman year of college. I think I had the most difficult time telling the rest of my acting class because we were so close and I had been lying to them for a while before coming out. I was embarrassed.

 

Who’s your LGBT hero?

John Cameron Mitchell

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

Ugh. I’m a morning person. So — Washington’s best morningspot? Tidal Basin.

 

Describe your dream wedding.

My best friend Farrell has planned three for me. One will be on an organic farm, one will be on a boat and one will be in a theater with a full show as part of the ceremony. Hopefully I don’t have three weddings.

 

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Eating well! We have been duped in America into eating crap and it’s slowly killing us. We have to fight for good food.

 

What historical outcome would you change?

Electing George W. Bush.

 

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

Kurt Cobain dying. I was young, but my whole family was very upset.

 

On what do you insist?

Don’t do business with me on Facebook!

 

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

I posted a picture of Louie and me in Rehoboth Beach.

 

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

“If you’re not behind, where are you? The Joshua Morgan Story”

 

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

Scoff

 

What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

I consider myself a spiritual person and definitely believe in the afterlife and reincarnation.

 

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Use the younger generation to create change! They’re incredibly open minded and will shape the future of our community.

 

What would you walk across hot coals for?

Louie

 

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

I’m not every girl’s pet.

 

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“The First Wives Club.” That’s basically an LGBT movie at this point.

 

What’s the most overrated social custom? 

Why can’t I have my elbows on the table when I eat?

 

What trophy or prize do you most covet?

I’m proud of the recognition from the Helen Hayes for No Rules as the outstanding emerging theatre company back in 2012. That meant a lot to me.

 

What do you wish you’d known at 18?

Start saving money!

 

Why Washington?

I love how embracing this arts community is. I think because the city is so transient, it’s open to new talent, which his very exciting for me and the young people I work with. It doesn’t hold on to preconceived notions as much, which I love.

16
Apr
2014

Actor/singer Rodriguez to perform

Nicholas Rodriguez, gay news, Washington Blade

Nicholas Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of Rodriguez)

Singer Nicholas Rodriguez performs “The First Time…”  at Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) July 17 at 8 p.m.

The show features new interpretations of pop, jazz, folk and musical theater songs. Rodriguez, who is gay, has also appeared on “One Life to Live.” Singer Nova Y. Payton will also appear.

Tickets are $25. For more details, visit signature-theatre.org.

 

07
Jul
2014

STAYCATION: Treasures from the stage

Susan Lynskey and James Konicek in ‘THE BFG’ at Imagination Stage. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

Susan Lynskey and James Konicek in ‘THE BFG’ at Imagination Stage. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

No one ever said a staycation has to be without adventure, so why not include some theater in your plans? Theater is transporting, delivering you to far off places and unfamiliar situations. And the trip is easy. You can be at home sleeping in your own bed by 11 — even earlier if you attend a matinee. This summer’s selection is huge. Here are a few choices.

Studio 2ndStage is presenting “Carrie The Musical” (through Aug. 3) based on the Stephen King novel about a high school outcast who unleashes her telekinetic powers on the student body. They’re not going to laugh at her anymore. The best-selling book was adapted to the screen in ’76 as the hit horror flick starring Sissy Spacek in the title role. The musical opened on Broadway in 1988 to dismal reviews, but the 2012 off-Broadway revival was a stunning success. Its score by Dean Pitchford (lyrics) and Michael Gore (music) includes nicely named tunes like “And Eve Was Weak” and “The Destruction.”

2ndStage’s production co-directed by Keith Alan Baker and Jacob Janssen features Emily Zickler as Carrie White and Broadway’s Barbara Walsh as Carrie’s possessive, religious fanatic mother. Walsh was terrific as Little Edie in Studio Theatre’s production of “Grey Gardens” in 2008.

With well over a hundred shows in about a dozen local venues, Capital Fringe Festival 2014 (July 10-27) will definitely add variety to your D.C. summer staycation. On stage options (theater, music, dance, puppetry, etc.) run the gamut from inspiringly risky to not so great. The fun lies in ferreting out the gems.

Offerings include works of special interest to LGBT theatergoers including “A Lesbian Belle Tells!” written and presented by out performer Elizabeth McCain. In her solo show, McCain gives her take on eccentric southern relatives and coming out both in D.C. and at a family funeral.

In Larry E. Blossom’s “As We Are” presented by Out-Side the Box Theatre, three siblings confront memories about a gay bashing incident that has haunted them for years. Christopher Henley and his husband Jay Hardee co-direct “Dracula. A Love Story,” a contemporary retelling of the vampire story. And in Patrick DiBattista and Elizabeth Laffoon’s comedy “Love Song to Miss Kitty,” a strapping villain tries to steal a gay country western bar from an old lesbian couple so he can turn it into a dance boutique.

Looking for highbrow entertainment at no cost? For its annual Free For All, the Shakespeare Theatre Company is presenting a remount of Rebecca Taichman’s production of Shakespeare’s late romantic saga, “The Winter’s Tale” (August 19-31). A Washington tradition for 22 years, Free For All offers free tickets to the general public to experience Shakespeare in the sticky late summer. Performances once took place under the stars (weather permitting) at Carter Barron Amphitheater, but in recent years they’ve mercifully been moved indoors to the comfort of STC’s Sidney Harman Hall.

Spending your staycation with wee ones? Try the musical “Pinkalicious,” (thru Aug. 31) at the Adventure Theatre Musical Theater Center in Glen Echo Park. Siblings Pinkalicious and Peter Pinkerton (played by Carolyn Agan and John Sygar) love all things pink. Sadly Peter is denied pink outfits and toys because their father thinks it’s too girly. But Pinkalicious has no such restrictions. After binging on pink cupcakes she comes down with a case of pinkitis turning her skin — what else? — bright pink. The cure is to eat greens. Adventure Theater’s leafy Glen Echo location makes a nice staycation destination. After the show, you and the kids can enjoy ice cream and a ride on the park’s historic carousel.

Bethesda’s Imagination Stage is presenting “The BFG” (through Aug. 10). Based on the book by Roald Dahl, it’s the England-set tale of a little orphan girl who befriends a big friendly giant. The production uses outsized stage puppets, masks and imaginative projections and animation.

The Lion King” is parked at the Kennedy Center Opera House though Aug. 17. It’s the national tour of Julie Taymor’s celebrated Broadway production featuring an excellent cast, magnificent puppetry and uplifting score by Elton John and Tim Rice. Tickets aren’t cheap, but it’s a memorable theater experience for the family.

During staycation why not add music to your life? Through July 26, Shirlington’s Signature Theatre  presents its annual “Sizzlin’ Summer Nights Series.” (Sizzlin’ describes the performers, not Signature’s well air-conditioned venue). The series is two-and-a-half weeks of 17 one-night cabarets performed by an exciting and eclectic mix of D.C. and New York faces.

Many of those featured are out performers including leading man Will Gartshore; Broadway’s “Tarzan” Nicholas Rodriguez; Jeffrey Johnson as his leggy, space age alter ego “Galactica,” singer-songwriter Tom Goss (“Lover,” “Bears” and “Make Believe,”); Helen Hayes Award-winner Bobby Smith; and Stephen Gregory Smith who’s slated to perform a fun salute to TV theme songs.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington will perform “Like a Virgin,” sharing first-time experiences (ranging from funny to poignant) through story and song.

The series ends with “Revenge of the Understudies.” It’s time for those would be stars in the wings — Signature understudies from this year’s season — to step into the spotlight and sing their hearts out.

 

11
Jul
2014

Galactica back with cabaret covers

Special Agent Galactica, Jeffrey Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade

Special Agent Galactica re-emerges this weekend as part of Signature Theatre’s Sizzling Summer Cabaret series. (Blade file photo courtesy Jeffrey Johnson)

Drag performer Special Agent Galactica performs with guitarist Peter Fields at Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) Saturday night at 9 p.m. as part of its Sizzlin’ Summer Series.

Special Agent Galactica will perform an eclectic range of music including jazz, blues and today’s rock and roll. In between the music, Galactica recounts her top-secret missions and stories as a hired assassin. Jeffrey Johnson, creator of Special Agent Galactica, has also performed as Edie Beale in “Edie Beale Live at Reno Sweeney.”

Tickets are $15. For more details, visit pinkhairedone.com. Another show in the series of high gay interest is “Early Barbra: Streisand in the ’60s,” Friday night (July 18) at 9 p.m. in which singer Colleen McHugh will explore the diva’s early work. More info at signature-theatre.org.

 

 

 

 

 

17
Jul
2014

Find your lost Broadway

Nova Y. Payton, Dreamgirls, Lost Songs of Broadway, Signature Theatre, gay news, Washington Blade

Nova Y. Payton, seen here in a ‘Dreamgirls’ promo shot, is part of ‘Lost Songs of Broadway,’ which debuts Wednesday. (Photo courtesy Signature Theatre)

Signature Theatre presents the “Lost Songs of Broadway: 1970s” as part of its cabaret series starting Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. and running through June 1.

A combination of Signature’s production of “Company,” the show features numbers from Broadway musicals that didn’t fare so well. The show features performers Nova Y. Payton, Chelsea Packard and Austin Colby.

Tickets are $42.95. Visit signature-theatre.org for more information.

23
May
2013

Will has grace

Will Gartshore, gay news, Washington Blade

Will Gartshore will be at Signature next week for a new cabaret show. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) hosts “Dressed Up: A Class Conscious Cabaret” starring gay singer/actor Will Gartshore as part of its “Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret” series on Thursday at 8 p.m. and Friday (Aug. 16 )at 7 p.m.

Gartshore had a successful Broadway and off-Broadway career in New York during the ‘90s, but has also thrived in Washington after moving here in 2002. Performances in Signature Theater’s “Urinetown” (2005) and Roundhouse’s “A Year with Frog and Toad” have earned him critical acclaim and prestige in D.C.

Gartshore has since become a full-time lobbyist for the World Wildlife Fund, but still performs occasionally. “Dressed Up” will feature classic tunes by Gershwin, Sondheim and The Beatles, accompanied by pianist Christopher Wingert.

Admission is $24-31.15 for both nights. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit signature-theatre.org.

08
Aug
2013

Cabaret comeback

Nova Y. Payton, Dreamgirls, Lost Songs of Broadway, Signature Theatre, gay news, Washington Blade

Thursday’s show at 8 p.m. features Nova Y. Payton, a Signature actress who starred in ‘Dreamgirls’ among other credits. (Photo courtesy Signature Theatre)

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) kicks off its first “Autumn Cabaret Festival” on Wednesday at 8 p.m. with performances by Broadway actress Chelsea Packard (“Wicked,” “Hands on a Hard Body”).

Signature was inspired by the popularity of its cabaret series to start the festival, which will continue through Sept. 21. Thursday’s show at 8 p.m. features Nova Y. Payton, a Signature actress who starred in “Dreamgirls” and performed in the theater’s “Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret Series.”

Some of the festival’s other performers include funk, soul and rock band The Hustle, Broadway actress Heidi Blickenstaff and local blues artist, Levi Stephens.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online. All-access passes are $100 and can only be purchased at the box office. For more information, visit signature-theatre.org.

29
Aug
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