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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


‘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.


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?



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?



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.


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



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.



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 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







Calendar: Dec. 13

Sherri L. Edelen, Gypsy, gay news, Washington Blade

Sherri L. Edelen in ‘Gypsy,’ Signature Theatre’s new show that opens next week. (Photo by Christopher Mueller; courtesy Signature)

Friday, Dec. 13

The Olkiama Ministry of the Unity Fellowship Church of D.C. presents “Old School Dance: The Annual UFCDC Olkiama Party” at Charlie’s (7307 Georgia Ave., N.W.) tonight from 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Tickets are $15. Admission is limited to guests 21 and over. There will be a food and cash bar. For more information and to purchase tickets call 240-460-7265 or 202-285-9670.

Women in Their 20s, a social discussion group for lesbian, bisexual, transgender and all women interested in women, meets today at The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) from 8-9:30 p.m. Come meet other queer women in a fun and friendly setting. All welcome to join. For details, visit

Team D.C. hosts its annual holiday party at Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) tonight from 6:30-8:30 p.m. There will be free food and happy hour drink specials. For details, visit

Khush D.C. hosts “Jalwa,” an LGBT Bollywood dance party, at Green Lantern (1335 Green Ct., N.W.) tonight from 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Come dance to Bollywood, Bhangra and other South Asian tunes played by DJ Geeta Jhaveri. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 before 11 p.m. and $15 after. For more information, visit

Saturday, Dec. 14

The Latino Queer Bilingual Writing Group hosts its monthly workshop at the D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) today from 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. The focus will be on memoirs. Open to writers of any genre and levels of experience to share creative work in Spanish or English. Workshop is free and no prior experience is necessary. For details, call 202-682-2245 or email

Black Cat (1811 14th St., N.W.) hosts “miX-MAS,” a Christmas mixtape party, tonight from 10 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Doors open at 10 p.m. Cover is $10. For more information, visit

Black Whiskey (1410 14th St., N.W.) hosts “Butch Queen: Holiday Edition” tonight at 10 p.m. Music is a mix of hip hop, Baltimore house, electronic and more. Admission is free. For details, visit

The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) offers free and confidential HIV testing today from 4-7 p.m. For more details, visit

Sunday, Dec. 15

BMX (Black Men’s Xchange) hosts “A BMX-D.C. Holiday Fundraising Brunch” at Archstone First and M (1160 1st St., N.E.) on the first floor library lounge today from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The buffet style brunch is the first fundraiser for BMX-D.C. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit

Nellie’s Sports Bar (900 U St., N.W.) hosts its third annual “Holiday GUIL-TEA” party today from 3-8 p.m. There will be a holiday costume walk-off at 7 p.m. Winner receives a $50 gift certificate to Nellie’s. There is no cover. Admission is limited to guests 21 and over. For details, visit

Monday, Dec. 16

Adesola Osakalumi, star of the Broadway show “FELA!” will teach a master class in hip-hop at Princess Mhoon Dance Institute (932 Philadelphia Ave.) in Silver Spring with three other industry leaders today through Dec. 20. Some of the instructors are LGBT. Youth 5-18 are $299 for the full week of classes which run each night from 5-8 p.m. Adults can take “drop in” classes for $25 per class from 8:30-10 p.m. Register online at

Center Faith, an inter-faith network for the LGBT community, meets at the D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) tonight at 7:30 p.m. The topic will be planning the next Capital Pride Interfaith Worship Service. There will be a brown bag dinner before the meeting at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit

The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) hosts Coffee and Conversation this morning from 10 a.m.-noon for the senior LGBT community. Older LGBT adults can come and enjoy complimentary coffee while engaging in a discussion facilitated by Ron Swanda, a member of Mayor Vincent Gray’s Advisory Committee for LGBT Affairs, about what is important for older adults in town. For more information, visit

Us Helping Us  (3636 Georgia Ave., N.W.) holds a support group for gay black men to discuss topics that affect them today, share perspectives and have meaningful conversations. For details, visit

Tuesday, Dec. 17

D.C. Fukit, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

The Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) premieres “Gypsy,” a musical about famous burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, tonight at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets range from $36.55-$79.10. The show runs through Jan. 26. For details, visit

Green Lantern (1335 Green Ct., N.W.) hosts its weekly ”FUK!T Packing Party” from 7-9 p.m. tonight. For more details, visit or

Genderqueer D.C. holds a discussion group at The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W..) from 7-8 p.m. tonight. The group is for anyone who identifies outside of the gender binary as bigender, agender, genderfluid or any label outside of cisgender. For more information, visit

Whitman-Walker hosts free HIV testing at Panam Supermarker (3552 14th St., N.W.) tonight from 7-9 p.m. For details, visir

Wednesday, Dec. 18

The Tom Davoren Social Bridge Club meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Dignity Center (721 8th St., S.E.) for social bridge. No partner needed. For more information, call 301-345-1571.

Bookmen D.C., an informal men’s gay literature group, discusses three short stories: “Wunderkid,” The Jockey” and “Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland” by Carson McCullers, at 2101 E St., N.W tonight at 7:30 p.m. All are welcome. For details, visit

GLOV (Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence) hosts a holiday party on the second floor of Number Nine (1435 P St., N.W.) tonight from 6:30-8:30 p.m. There is a $5 suggested donation at the door. For details, visit

Thursday, Dec. 19

The D.C. Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) hosts its monthly Poly Discussion Group at 7 p.m. People of all different stages are invited to discuss polyamory and other consensual non-monogamous relationships. This event is for newcomers, established polyamorous relationships and open to all sexual orientations. For details, visit

Women’s Leadership Institute hosts its weekly meeting for LGBT women and their allies tonight at SMYAL (410 7th St., S.E.) from 5-7 p.m. The meeting is for those ages 13-21 to discuss female sexuality, relationships and women’s rights. For more information, visit

SMYAL hosts free and confidential HIV testing today from 3-5 p.m. For details, visit

Jewmongous has its “Holiday Comedy Songfest” tonight at 8 p.m. at Iota Club & café (2832 Wilson Blvd.) in Arlington featuring singer Sean Altman’s “irreverent acoustic rock songs about his awakening Jewish awareness.” Tickets are $15. Visit or for details.


Holiday concerts continue throughout December

Christmas Gift!, Holiday concerts, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of ‘Christmas Gift!’ at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. (Photo by B.K. DuBose of NEWorks Productions)

Washington Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” plays at the Warner Theatre (513 13th St., N.W.) through Saturday. Tickets range from $42-$107. Purchase tickets at

Pianist/composer Matt Conner and friends perform favorite Christmas tunes in “A Matt Conner Christmas” at Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) through Sunday. Tickets are $48.60 and can be purchased at

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

The National Philharmonic performs “Handel’s Messiah” at The Music Center at Strathmore (5301 Tuckerman Ln., North Bethesda, Md.) Saturday and Sunday. The “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

Coyaba Dance Theater holds its annual Kwanzaa celebration at George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre (800 21st St., N.W.) Saturday 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

The Birchmere 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.) Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at or call 800-745-3000.


Holiday Follies begins Signature engagement

Nat King Cole, Holiday Follies, gay news, Washington Blade

Holiday Follies feature favorite holiday songs with arrangements made famous by Nat King Cole among others. (Photo public domain)

Holiday Follies, a troupe of local performers performing holiday music, begins its one-week run at Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) starting Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. through Dec. 23.

The show features favorite holiday songs with arrangements made famous by The Jackson 5, Spice Girls, Nat King Cole and Frank Zappa among others. Performers include Madeline Botteri, Austin Colby, Maria Egler and more.

Tickets are $48.60. For more details, visit


A ‘Rose’ by any other name

Sherri L. Edelen, Momma Rose, Maria Rizzo, Louise, Gypsy, Signature Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Sherri L. Edelen, left, as Momma Rose, and Maria Rizzo as Louise in ‘Gypsy,’ playing now at Signature Theatre. (Photo by Teresa Wood; courtesy Signature)


Through Jan. 26

Signature Theatre

4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington



Ferocious is how director Joe Calarco describes “Gypsy’s” Momma Rose, the unstoppable stage mother who’ll do whatever it takes to make her kids stars.

Probably the most formidable woman’s part in musical theater history, Rose is frequently compared to Shakespeare’s Lear and playing her has been likened to climbing Mount Everest twice. Those who’ve tackled the part include Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and more recently Patti LuPone. And now it’s local actor Sherri L. Edelen’s turn to take on the iconic role at Signature Theatre in a production staged by Calarco.

Who plays Rose always prompts discussion. To do it right requires a terrific voice, acting skills and comedic flair. And while Edelen won’t be scrutinized in the same way Broadway names inevitably are, comparisons will be made. Affable and smart, Edelen isn’t bothered:  “Everyone sees how difficult and complex this woman is to play and they want to see if the actress can rise to the challenge. I let go of comparisons long ago. Every actress is different, so comparisons make no sense, really.”

But Edelen doesn’t dismiss the significance of the gig. Playing Rose is a big deal and she knows it. Until Calarco brought it up, she never thought she’d do the part. When Edelen was younger, she looked for the kind of supporting comic roles that she does so wonderfully, like the inn keeper’s unscrupulous wife in Signature’s “Les Misérables,” a superb performance for which she deservedly won a Helen Hayes Award. But as she got a little older, Edelen took on parts (and triumphed in) leading roles like Mrs. Lovett in Signature’s “Sweeney Todd” and as Margaret Johnson in “Light in the Piazza” with the Philadelphia Theatre Company. But still, Rose scared her: “She is fierce. She uses up all the energy in my body to inhabit her mind. And like those who play Lear, or any Shakespearean role really, the exploration will continue until closing and on until the next actress picks up Rose.”

“Gypsy” follows the rise of legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Set in the ‘20s, it’s an incredible backstage story featuring Momma Rose and young daughters June and Louise (later Gypsy) who criss-cross the country in pursuit of fame and fortune. The mother of all stage mothers, Rose will stop at nothing to make her girls stars on the dying Vaudeville circuit. When June quits the act, Momma focuses her suffocating attentions on the less talented Louise.

With a sensational score boasting a thrilling overture and standards like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Some People,” “Together (Small World)” and Momma’s 11th hour cri de coeur “Rose’s Turn,” “Gypsy” is routinely named by many critics to be the best Broadway musicals ever. Based loosely on Gypsy Rose Lee’s bestselling memoir, “Gypsy” premiered on Broadway in 1959. It’s the creation of true musical theater titans: Jule Styne (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book). Sondheim is gay, as was Laurents who died in 2011 at 93.

During an interview for the Blade in 2004, Laurents shared an anecdote. Initially when asked to write a musical based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s bestselling biography, he wasn’t interested. But not long afterward he heard some gossip at a party. Reportedly Gypsy’s mother had had affairs women and once threw a hostile hotel manager from a fifth floor window. Laurents took the assignment. And while the musical would be called “Gypsy” for contractual reasons, it’s always really been about Rose. She’s the show’s driving force.

“I wish I had one ounce of her drive and confidence,” Edelen says. “I think playing her has made me more confident, more of a fighter for my own ideals.  No one believes in her dream like she does: Not Herbie (Rose’s boyfriend). Not her children. Not anyone. She has no support system but herself really and yet she has the strength and belief in herself to carry on.”

Signature’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer already had Edelen in mind when he made “Gypsy” a part of this year’s season. He never thought of bringing in a New York actor for the part. “We always wanted to do it with someone local. The talent pool here has gotten better and better, and we didn’t need to look beyond Washington. We’d done it before with Donna (Donna Migliaccio played Rose in Signature’s 2001 “Gypsy,” and plays the plum part Mezeppa the brassy stripper who bumps it with a trumpet in the current production) and it was time to give someone else the opportunity.”

Calarco, who’s worked with Edelen on eight shows, says she was ready to play Rose. In addition to having the voice, she understands comedy and is a great actress with a deep well from which to draw.

“If anyone can find the reason why Rose is so ferocious, it’s Sherri. She can explore that. Though it’s a musical, we play it like a play, focusing on Rose’s relationships with Herbie and daughter Louise (played here by Mitchell Hébert and Maria Rizzo, respectively).”

Rose isn’t much for introspection. As she sees it, she’s the ultimate loving mother doing her best to give her kids a fabulous life.

“I don‘t see Rose as a monster, the stage mother from hell, or a show off,” Edelen says. “I wanted to delve into why she operates the way she does, what is motivating her to behave the way she does. Only then can her vulnerability break through. … We all have joys and sorrows that shape us. Hopefully, if your readers come see the show, they can learn that she is vulnerable, just like everybody else and then you can understand what motivates her. Mr. Laurents tells you in his script and hands it to the audience on a silver platter, if they are listening.”