Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trump’s Slide into the Base

The President’s obsession with his core supporters reveals who he really is and is debasing our country like no other.

It’s tough to do, but I am characterizing August 15, 2017 as the second “Day of Infamy” in U.S. history.  For it was on that day that President Donald Trump lost whatever declining moral standing he had when he defended elements of the white supremacist/neo-Nazi crowd in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 as “fine people” while criticizing those who are standing up to racism and bigotry as “extremely violent.”
 “What about the alt-left? They came charging at the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?... I think there’s blame on both sides,” he said during a combative, unfiltered press conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower.

“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of to them a very, very important statue and then renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”

Trump, who claimed he closely watched the events of that fateful weekend in which Heather Heyer was murdered when a vehicle driven by one of the Nazis slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters and two police officers who were killed in a helicopter crash monitoring the protests, was unable to unambiguously go on a verbal rampage against the neo-Nazis and racists.  Instead, he gave false moral equivalence to the two sides in the clash.

Trump apparently had the sound off on his TV; otherwise, he would have heard the anti-Semitic, Nazi chants “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” among others carried out by torch-carrying white supremacists and KKK members.

Fine people indeed.

Trump was roundly criticized when on Saturday he gave a brief and tepid condemnation of racism in general but not the individuals who carried the torches. He said “many sides” were responsible for the mayhem. 


Then on Monday, he gave the “hostage speech” off of a teleprompter saying some right things but it was clear to any observer, he was simply not into it and appeared he was forced by staff and aides to rectify the wrongs from the earlier attempt.

Then came the horrific performance on Tuesday, the 15th when an unplugged Donald Trump crashed and burned to the dismay, anger and sadness of much of the world.  Except for former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and others of his ilk who applauded the president.

What’s behind this? 

One can surely make the point there is racism in Trump’s royal blood given his father having been arrested in 1927 following a KKK rally though there is no evidence that the elder Trump was part of the organization. 

There are examples of his record on race relations.  Trump reinforced this reputation by surrounding himself in the White House with the likes of Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka.  And let’s not forget the birtherism movement he led, his comments on Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, a federal judge of Mexican descent, the Gold Star Muslim Khan family and others.

Regardless of what prejudices he holds inside his soul, there is one glaring fact that must be considered: he thrives on his base. 

As approval ratings decline, he is comforted by the fact there is a small but enthusiastic sector of the population that adores Trump.  This is his lifeline.  This is his fix.

He sees himself as a victim, treated unfairly by the “fake news media,” the establishment Republicans and Democrats, and he and his followers must battle the odds.  This base of support provides him the blood to exist.  Trump must be adored.  Trump must be adulated.  Trump must be idolized. And Trump must be unquestioned.

In his nearly eight months in office, Trump has made absolutely no attempt to reach out beyond his base to try in some manner to unify the country.  He never made the effort, and it looks like he never will.
Bizarrely, Trump holds campaign-style rallies even months after the campaign is over to re-invigorate his ego.  There he blasts the media and re-litigates the election by bragging about how big the victory was, demonizing his vanquished opponent, and spews a lot of nonsense that these people swallow whole and without question.


He cannot afford to risk losing this support.  His ego and depraved narcissism demand it.  Many in his base are either the same racists who took part in Charlottesville or like-minded folks.  Trump’s demeanor on the campaign trail, his post-election period and ever since the inauguration has made it comfortable for racists to surface from under their rocks and show themselves.  Thus, the pathetic, disgraceful, and disgusting performance the last few days.


As the rest of the country (and the world) continues to observe this president with horror, one can imagine them thinking, “Mueller time can’t come soon enough.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Former Owner of The Drinkery Dies

Frederick “Fred” Allen, the former owner of The Drinkery, a longstanding corner gay bar in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, died from natural causes on August 7 at the age of 86, according to his granddaughter Amy Miller. 

Allen, who had owned The Drinkery since 1972 and maintained an apartment above the bar for over 40 years, transferred the Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License to Miller this past January 19. 

The Drinkery, situated on the corner of Park Avenue and Read Streets, made news when the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners voted 2-1 on May 19, 2016 not to extend the bar’s liquor license based on a petition from neighboring businesses and residents alleging rowdiness, excessive noise, drug activity and violence in and around the establishment.

Allen, frail and wheelchair-bound, was among those who testified on behalf of the bar at the liquor board hearing. 

Two weeks later on June 2 a motion for reconsideration hearing was held, and the liquor board reversed the earlier decision based on an appeal by Allen.  One of the individuals who signed the petition and testified against the license extension is listed on the liquor license of another Mount Vernon establishment and therefore, as a competing licensee, he was not permitted to participate under the board’s rules.  This led to one of the commissioners to reverse her previous vote thereby overturning the previous ruling by the board.

The Drinkery re-opened the next day to much relief and jubilance by its patrons.

“Mr. Allen formed a mainstay institution in the Mount Vernon neighborhood and the Baltimore LGBT community,” said Brian Dolbow, a long time patron of The Drinkery and resident of the neighborhood. “He cared deeply about his employees, his customers, and his community. Thanks to Mr. Allen, I have met so many wonderful people and have made lifelong friends. May he Rest in Peace.”

Carlton Smith, Executive Director and CEO of The Center for Black Equity Baltimore, agrees.

“I have been a ten-year patron of The Drinkery in which I visited so often in the gayborhood. I’m sure Mr. Allen’s death is a kind of shock to many of his patrons who especially had a long time relationship with the bar and family members. This bar has been a staple for many young men and women in the gayborhood. It was our ‘Cheers’ where everyone got to know your name,” he said.

Allen’s body was donated to the Maryland Anatomy Board.


R.I.P. Fred.

(This story appears in the Washington Blade.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Trump's War for Survival

Courtesy: NowTheEndBegins.com
Despite Donald Trump’s bellicose “fire and fury like the world has never seen” threat to North Korea, there probably won’t be a war.  I said, “probably” not “definitely.” 

Nothing would be gained from it, and both nations have been issuing threats to each other for over 15 years without direct military action. North Korean leaders over this time are just seeking relevance and respect on the world stage—that they are a force that no longer can be ignored.  They are not looking to be annihilated.

Of course, there is no guarantee that there will be no hostilities given the half-crazed leaders of the two nations.  Kim Jong-un already won the first round of the latest exchanges by baiting Trump to react.  His threats are likely to intensify knowing he has Trump in the palm of his small hands and will toy with him like a cat does with a mouse.     

Kim is aware that military actions may be on the table during high level security meetings in Trumpdom but reality has a way of interfering with such matters.  Kim is holding millions in South Korea, Japan, Guam and U.S. troops stationed in those areas hostages, not to mention portions of the U.S. homeland that could be targets of an attack.  With that grim prospect, I believe we will not be launching a strike on North Korea unless there is a direct attack initiated by Pyongyang.

Nonetheless, Trump needs a war to survive.  With approval ratings sinking and no ostensible hope they will improve in the near future, his oversized ego is taking a big hit. Sure, he will discredit the polls as “fake news” and that polling was off prior to the 2016 election (he’s right about that one), but deep-down Trump knows better.

His refusal to reach out beyond his base is a disgusting display of cynicism and clearly does not have the good of the country on the front burner.  Trump has a bunker mentality whereby he surrounds himself with similar-minded novices, charlatans, unqualified family members, generals he admires, and holds rallies re-litigating the 2016 campaign for those who stubbornly cling to him regardless of his performance.  Never mind that he has failed to deliver on most of his signature promises.

That’s a formula for 33 percent not being the floor but the ceiling.  He’s losing independents at a torrid pace and conservative Republicans are beginning to seep out of his domain.  To be sure, Trump stands no chance with Democrats though he had been one for most of his gilded life.
Then there is the Russia thing.  

With Robert Mueller casting a wide net around Trump, his finances, his family’s business dealings, his campaign staff’s ill-advised and probable illegal meetings with Russian officials, Trump must be feeling squeezed.  And most recently, the FBI’s raid on former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s residence should sound alarms.

Donald Trump and Robert Mueller facing off  Courtesy: Salon.com
He has been warned against firing the special counsel to prevent the investigation from proceeding further though he calls it a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” Only his base, which includes his propaganda arm, FOX News and Breitbart, believe that spin.

I am sure Trump and his advisers are aware that the GOP has a good chance of turning over the House of Representatives to Democrats in 2018.  If that holds true, the “I” word would surface like a dead fish in the ocean especially if Mueller’s report ever sees the light of day.
But will it?  #hocopolitics

If the matter with North Korea escalates, it could have a profound effect on the investigation.  To be clear, I am not suggesting Trump would deliberately start a war with potentially tens of millions of casualties to protect himself and his interests.  That would be over the top; however, there are many folks on social media who cynically believe he is capable of such a hideous act.

But should there be a war of some magnitude, I suspect Trump would try to find a way to end the investigation.  He would go in front of the American people—not just his base—to simply state the country is at war and the ongoing investigation is a needless and harmful distraction for the Commander-in Chief.  It’s a matter of national security.

Getting the public to support a war if there is no direct military attack on the homeland or our allies can be dicey.  Generally, public opinion shifts to the president in times of war but as we have seen in the past 50 years, war divides the country.

As tragic as war would be, "fire and fury" could save the Trump presidency in the short term.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why Won't the GOP Stand Up to Trump?

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Hillary Clinton was elected president.  Now imagine the reaction from Republicans if members of her campaign team had met with Russians operatives with possible collusion in Russia’s attempt to get her elected. 

Imagine if she divulged classified sensitive information to the foreign minister and ambassador from Russia in the Oval Office when only Russia’s state-owned media were permitted to attend. Imagine if she insulted our allies overseas but refused to criticize Russian President Putin—ever.

Consider their reaction if she reneged on her promise to make her tax returns public. Imagine if she had business dealings all over the world and refused to divest during her presidency.

Imagine in her first 6 months as president she made 37 golf trips at taxpayers’ expense. 

Think of how the Republicans would feel if she fired the investigator leading the investigation of her and her campaign. Picture how they would react to the shameless, disgusting politicization of a speech to the Boy Scouts of America. Or how they would like it if she encouraged those scouts to boo a former Republican president.

Imagine the GOP reaction to her appointing her daughter and son-in-law to key White House posts and assigned one of them to engineer Middle East peace though completely unqualified to do so. Or their failure to disclose meetings with foreign agents on a security clearance form under penalty of law.

Think of how they would react if she went on campaign-style rallies, re-litigating the election, bragging about the size of her victory, and constantly berating her vanquished Republican opponent.  Imagine if she lied about just about anything every single day.

I could go on and on and on, but as you know, these actions were not taken by Hillary Clinton but by President Donald Trump.  And the Republican responses to these episodes? Crickets.

Under fire by Democrats and independents for putting party before country, the Republicans, especially those in Congress, have been loath to criticize or even punish Trump for his seemingly limitless indiscretions.

So, why are these actions ignored by Republican lawmakers not to mention his base?

It can't be because he has been a rock solid Republican throughout his career.  Trump is a Johnny-come-lately Republican with little or no ideological foundation at his core. Why the loyalty from the GOP?

His approval ratings have hovered between the mid-30s to low 40’s rendering him the most unpopular president in modern history at this point of his term.  And much of his approval comes from states Republicans win anyway.  Trump has shown no propensity to expand his support beyond that base. While his support is intense, it is narrow.  Why the loyalty?

On the surface, it’s a mystery that has befuddled Democrats.   

Here’s the reason.  Republicans lawmakers, despite reports to the contrary, are scared shitless of Trump.  #hocopolitics

Trump’s compulsive use of Twitter is a missile that can’t be knocked down.  He hits and hits hard without any shame and often without any human decency. 

Republicans remember all too well, how Trump defied the odds by winning the nomination in 2016 mostly by dismantling his closest opponents: “Little Marco” Rubio, “Low Energy Jeb” Bush, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

His infantile abuse of Twitter knows no bounds and his fellow Republicans fear being on the receiving end of sharp, sarcastic tweets or public statements.  Often, he will embarrass them and their constituents are paying attention.

Heck, he will abandon his most loyal supporters if it suits him.  See: Jeff Sessions.  That strikes fear, too.

Then there’s that base.  More energized than so-called establishment Republicans, these folks maintain a strong almost scary loyalty towards their leader.  They will vote and will do so in primaries should they occur.  Incumbent Republicans are ever so mindful of that and are extremely hesitant to take down Trump lest the base gets pissed.

That trend may end if Trump goes on to fire “beleaguered” Attorney General Jeff Sessions who retains strong support from GOP conservatives in Congress. Or worse, if Trump fires Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is well on his way to finding the truth about the Trump campaign and the Russian meddling in our election in addition to potential obstruction of justice and money laundering suspicions.

There are signs, though, that the Trump hold over Republicans may be showing signs of cracking.  

Moreover, former GOP Congressman and current MSNBC "Morning Joe" anchor Joe Scarborough recently announced he is leaving the Republican Party because of its acquiescence to Trump.  Other high profile former Republican politicians and operatives have also refused to support Trump.

And Billionaire health care mogul and former GOP mega donor Mike Fernandez, who left the Republican Party because of Trump, told Politico: “All the Republicans who hide behind the flag and the church, they don’t have the F-----g balls to do what it takes.”

Those balls are now in the GOP’s court.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Winning ‘Thurgood’ at Olney

Brian Anthony Wilson as Thurgood Marshall Photo: Stan Barouh
Olney Theatre Center’s black box theatre has been configured into a 150-seat college lecture hall with a sign on the rear of the stage wall reading, “Howard University Welcomes Thurgood Marshall.” In front of that sign stands a dark wooden table with a lectern on top, four leather chairs around it, and behind the table are the American and the District of Columbia flags.  #hocoarts

In comes a hobbling graying, bespectacled gent in a three-piece suit using a cane. That man is Baltimore-born Thurgood Marshall, the first ever African-American Justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Now retired, he is returning to Howard University where he had received his law degree to give a speech.

Marshall actually died in 1993 at the age of 84, but his life’s stories included in that speech at Howard are conveyed in a scintillating and compelling one-man play, Thurgood,”being presented at Olney’s Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab.

Thurgood”opened on Broadway in 2008 and earned a Tony Award for its star Laurence Fishburne.  Veteran actor Brian Anthony Wilson with a good number of film and TV roles under his belt turns in a tour-de-force performance as Thurgood Marshall in a compact 90-minute play at Olney. 

The absorbing script by George Stevens, Jr., which denotes historical facts, anecdotes, verbatim quotes from Marshall, emotional moments, and well-placed humor derived from Marshall’s mischievous sense of humor, makes the play feel like it’s over much too quickly.  

Marshall soon sheds his cane and transforms into a more youthful persona.  Under Emmy Award winner Walter Dallas’ impeccable direction, he proceeds to effectively relate in chronological sequence his boyhood including why he changed his name from Thoroughgood to Thurgood.
Marshall strolls about the stage and other times he’s sitting depending on the topic.  He takes an occasional sip of water as any speech presenter would. He is aided by images projected on the rear wall thereby enhancing his speech.

Marshall discusses his colorful family including his alcoholic father, his education, his attempt to be admitted to the University of Maryland Law School only to find out it did not allow blacks, his work as a lawyer fighting to end segregation and Jim Crow laws, his married life, his appointment by President John F. Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Appeals, his appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson as U.S. Solicitor General and ultimately President Johnson’s appointment of Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He brings us back to an era where the struggle for civil rights got its footing. The “N” word is commonly used.  Lynchings are unflinchingly discussed.  

The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision laid the groundwork for the federal “separate but equal” concept for public facilities as they pertain to black and white citizens.  It was this culture of segregation and discrimination that led Marshall to seek a career in law not only to make money as he unabashedly admitted, but to help right those wrongs.

As chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Marshall won cases and lost others.  However, it was his 1954 win in Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court that ended the policy of separate schools for white and black children where he made his mark.

Standing at the lectern and simulating his legal argument before the Supreme Court, one can easily get goose bumps.  When the decision was handed down, the audience broke out into applause.

Photo: Stan Barouh
His record of winning 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme court caught the attention of presidents, which led to his ultimate appointment to the highest court in the land.

Mr. Wilson’s portrayal of Thurgood Marshall is spot-on and convincing.  The humorous anecdotes as well as the emotional dramatic episodes are well-delivered. All told, Mr. Wilson’s performance was deserving of the enthusiastic standing ovation he received at the conclusion of this reviewed performance. 

Paige Hathaway’s set including the projected images presents the appropriate background for Mr. Wilson and his movement around the stage. 

Harold F. Burgess II designed the lighting to effectively coincide with the dramatic moments as did Roc Lee’s sound design, which provided sound effects at those very moments.

Towards the end of the play, Marshall delivers a line from a Langston Hughes poem, “Oh, let America be America again.”  Immediately, it conjures up thoughts of the similarly worded campaign slogan used repeatedly by our current president. 

It also reminds us how the president created a commission to investigate non-existing voter fraud rather than examining the prevalent attempts at voter suppression that is intended to impact African-Americans and other minorities. 

I mused, what would Thurgood Marshall say about that?  Come see this magnificent play and performance and imagine the answer to that question.

Running time: One hour and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: Thurgood contains some profanity and adult situations and is not recommended for children under age 13.

Thurgood runs through August 20 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 301-924-2654 or visiting online.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Solid ‘Spring Awakening’ at the Spotlighters

Sean Dynan as Mechior and Jim Baxter as Moritz
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
If you think today’s society is challenged to deal with such thorny issues as abortion, homelessness, child abuse, rape, unplanned pregnancy, homosexuality, and teen suicide, consider how these same topics were candidly portrayed in an 1891 German book Spring Awakening written by Frank Wedekind.  It didn’t go over so well then as it was banned in that country for some time.  #hocoarts

Undaunted, the rock musical Spring Awakening is based on that controversial work and was crafted by Grammy Award-winning songwriter Duncan Sheik with book and lyrics by Steven Sater.  The production opened on Broadway in 2006 and captured eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor, and four Drama Desk awards plus a Grammy.

Those not familiar with the musical Spring Awakening may assume that the show, just by going by its title, is an uplifting, joyous spectacle. Instead, it’s an often dark portrayal of how teenagers struggle to be liberated especially when it comes to sexual fantasies and behavior while the adults in their lives cling to conservative and religious mores in an effort to thwart their kids’ attempts at freedom.  The tension between the two sides is palpable forming the underlying backdrop to the story of Spring Awakening.

The Audrey Herman Spotlighters in its 55th season has taken on the challenge of mounting this musical on its cozy in-the-round stage.  Why not?  It has done so effectively in the past with such iconic musicals as Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, Rocky Horror Show and Mame through creative direction and efficient use of space.  Talented casts helped, too.

Dynan and Allison Comotto as Wendla
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
With Spring Awakening, the production, under the direction of Jillian Locklear Bauersfield, who has helmed some of those mentioned musicals, is solid.  

While the Spotlighters’ limited space and stage contours do not afford an opportunity to present a splashy production, the benefit of its intimacy with the audience is clear.  This is especially true when the raw emotions of the characters are conveyed through song and dialogue.  The audience gets the sense it is right in the middle of the action and can feel those vibes.  
Using the strong score under the excellent direction of Michael Tan and his four-piece orchestra, the story line ably weaves a series of subplots into a dramatic tapestry involving adolescents discovering their feelings about sexuality and intimacy.  Parents of these kids were loathe to have frank “birds and bees” conversations, so the youngsters had to learn about such matters on their own in various ways while dealing with the effects of puberty.

Wendla, played tenderly by lovely Allison Comotto, never received sexual guidance from her mother and paid the ultimate price.  She caught up with a friend from her early childhood years, Melchior, a handsome, intelligent, and rebellious fellow (performed splendidly by Sean Dynan) who, through book learning, was aware of the mechanics of sex and enjoyed his intimacy with a na├»ve Wendla.  Sadly, this encounter ultimately had tragic consequences as two lives were lost.

Then there is Moritz, played powerfully by Jim Baxter.  He, too, had his issues involving his sexual feelings but was even more victimized by evil, unscrupulous schoolteachers (played deliciously by Marc Korol-Evans and real life wife Tony Korol-Evans) and his unsympathetic father.  The Korol-Evanses adroitly play the other adult roles in the show demonstrating strong acting skills.

Ernst (Chris Weaver) and Hanschen (Aaron Hancock) find love with each other.  Happily, this gay couple is among the few who did not experience sadness, frustration or tragedy and provide some of the lighter moments in the production. One of those is a masturbation scene with Hanschen constantly being interrupted by his father. 

Other characters include Ilse (Ellen Manuel) who runs away from home to escape abuse; Martha (Alyssa Bell) who was abused by her father; Georg (John Endres) and Otto (Brendan Hale) who have fantasies of their own.
Aaron Hancock as Hanschen and Chris Weaver as Ernst
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
The music is electric and performed ably by the entire cast. And despite the tight stage, the choreography by Amie Morrow Bell is creative and precise especially in such numbers as “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” and the big production piece and a show highlight, “Totally Fucked” with the ensemble moving around the stage with high energy and cohesion .

Some of the vocals are noteworthy as well. Mr. Dynan, playing Melchior, excels with his tenor voice with an infusion of falsetto in “All That’s Known,” “Left Behind” and duets with Ms. Comotto in “The Word of Your Body” and “Whispering.”

Ellen Manuel as Ilse shines in “Blue Wind” and Jim Baxter as Moritz singing the intense number “Don’t Do Sadness.”  Also, Brendan Hale as Otto demonstrates a sweet tenor voice in the reprise of “The Word of Your Body” with John Endres as Georg.

Amy Rawe Weimer’s costume design and Laurie Brandon’s lighting enhance the quality of the production.

Though it’s a sad story for the most part, Spring Awakening is riveting and entertains with especially good musical numbers and fine acting by the cast under the capable direction of Ms. Bauersfield. It is highly recommended.

Running time. Two hours with an intermission.

Advisory: The show contains sexual situations and profanity and is not recommended for children.

Spring Awakening runs through July 30 at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 752-1225, or visit spotlighters.org.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

A Whirlwind Joseph Visits Toby’s

Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia is the venue for a new iteration of the popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat.   #hocoarts

A well-staged, meticulously choreographed spectacle performed by a talented cast brings Joseph and his coat of many colors to life in a compact whirlwind of memorable, tuneful songs and a story that takes the audience on a journey from the sins of jealousy and revenge to the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation. The energy-packed, high-tempo production of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber biblical story blossoms in Toby’s in-the-round setting.  

Helen Hayes Award winners Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick co-directed Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat with obvious attention to detail, guiding the cast through one number after another with a finely tuned, rapid pace.

Mr. Minnick’s innovative choreography is a highlight of the production.  High energy, precise dance moves in perpetual circular arrangements to accommodate the in-the-round stage are executed flawlessly by a talented ensemble, which is called on to sing throughout these production numbers.  The ensemble performs in just about every song, which is quite strenuous, and they are superb from beginning to end.  

"A well-staged, meticulously choreographed spectacle"

The performances are aided by a competent technical crew and supporting staff.
Lawrence B. Munsey’s costume design is spot on as usual representing the Egyptian garb from many centuries ago accented with a modern touch.  David A. Hopkins’ lighting amplified the action with the effective use of spotlights and fade-outs. 

Ross Scott Rawlings and the six-piece orchestra ably support the vocals and add energy to already amped-up dance routines.  The range of musical genres in Joseph is a varied as the colors on the multi-hued coat.  From a knee-slapping, cowboy hat twirling country-western ditty to rock ‘n roll, to calypso, Mr.  Rawlings’ orchestra was more than up to the task.

Some of the catchy numbers include “Joseph’s Dreams,” “One More Angel,” “Close Every Door,” “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” “Pharaoh’s Story,” “Those Canaan Days,” and my favorite “Any Dream Will Do.”

The familiar plot, described mostly through song, centers on Joseph, the favored son of Jacob who had bestowed upon him a coat of many colors. His eleven brothers were jealous and sold Joseph into slavery while telling their father he had in fact, died.

Joseph winds up working for the mega-rich Potiphar, but Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him and, of course, he gets caught.  Joseph is sent to prison where it is discovered that he has the uncanny ability for interpreting dreams and predicting the future.

The Elvis-like Pharaoh is impressed and releases Joseph from prison making him second in command.  The brothers, after not recognizing Joseph, grovel to him and eventually reconcile when his identity is revealed. Joseph is then reunited with his father.

The show features a narrator who spins the tale through song.  During this run, Toby’s is using several narrators, and on the night this performance was reviewed, Janine Sunday handled the role proficiently with good mezzo-soprano vocals.

Wood Van Meter as Joseph
Well cast as the title character is handsome Wood Van Meter.  Energetic throughout and seemingly enjoying the part, Mr. Van Meter, who performs in most of the songs, demonstrates strong vocal skills and is particularly solid in such numbers as “Joseph’s Dreams,”  “Close Every Door,” and “Any Dream Will Do.”

David Bosley-Reynolds plays the role of Potiphar to the hilt. His muscular voice is on display in the aptly named song “Potiphar.”  Lovely Nia Savoy, as the seductress Mrs. Potiphar also performs well in that number.

David Jennings romps through his role as Pharaoh, the Elvis look/act alike.  He runs through a series of Elvis-like antics (especially the trademark hair comb) and performs well with Mr. Van Meter and the ensemble in “Song of the King.”

Other notable performances are turned in by Jeffrey Shankle as Baker and David James as Butler who were cell mates of Joseph.

Andrew Horn as Jacob, Gregory Banks as Levi, all of the actors playing Joseph’s brothers, and the women’s ensemble contribute significantly to the success of the production.

 Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat boasts a terrific catalog of songs, fine performances, and visually pleasing costumes and set pieces.  It’s a family-friendly show that because of its face pace, sterling performances, and relatively short length should keep the youngsters interested while learning about the power of dreams.

Running time. One hour and 45 minutes with an intermission.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through August 27 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 410-7390-8311 or 1-800-88TOBYS or online at tobysdinnertheatre.com.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Imaginative ‘Neverland’ at the Hippodrome

The cast of 'Finding Neverland' Photo: Jeremy Daniel
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” 
― J.M Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan

The concept of imagination was never more on display than at the Hippodrome’s utterly delightful presentation of the national touring production “Finding Neverland.” 

 With dynamic special effects including fairy dust, gorgeous scenery and costumes, standout music, lively production numbers, and a talented cast under the superlative direction of Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Hair”), “Finding Neverland” tells the heartwarming story of how J.M. Barrie was inspired to pen “Peter Pan.”

“Finding Neverland” is an original musical with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and a book by James Graham. It was inspired by the 1998 play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee and his 2004 Oscar-winning film adaptation “Finding Neverland” by David Magee. 

Though “Finding Neverland” ran on Broadway for 17 months, it never garnered a Tony nomination, much less an award.  After seeing it at the Hippodrome, I have to wonder how that was possible given the performances, technical marvels and yes, the story.

J.M. Barrie, who had been struggling to find inspiration for a play, strolls with his dog into London’s Kensington Gardens in 1903 and encounters the recently widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four young sons.   He quickly is enthralled by the boys’ imaginative adventurous games and bonds with them as well as their mother. 

One son, Peter, is not on board yet as he is still grieving the loss of his father and doesn’t want to grow up to face the harsh realities of life.  As it turns out, neither does Barrie.

They all become friends much to the chagrin of Barrie’s wife Mary and Sylvia’s mother, the aristocratic Mrs. Du Maurier.  The Barries’ marriage is deteriorating, which aids the evolving closeness he develops with Sylvia and his affection he has for his sons.  

Meanwhile, theatre impresario Charles Frohman is struggling to mount a successful play for all of upper crust Londoners to enjoy as much as Barrie is struggling to write one.  Barrie’s breakthrough is ultimately realized when he creates Peter Pan and Neverland based on the lives of the Llewelyn children and the villain (Captain Hook) inspired by the grumpy Frohman.

“Finding Neverland” takes the audience on a journey that is filled with make believe adventures, joy and laughter.  But then some of life’s unfair realities are encountered and melancholy sets in, followed by resolve and optimism.

Handsome Billy Harrigan Tighe puts on a stunning performance as J.M. Barrie. His chemistry with Sylvia and the Llewelyn Davies children hits the mark, which is an integral part of the story. 

Mr. Tighe’s gorgeous tenor voice provides superb musicality to the production. He is exceptional in solos, such as “My Imagination,” and “Stronger” but is also enjoyable in duets with Christine Dwyer as Sylvia in “Neverland” and the love ballad “What You Mean to Me.”  His duet with Connor Jameson Casey as Peter the night this performance was reviewed in “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” is especially tender and emotional.

Ms. Dwyer is beautiful to look at and equally beautiful to hear. “All That Matters” and “Sylvia’s Lullaby” are examples of her lovely soprano.

Seasoned veteran John Davidson romps through his role as Charles Frohman, the skeptical theatre producer in desperate need for a successful play.  Mr. Davidson competes with the four kids as well as Sammy, the shaggy dog Porthos as a scene stealer and it’s difficult to tell who wins.  

A total curmudgeon, Frohman doesn’t care much for kids.  One funny impromptu development occurred in the second act of this reviewed performance when Frohman stated rather disingenuously that he likes kids. A youngster sitting in the balcony promptly shouted, “No you don’t,” which caused the audience to erupt with laughter resulting in a pause in the dialogue.  Undaunted, Mr. Davidson let the reaction settle down, and he seamlessly continued his lines.

Mr. Davidson also demonstrated his vocal chops in several outstanding production numbers including “Circus of Your Mind” and “Something About This Night.”

As Sylvia’s gossipy mother, Mrs. Du Maurier, who is resistant to Barrie’s relationship with her daughter and grandsons, Karen Murphy shines in the role.  

Comical performances are turned in by Dwelvan David as Mr. Henshaw, Noah Plomgren as Lord Cannan, and Matt Wolpe as Mr. Cromer (the excellent actor) as well as others in the cast.

The Llewelyn Davies kids who form the focus of the story were portrayed ably at his reviewed performance by Colin Wheeler as George, Turner Birthisel as Jack, Tyler Patrick Hennessy as Michael and Connor Jameson Casey as Peter for whom Peter Pan is named after.  They even take a turn in producing and performing their own little play that magnifies the cuteness factor.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

As proficiently as this production is performed, the technical elements take it to another level. Eye-pleasing scenery was designed by Scott Pask, which changes fluidly throughout. 

A large clock fixed at 12:00 appears in many of the scenes. To me, it metaphorically represents how Peter’s and Barrie’s lives are stopped at childhood without wanting to ever grow up.

Kenneth Posner’s lighting design including effective use of projections magnificently works in synch with Jonathan Deans’ sound designed to produce amazing special effects.  This is particularly evident in the thunderous "Stronger" that concludes the first act and “Something About This Night” but was also effectively used in other parts of the production.

Suttirat Anne Larlarb designed the exquisite period costumes.  And Mia Michaels choreographed the energetic dance sequences under the orchestrations by Simon Hale.

Charlie Chaplain once said, “Imagination means nothing without doing.” 

Go see “Finding Neverland” at the Hippodrome, which is playing for an all-too-brief time.. It is an entertaining, imaginative, well-directed and performed production. Don’t forget to bring the kids.

Running time. Two hours and thirty minutes with an intermission.


“Finding Neverland” runs through July 2 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS, visit the Hippodrome Box office or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Fair Lady Still a Classic at Olney

Todd Scofield (Colonel Pickering), Brittany Campbell (Eliza Doolittle), 
and Danny Bernardy 
(Henry Higgins) (Photo: Stan Barouh)
Full disclosure: My Fair Lady is my all-time favorite musical.  #hocoarts 
It was my first Broadway LP album, and I must have played it a hundred times loving each song like it was the best of the best. The musical presents an enjoyable storyline woven together by a lush score, lavish costumes and eye-pleasing sets.

It’s been wildly popular and successful Tony Award winning show for over 60 years played throughout the world in dozens of languages. The 1964 film version was a multiple Oscar winner and box office smash.  In short, My Fair Lady is a classic and has been appropriately dubbed my many as “the perfect musical.”

So you can understand my apprehension when early chatter suggested that a “new” My Fair Lady directed by Alan Souza would be mounted at the Olney Theatre Center. In fact, the program quotes Artistic Director Jason Loewith touting the Center’s “reputation for rigorous explorations of the classics.”  Butterflies started to creep in because I’ve seen in the past how some directors take classics on a dubious course in the name of creativity and frankly blow it. 

However, I am pleased—no ecstatic—to report that this iteration of My Fair Lady at Olney does not deviate at the core: all the extraordinary songs and characters are retained, and except for some tweaks around the edges including changing the setting to the 1920’s—10 years later than the original—simpler scenery, and the casting of younger male leads, this production, despite a few minor flaws, excels.  

I applaud the efforts of Mr. Souza for keeping the production true to its successful roots and showcasing the sterling talents of the superbly cast leads and terrific but relatively small ensemble.

The music by Frederick Lowe and the utterly outstanding lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner are the centerpiece of My Fair Lady.  The book by Mr. Lerner was based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.  

The familiar story centers on a young Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, literally plucked from the streets of London by erudite phoneticist Professor Henry Higgins in an uphill battle to turn her speech patterns around and ultimately make her pass as a lady.  Their relationship takes on an interesting dynamic as the show proceeds.  All this transpires with the clear division, values and conflicts between the upper and lower classes of London as the backdrop.

With most musicals, if there are three or four songs that are memorable, that would be considered a success.  In My Fair Lady’s first-rate catalog there are well over a dozen such songs, each distinct and blessed with wonderful melodies and witty lyrics.  The songs don’t just serve as filler or interruptions; they move the action forward and maintain an integral place in the story.

The iconic “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “Get Me to the Church On Time” are favorites for sure.  But even the others, such as “I’m an Ordinary Man,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “You Did It,” and “Show Me” are also examples of tuneful numbers that always please.

Mr. Lerner’s lyrics are as good as it gets in musical theatre.  They advance the story with wit and charm, and many leave a smile as the numbers are performed. 

In the Olney production, however, I found that several of the songs’ arrangements allowed for hurried performances by the vocalists. Because of that increased tempo, the marvelous lyrics contained in “Why Can’t the English?”, “I’m An Ordinary Man,”  “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and “Hymn to Him” for instance, the full potency of those lyrics is not as completely absorbed as they should be.  If anything, the lyrics should be drawn out a tad more so the audience feels the impact of their wit.

Brittany Campbell plays the part of the ornery Eliza with sass and class.  Possessing a soaring soprano voice, Ms. Campbell delivered excellent renditions of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “Show Me,” and she truly triumphs in the big number “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

One small quibble I have is with the song “Just You Wait,” a number where an exasperated Eliza is expressing her defiance towards Higgins, Ms. Campbell needs to be consistent with the dialect. It’s noticeable to those of us My Fair Lady enthusiasts.

Eliza hadn’t mastered the proper speech at this point so the Cockney version of “just you wait” should be pronounced “just you white” and the word “late” should be pronounced “light” throughout the song.  Hopefully, that will be fixed for future performances.

Other than that minor hiccup, Ms. Campbell is outstanding as a vocalist, and her acting is spot on as Eliza with all the voice inflections, facial expressions and body language required by the part.
As the pompous, chauvinistic bully Professor Henry Higgins, Danny Bernardy hit it out of the park aided by a superbly strong speaking voice—perfect for theatre.  His onstage chemistry with Ms. Campbell is fantastic and essential for the production to be successful.

Solid all around and executing his songs with the appropriate amount of flair, Mr. Bernardy is a man in perpetual motion in virtually every scene.  It’s not that he is dancing, but his precise high energy movements on the stage, especially during his vocal performances, are well choreographed and executed. 

Higgins’ sidekick is Colonel Pickering, also a phoneticist, who wagered that Higgins could not turn the disheveled Eliza into a lady to pass as such in London’s upper crust society.  He lost the bet but is pleased to see the results.

Todd Scofield ably plays the role of Pickering authoritatively trying to rein in Higgins’ impatience and coldness towards Eliza.

Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, is an unmarried working class boozer. Chris Genebach plays the role to the hilt with a muscular voice and excellent dancing.  “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church On Time” are his featured songs, and he along with the energetic ensemble under the choreography by Grady McLeod Bowman, perform these numbers exceptionally.

Benjamin Lurye plays Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s suitor with whom she has little interest.  His one number, “On the Street Where You Live” (and reprise) was performed very well and was an audience pleaser.

Notable performances were also turned in by Valerie Leonard as Higgins’ stern housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce,  as well as the socialite Mrs. Higgins, mother of Henry, who clearly has issues with her son.  The remainder of the cast and ensemble support the leads with great talent.

Christopher Youstra is the Music Director of this song-splashed show.  Andra Velis Simon competently conducted the 11-piece orchestra without drowning out the vocalists.
Sound Designer Matt Rowe deserves props for his simulation of galloping horses circling the theater’s interior during the race at the Ascot Racetrack.

Photo: Stan Barouh

Costume Designer Pei Lee does a good job of having the cast attired in period garb representative of the 1920’s.

Other than for the scenes in Higgins’ study where an impressively tall dropdown book case dominates the stage, James Fouchard designed a simple but functional set.  The moving of small set pieces around the stage during some of the numbers by the performers add texture to the visuals.

All in all the Olney’s version of My Fair Lady scores high marks for not only staying true to the classic work but also for enabling a talented, energetic cast to do justice to this magnificent musical. 

With a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck, you should find the time to see this show.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.


My Fair Lady runs through July 23 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Morici misses about Trump and the GOP

Letter to the Baltimore Sun




Three things are striking from Peter Morici’s commentary :

 First, he never mentioned Russia once throughout your piece as if that cloud suddenly disappeared.  The Russian meddling in our election and Trump’s at best indifference to it or at worst involvement in it will detrimentally affect the GOP more than the Republican’s sabotaging of Obamacare or the other issues he cited.

Second, his lecturing the Democratic minority leaders for not legitimizing the Trump presidency is laughable.  Where has he been the previous eight years when Republican leaders (and the GOP Congressional caucus) not only not legitimizing President Obama in ways too numerous and too sickening to list here, they literally deprived him of his Constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice.

Third, he mentioned Betsy DeVos and “sound ideas” in the same sentence.


Steve Charing
Clarksville

Published letter here.




Monday, May 29, 2017

Don’t Call Yourself Patriotic if…

As we reflect on this Memorial Day on those servicemen and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country and its freedoms, we should understand that they were the true patriots.  Others are also patriotic, even if they didn’t fight in our wars or serve our country.  They honor our heroes by displaying the American flag and other gestures to show their pride in our nation.

We all have our own definition of patriotism.    For me, in essence, patriotism is a desire to keep our country strong, honor the Constitution, and to treat all of our citizens equally and fairly for the greater good. 

Unfortunately, there are many Americans who equate patriotism with an alt-right nationalistic mindset.  Patriotism shouldn’t espouse exclusivity and discrimination. Patriotism doesn’t promote hatred and violence against our own citizens and neighbors. When one supports ideas and actions that hurt our country, don’t call yourself patriotic.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are OK with the draft-evading presidential candidate, now commander-in-chief, for treating the Purple Heart like it was some souvenir trinket and lamenting the fact he didn’t have one.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you treasure the 2nd Amendment as  the most sacred part of our Constitution but eschew the tenets of the 1st Amendment, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to peaceably assemble in protest, and yes, freedom of the press.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you agree with a president that wants to ban people from entering our country based on their religion.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you vehemently criticize one president for bowing to the leader of a tyrannical regime that chops off the heads and hands of its people and represses women, but are silent when the current president does so.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you support the president when he chastises our strong European allies on the world’s stage but congratulates the leader of the Philippines for doing a “great job” in his condoning the murder of over 2,500 people during the country’s “war on drugs.”

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you shrug off the undeniable fact that our number one adversary, Russia, interfered with our elections and the president has yet to be persuaded by that conclusion reached by all of our Intel agencies.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are not bothered by the president’s meeting with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office, whereby he divulged classified information and that only the Russian state press was permitted to observe while the American media was locked out.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are unconcerned that the president impeded, if not obstructed, the investigation of Russian ties to our election by firing the man who was spearheading the investigation and admitting that the “Russian thing” was the motive.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you are not disturbed by the president’s son-in-law, who is woefully inexperienced in government (as is the president), who allegedly attempted to set up a secretive back channel communication line with the Kremlin even though the current administration was not in power in order to purportedly skirt U.S. intelligence surveillance.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you couldn’t care less or even applaud the president praising a U.S. Congressman-elect for assaulting a reporter doing his job but is silent on the heroic deaths of two veterans (and a third victim) at the hands of white racist extremists.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if it doesn’t bother you that the president and the U.S, House of Representatives produced a health care proposal that will leave 23 million Americans including a large chunk of the president’s supporters without health care.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you allow the president to roll back regulations that protect the country’s air and water from polluters.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you think for one minute the president has nothing to hide by refusing to share his tax returns with the American people.

Don’t call yourself patriotic if you believe the president is putting America’s interests first and not his own family and his business interests.