Sunday, July 15, 2018

Give Three Cheers and One Cheer More to Olney’s Bright and Zany ‘Pinafore'

Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography
Patrons entering the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center expecting to see a traditional set specifically designed for Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore will be quite stunned.  

There’s no facsimile of a saucy ship’s a beauty, no ostensible scenery depicting the ocean blue, and the sober men and true sailors are not attired in stylish 19th century British Navy uniforms.   #hocoarts

Instead, you will walk into the lab that is part playground, part carnival, part slumber party.  In this set, imaginatively designed by Tom Burch, the 10 performers are already strolling about in bright, colorful pajamas and some crazy slippers, all creatively designed by Alison Siple, playing an assortment of stringed instruments and serenading the folks with seemingly random songs as the crowd files in.

Small stuffed animals are tossed by the actors to the unsuspecting and eventually suspecting patrons during the hubbub.  Some are encouraged to sit in a large decagon-shaped box in the center of the stage that resembles an above ground swimming pool. But rather than water, the contents feature a whole bunch of pillows.  Kids jump into this box, and unprompted, begin having pillow fights with what appears to be their parents, siblings and other occupants.

On an elevated platform, which has what appears to be the painting of two portholes—among the very few direct references to a ship on this set—there is a slide for audience members as well as some of the actors to utilize as it empties into the pillow-laden box. 

Continuing the peculiarities there is a refrigerator with a sign saying “No Swear Words,” several more beds, a bar (yes, they’re selling libations during the show) and other goodies in a canopied concession stand in a corner of the stage.

Rules are announced and audience members are invited to sit in the “promenade” area that includes the floor, benches and the aforementioned set pieces. The actors alert the audience seated or standing in these areas by hand signals or gentle touches on the shoulders for them to move to another location as the performers will be occupying that given space.  All this transpires throughout the 70-minute show adding to the desired commotion.

As if you couldn’t tell by now, this is clearly a satirical rendering of the popular H.M.S. Pinafore. The jaunty music was composed by Arthur Sullivan and the book by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of their Savoy operas that also include The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance—the latter being performed in repertory at Olney in association with The Hypocrites and The House Theatre of Chicago.

Directed and adapted by Sean Graney and co-adapted by Andra Velis Simon and Matt Kahler, the production is chock full of talent, high energy and playfulness that offer the audience, even for just these 70 minutes, a welcome respite from the world’s events. 

Though the aesthetics are non-traditional to this 19th century work, the production stays true to the storyline as well as the sparkling musical numbers including the familiar ones: “We Sail The Ocean Blue,” “I’m Called Little Buttercup,”  “I Am The Captain Of The Pinafore,” “Kind Captain, I’ve Important Information” and “Now Give Three Cheers.”

The performers, who are members of the Chicago-based The Hippocrites, have taken their repertories around the country. They play the stringed instruments while they sing, act and bandy about the stage.  Those instruments include a good dose of guitars, as well as a ukulele, mandolin, fiddle, accordion, and brief appearances by a flute and a toy piano.

Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography
Aside from the unconventional set and prelude to the show, one immediately recognizes where this was heading as the rather burly bearded actor Matt Kahler ironically sings the show’s second number, “I’m Called Little Buttercup.”

What was a male role in the original work is now a female role for this production and vice versa.  It’s not cross-gender acting in which males are playing female roles but the genders of the characters are reversed. For example, the character Josephine, the daughter of Captain Corcoran in the original version, is now Joseph and is played superbly by the charismatic and talented Mario Aivazian. Captain Cat, a female character in this show, is played commandingly by Tina Muñoz Pandya.

In keeping with the original, the comical tale depicts the power of love against the backdrop of class snobbery. Joseph, Captain Cat’s son, falls for lowly sailor Ralphina Rackstraw (Dana Salem Omar) but he is duty bound to marry the snooty Admiral Dame Jo-Ann instead (Lauren Vogel). A twist at the end puts an exclamation point on this mayhem. 

The entire cast sings exceptionally well with an abundance of movement around the stage while playing their instruments. Ms. Omar’s and Mr. Aivazian’s vocals are particularly outstanding in their solos.

Rounding out The Hypocrites are Shawn Pfautsch as Heebies, Eduardo Xavier Curley Carrillo as Kev’n, Steven Romero Schaeffer as Kinfolk, Leslie Ann Sheppard as Tiffini and Aja Wiltshire as the “stinky” Dot Deadeye.

Heather Gilbert’s splendid lighting design and Kevin O’Donnell’s solid sound design as well as the musical direction by Andra Velis Simon enhance the quality of the production.

There are heaps of laughs, lots of high jinks, and tons of talent on display is this spoof of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic.

It’s impossible to speculate if those men would be turning in their graves if they were to see this parody of their work. But I can say with a degree of certainty they would be laughing and having a good time.  So will you.

Running time. Seventy minutes with a one minute intermission.

H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance run through August 19 at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Take a Chance on Mamma Mia! at Toby’s

Cast of Mamma Mia! playing at Toby's Dinner Theatre
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Twenty year-old Sophie is planning a big white wedding with a picturesque Greek island as the perfect setting. Her fiancée, Sky, is a handsome young man who is madly in love with her. All that’s needed is for her father to proudly walk her down the aisle. #hocoarts

But who’s her daddy? That question is the central plot line in the vivid spectacle Mamma Mia! now gracing the in-the-round stage at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia. #hocoarts

Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical based on the songs from the seventies pop rock group ABBA that were composed by former band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. British playwright Catherine Johnson managed to craft a sweet story line around rather disparate songs, and it works. The plot features strong women protagonists and a high dose of feminism throughout.

Directed and choreographed by Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, the polished, colorfully costumed, well-staged production at Toby’s is flawless with a high-spirited, talented cast performing their hearts out. Top-notch vocal performances, solid acting and energetic dancing with the able support of Conductor Ross Scott Rawlings and his six-piece orchestra bring to life the nostalgia of ABBA’s popular catalog of hits while Johnson’s story brings smiles and a tear or two as the show progresses.

Sophie Sheridan, played brilliantly by Toby’s newcomer Maggie Dransfield, never knew who her father was as she was raised only by her single mother and owner of the taverna, Donna Sheridan, played by Heather Marie Beck, also magnificent in her role.  

Donna, back in the day, was the lead singer of a pop trio Donna and the Dynamos along with Tanya (Coby Kay Callahan) and Rosie (Tess Rohan).  And now she toils tirelessly in running the taverna and raising Sophie by herself having gotten used to the fact there is no longer a man in her life.

Coby Kay Callahan, Heather Marie Beck and Tess Rohan
singing "Super Trouper' Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Sophie sneakily inspects her mother’s diary entries and determines the possibilities based on steamy episodes that took place just prior to her birth: Sam Carmichael (Jeffrey Shankle), an architect; Bill Austen (Russell Sunday), a travel writer; and Harry Bright, a British banker (Darren McDonnell). 
Unbeknownst to her mother, she secretly invites all to her wedding feeling she will know who that man is.

Much of the story revolves around how the three men interact with Sophie and how they explain their presence to Donna as well as the touching but sometimes tense mother-daughter relationship that evolves over this two-day period.  But how that transpires up until the actual wedding and its surprising twist at the end (surprising only if you haven’t seen Mamma Mia! before) becomes the plot that is prodded along by the music.

And oh that music! While not all of ABBA’s songs are performed, most of the toe-tapping, hummable ones are. “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” “The Winner Takes It All” and “Take a Chance On Me” (my personal favorite) help make the production soar.

Mr. Minnick’s choreography, so ably suited for the unique contours of Toby’s stage, is meticulous and energetic. The athletic dancers execute their moves with precision and enthusiasm. “Money, Money, Money,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” and “Voulez-Vous” are good examples of that.  Then there is “Dancing Queen,” a show-stopper for sure.

In a spectacular production number, “Lay All Your Love On Me” the stellar choreography is evident. It starts off with Sophie and Sky singing the emotional and up-tempo song and is joined by the male ensemble donning blue tight wetsuits and flippers. Special shout-outs go to Andrew Prowant for his acrobatic flips and Shiloh Orr for his amazing hand walk across the width of the stage.

Another highlight is the hilarious duet with Tess Rohan as Rosie, an unmarried free-wheeling soul and a member of the one-time Donna and the Dynamos, and Russell Sunday as Bill in “Take A Chance On Me.”  Ms. Rohan’s antics during the number elicit much laughter.

Coby Kay Callahan, also a member of the Donna and the Dynamos trio, plays the thrice-married Tanya. She also demonstrates her comedic skills and lovely singing voice and is on full display in “Money, Money, Money,” “Chiquitta,” “Super Trouper” as well as “Dancing Queen.”

Darren McDonnell & cast in 'Waterloo' Photo:Jeri Tidwell Photography
As Sophie, Maggie Dransfield turns in a marvelous performance in demonstrating a fine soprano voice as well as strong acting prowess.  “The Name of the Game,” “Under Attack’ and “I Have a Dream” are all well-performed.  Her dramatic interactions with Ms. Beck as her mother Donna and Paul Roeckell, making his Toby’s debut as the fiancée Sky, are superbly played by all the actors, especially in scenes where there are tense confrontations.

Heather Marie Beck is first-rate as Donna.  She is a commanding force onstage with her acting skills and gorgeous soprano voice.  The range of emotions she exhibits with Ms. Dransfield’s Sophie are competently executed providing many of the dramatic sequences.

As part of the trio in “Dancing Queen” Ms. Beck excels.  She also delivers exceptional solo performances in “One Of Us” and “The Winner Takes It All” and performs well in “SOS,” a duet with Mr. Shankle and “Our Last Summer,” a duet with Mr. McDonnell.

Mr. McDonell as Harry, Mr. Shankle as Sam and Mr. Sunday as Bill act and sing very effectively. They each present plausible explanations on how they could be Sophie’s real dad, and combined with Donna’s uncertainty, muddies the waters keeping the audience in suspense. 

I am so happy that Jeffrey Shankle has the opportunity to demonstrate his outstanding tenor voice.  He kills it in “Knowing Me, Knowing You”—another highlight.

Rounding out the talented cast are Jamie Pasquinelli as Ali, Cassie Saunders as Lisa, Joey Ellinghaus as Pepper, Shiloh Orr as Eddie, and David James as Father Alexandrios.

Other members of the energetic ensemble are Brandon Bedore, Justin Calhoun, Rachel Kemp, Ariel Messeca, Andrew Prowant, Nina Savoy, Louisa Tringali and Brigid Wallace.

David A. Hopkins set design is spot-on with wooden aqua and cream-colored doors on the walls above and around the stage depicting the entrances to hotel-like rooms above the Greek island taverna, which is the scene for much of the action.  Mr. Minnick effectively utilizes all the available levels and corners of the theater rendering the production to play big in the in-the-round space.

Cast singing 'Waterloo' at show's end
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photgraphy
The wide variety of spectacular pastel costumes are provided by AT Jones & Sons INC.  Mark Smedley’s sound design is on the money as the performers are well mic’d and able to soar above the orchestration. And David A. Hopkins lighting design nimbly suits the myriad changes in mood in dialogue and song.

The ninth longest running show on Broadway and the eighth longest in London’s West End, Mamma Mia! has been played virtually everywhere.  If that weren’t enough, there is the popular film version with the same name. And just in time for this run, the sequel to the movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, is set to open on July 20.  

Oddly, the musical never captured a Tony Award though it received five nominations in 2002.   That tidbit is shrugged off by the tens of millions who have enjoyed the show worldwide.

You should definitely take a chance and see this well directed, expertly performed Mamma Mia! at Toby’s Dinner Theatre.  The famous buffet is as good as ever adding to a wonderful evening of joy and a well-earned few hours of escaping the tumult in the world.

Running time. Two hours and 35 minutes with an intermission.

Mamma Mia! runs through September 9, 2018 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311or visiting online.

Pride is Needed More Than Ever

Image: The Daily Beast

With most of the larger Pride celebrations in the rear view mirror (and others still to come), it is clear that despite progress in the recent past, Pride is needed more than ever.  

We continue to see rants on social media decrying the need for Pride and others clamoring for “straight pride” celebrations to counter the rainbow-hued parades and festivals that take place in much of the free world.

Let’s remind our heterosexual friends that they don’t need a straight Pride celebration. Consider:

• No straight person has been fired from their job or not hired for being straight.

• No straight person has been kicked out of an apartment or disapproved of a lease because he or she is straight.

• No straight person has been assaulted or killed for being straight.

• No straight person has to hide their sexuality to family members, classmates, clergy, co-workers, bosses, friends and neighbors.

• No straight athlete has been harassed in the locker room or denied an endorsement deal because he or she is straight.

I can go on.

To be clear, this opposition and anger directed towards the LGBTQ+ communities has manifested itself long before the era of Donald Trump.  He cannot and should not be blamed for the vitriol that occurred prior to November 2016.  Afterwards—that’s another matter with his transgender ban in the military, his clear intention to erase LGBT citizens and history, and his persistent refusal to recognize June as LGBTQ Pride Month.  As with everything else he does, he is only president of his base.

Trump can also be charged with the racism and bigotry he has displayed for many years, even before the inauguration.  This has given cover to his racist and homophobic base and liberated them to employ social media and right wing outlets to vent what they have truly believed for a long time: that LGBTQ+ individuals are “less than,” “perverted,” and “inferior” to the straight elements of society.

Many have said the issue is a generational matter in that young people will eventually take over the world, and homophobia and transphobia will ultimately disappear.  This is wishful thinking. 

Evidence is mounting that much of the vitriol expressed by the homophobes are from millennials, and that is not encouraging.  We’re finding no indication that anti-LGBTQ+ bullying in schools and online have dissipated.  There is a disappointing report by GLAAD that discloses a reversal in the trend for acceptance.

Moreover, despite the political gains achieved and increased visibility, findings  by the Human Rights Campaign state that half of LGBT employees remain closeted at work.

Baltimore Pride Photo: Baltimore OUTloud
When you combine these developments with the recent baker decision from the Supreme Court, the “bathroom bills” popping up in jurisdictions around the U.S., and the very genuine prospect of the Supreme Court becoming a solid anti-LGBTQ majority that could roll back hard-fought gains, there is substantial cause for alarm. 

I used to laugh at my husband for saying the right wing zealots “will put us gays in camps.”  How outrageous is that?  Well, if Trump can put babies in cages, anything now seems possible.  It’s not a joke anymore.

We need Pride now more than ever to unify and stick together and join with other groups who have been targets of Trump’s venom and actions.  Oppression is real—right here and right now, and we need to fight back at the ballot box, in the streets demonstrating, and holding massive protests at congressional offices to dominate the news cycles.

Show our Pride. Our lives are on the line now.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

HoCo Pride 2019 Officially Launched

A diverse crowd of nearly 300 members of the LGBTQ+ community, allies and elected officials packed Carroll Baldwin Hall and its outside grounds in Savage, Md. on June 28 to officially kick off HoCo Pride. 

That launch date was selected to bring attention to Howard County’s first ever LGBTQ+ Pride celebration scheduled for Friday, June 28, 2019, which will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in the West Village of New York City.  Stonewall is considered by most historians as a seminal episode in the struggle for LGBT rights.

Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman
addressing the crowd. Photo: Andrew Howard
The kid-friendly event featured food, music, beverages, games, raffle prizes, an outside taco truck, a play area on the grounds, a silent auction, resource table from the GLCCB—the sponsor of Baltimore Pride, and a library for children. Several drag artists including the popular Shawnna Alexander were on hand selling raffles and entertaining the children.

Several Howard County’s elected officials appeared to briefly address to the crowd.  

County Executive Allan H. Kittleman explained how Howard County government is supporting the LGBTQ+ community and the planned HoCo Pride event for next year. He also discussed the county executive’s LGBT roundtable, which consists of quarterly meetings focusing on issues important to the LGBTQ+ community and identifying areas of improvement.

County Council Chair and Democratic candidate for County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball said, “We need to stand up and speak out because if any of us are facing inequality and injustice, it harms all of us.”

Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, HoCo Pride Planning Committee
Chair Jumel Howard and Council Chair Dr. Calvin Ball
holding proclamation from the County Council. Photo: Andrew Howard
Dr. Ball read a proclamation from the County Council that supports the LGBTQ+ community and the planned HoCo Pride celebration. 

“The Council congratulates the Pride Committee for promoting diversity and inclusion and thanks all of the dedicated advocates for their valuable time for making history in Howard County.”

Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano reiterated his commitment to diversity and recounted the recent derogatory graffiti at Glenelg High School and how that is something he will not accept. He also challenged the community to rise above hate and continue to be an example for others.

HoCo Pride will not include a parade but instead there will be a large festival, which will most likely take place on the Columbia lakefront though that hasn’t been finalized. The slogan is “Remember. Resist. Rejoice.”

On the grounds outside Carroll Baldwin Hall
in Savage, Md. Photo: Andrew Howard
To continue the planning process, a series of community input meetings have been scheduled.  At these gatherings, members will be afforded the opportunity to make suggestions, volunteer, and to discuss what they would like or not like to see at HoCo Pride.

The first meeting is set for July 10 in the Patapsco Room of the Charles E. Miller Branch Library, 9421 Frederick Rd., Ellicott City, MD 21042 from 6 to 7:15 p.m.

The second meeting will take place on July 11 in the Glenwood Pindell Room of the Glenwood Branch Library, 2350 MD-97, Glenwood, MD 21723 from 6 to 7:15 p.m.

The third meeting is scheduled for July 12 in the Warfield Room at the Howard County Central Library, 10375 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044 from 6 to 7:15 p.m.

The well-attended kick-off party was a good beginning as the planning process for the festival will now begin in earnest.

“It was a great honor working with so many members of the community to make this event a success,” said Jumel Howard, Chair of the HoCo Pride Planning Committee. “The positive reaction from the community is a true sign that we are taking on something that the people are seriously behind. We raised over $2,000 and had nearly 300 people join us and we could not be prouder!”

For more information and to follow developments, like the HoCo Pride Facebook Page .

Friday, June 29, 2018

Orioles Host Their First LGBT Pride Night

Photo: Baltimore Orioles
Lisa Davidson does not drink and often feels alienated because so many queer spaces and events revolve around drinking.  So, when she learned that the Baltimore Orioles announced it will host its very first official LGBT Pride Night on June 27, Davidson was eager to participate.

“The fact that this was just a plain ole’ baseball game made my heart happy,” Davidson, a resident of Bel Air. Md., said after the game. 

“I loved being invited into a space that wasn’t inherently queer and being welcome. It’s easy to forget I’m ‘different’ sometimes, but sharing a night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards—something I love doing and always have—with people who look like me and walk like me and love like me was so wonderful.”

She hosted an unofficial event page on Facebook to gin up the turnout.

“If we could mobilize as many ticket purchases as possible, the Orioles would know that we wanted this night, this night was special, and we want it to keep happening. And I think we showed up in awesome numbers and our love was louder than the hate,” she said.

Indeed, the turnout was quite impressive with over 1,900 tickets sold as part of the Pride event, according to Orioles’ public relations office. A portion of the proceeds benefited Moveable Feast.

The Orioles, which was among the 23 Major League Baseball teams scheduled to hold similar Pride events in 2018, offered VIP tickets for a pre-game party that included food, beverages, and music provided by DJ Rosie, a local favorite.

Others bought tickets at a lower price whereby special Oriole Pride-themed black and white baseball caps with rainbow colors filling the “O’s” were included in the deal. (The VIP tickets also included the cap.)  Still others purchased tickets at an even lower price and could buy the caps separately. 

Most of the diverse Pride crowd was situated in field level sections down the right field line, and as demand grew, seats were made available at the terrace level and other areas in the ballpark.  They witnessed the home team losing in extra innings to the Seattle Mariners, 8-7.

In the past, such outings commemorating Pride were organized at the grass roots level with some of the proceeds going to the GLBT Community Center of Baltimore. However, these Pride Nights, though they drew several hundred participants, were not official team events on the Orioles’ schedule.

Last Wednesday, the Orioles marked the occasion by the words “Welcome to LGBT Pride Night at Oriole Park” in rainbow letters displayed on the outfield video screen as well as other areas along the stadium’s façade.  The Baltimore Men’s Chorus performed prior to the game and during the 7th
DJ Rosie spinning the discs at VIP party. Photo: Baltimore Orioles
inning stretch.

Gay retired MLB umpire Dale Scott who came out while still active threw out the ceremonial first pitch to rousing applause and warm embraces from his former colleagues who were working this game.

One of the evening's highlights was the popular “Kiss Cam” feature between innings.  A camera is trained on a couple while the image is projected on the large video screen. They spot themselves on the screen and begin smooching while the crowd reacts.  Typically heterosexual couples are featured.  But on this night several same-sex couples were highlighted, much to the delight of the crowd.

“I had an overwhelming moment of happiness when I thought about the same-sex Kiss Cam kisses and how, hopefully, 20 years from now the giddy excitement over seeing it will be gone because it will just be the norm,” said Nina Sharp, a resident of Mount Vernon.

Baltimore’s Jon Kaplan was a whirlwind of activity, darting all over the LGBT sections hob knobbing with old friends while perhaps making new ones. 

Reminiscent of  unofficial Orioles cheerleader at Memorial Stadium, Wild Bill Hagy, Kaplan also led the crowd in Section 8 in cheers by trying to shout above the ball park noise, “When I say O’s…” and the fans put their hands together forming an “O.”

Fans responding to Jon Kaplan's cheerleading. Photo: Jon Kaplan
“It gives me so much joy to see our community and allies get together as a group and celebrate our diversity in public venues,” says Kaplan.  “It’s crucial that we continue to show the world what a wonderful LGBTQ community we have to offer in Maryland.”

A local LGBT-owned business joined the party as well. The Baltimore Eagle offered an extra deal of 2 for 1 on the first round of drinks after the game for those wearing the Pride Cap or showing the ticket. “We wanted to keep the night going and just add more to the fun,” said co-owner Charles King. “A large group of employees and us owners came out and supported the team. We had a great time.”

Of course, not everybody was pleased with the Orioles’ promotion.  A person named Jack Thomas posted on the Orioles’ Facebook page in reaction to the announced LGBT Pride Night, “Promote, and celebrate perverted minds, Orioles! Just another good reason not to watch that lousy team.”

Lisa Davidson acknowledged that there were angry people who cannot accept these Pride events or LGBT Pride in general.  “I know I can’t reason with people like that, so the only way I knew to ‘fight back’ was with love and my queer-wallet of not-so-much-money, a ‘millennial problem.’”

Openly gay Oriole spokesperson Greg Bader, who works in the team’s front office, notes the personal significance of Pride Night.

“As a gay man, I’m proud of the Orioles for hosting an official LGBT Pride Night, as it sends a clear message to our fans – and our staff – that the organization is welcoming and supportive of everyone, regardless of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” Bader told Outsports.

“Based on the behind-the-scenes support the organization has afforded me and my fellow LGBT coworkers through the years, it’s no surprise that the team would also be so supportive in this public way.”

The Baltimore Orioles confirmed the event will continue in the future.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

'On The Town' is a Helluva Show at Olney

Sam Ludwig (Ozzie), Rhett Guter (Gabey), and Evan Casey (Chip) 
Photo: Stan Barouh

When one is serving in the Navy, especially during wartime, the opportunity for liberty at a port is always something sailors eagerly look forward to. Shore leave for them is akin to children anticipating Christmas morning.  #hocoarts

In 1944, three such sailors—Chip, Ozzie and Gabey—disembark from their ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and for 24 hours they make way for the bustle and nightlife of New York City seeking the personal and romantic companionship (aka a fling) that had eluded them while on duty.  One of them, however, is Chip, who is intent on seeing New York’s attractions delineated in an obsolete guide his father gave him 10 years before. 

On the subway they noticed a poster of “Miss Turnstiles for June,” Ivy Smith. Gabey falls for the image of the woman as it reminds him of his childhood crush.  The other two agree to help find her and a zany search ensues while Chip and Ozzie instantly encounter rather odd women of their own.

Their whacky story is conveyed in the classic 1944 musical On The Town that has dropped anchor at Olney Theatre Center.

The production is the early-career collaboration between Leonard Bernstein (music) and Jerome Robbins (based on the ballet Fancy Free) with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.  It’s the final musical on Olney’s Mainstage of the 2017-18 Season, marking the theatre’s 80th birthday.

Ably directed by Olney Artistic Director Jason Loewith, this iteration of On The Town is a lively, fast-paced production consistent of the old-time musicals with its solid catalogue of songs including many ballads, vibrant dance numbers and plenty of schtick.  The iconic song “New York, New York,” performed near the beginning of the production and then again as the Finale, is arguably one of the best known songs in Broadway lore.  

Robert Mintz (Ensemble), Lance E. Hayes (Ensemble), and
Rhett Guter (Gabey) Photo: Stan Barouh
Superb work by the entire ensemble showcasing their singing, dancing and comedic talents and terrific orchestration directed by Helen Hayes Award winner Christopher Youstra and his Olney record-breaking 14-piece orchestra are among keys to the show’s success.

Since there is much dancing in On The Town—a cornucopia of rhythmic high-tempo dances with an infusion of ballet—there needs to be a stellar choreographer who interprets and executes Jerome Robbins’ original choreography.  This Olney production has one in the accomplished Tara Jeanne Vallee, and the dancing that unfolds is impeccable and precise.

Rosemary Pardee’s Costume Design accurately fits the ensemble in a wide range of period attire. Alexandra Pohanka’s Wig Design (essential since many in the cast play multiple roles), Colin K. Bills’ Lighting Design, and Roc Lee’s Sound Design are all on point and added quality to an already quality show. Perhaps the sailor hats could be fastened a little tighter to the principals’ heads as their occasional falling is a distraction.

Court Watson’s creative set design is more functional than aesthetic. Dropdown and sliding scenery and a variety of set pieces and props are frequently used to accommodate the plethora of scene changes that includes the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a subway, a taxicab, streets, a couple of apartments, and several different nightclubs among other locales.  The rapidly moving scenery works well in keeping the pace of the show on target.

An elevator bringing performers out of a cavity in the center of the stage and the use of stairways on the sides are good touches enhancing the texture of the visuals.  Another nice touch is a sign that flashes the name of a different nightclub the group travels to.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the classic Nedick’s set—nostalgia for me wins out.

Evan Casey as Chip, Helen Hayes Award winner Sam Ludwig as Ozzie, and Rhett Guter as Gabey exuberantly play the three sailors.

Sam Ludwig (Ozzie), Rachel Zampelli (Claire De Loone),
Claire Rathbun (Ivy), Rhett Guter (Gabey), Tracy Lynn Olivera
(Hildy Esterhazy), and Evan Casey (Chip)  Photo: Stan Barouh
Tracy Lynn Olivera plays Hildy Esterhazy, an about-to-be fired cab driver who is hot for Chip.  Rachel Zampelli plays Claire DeLoone, an anthropologist specializing in men and who cannot control her desires.  She bags Ozzie.  And Claire Rathbun plays the elusive Ivy who has not accomplished what the subway poster suggests but instead is a “cooch dancer.”

All the principals demonstrate strong vocals and dance expertly.  As couples, they play off each other quite effectively displaying impeccable comic timing in both dialogue and movements.  It’s no wonder Mr. Casey (Chip) and Ms. Olivera (Hildy) enjoy such strong chemistry as they are a real life married couple.

The Navy trio as a group sings powerfully in such numbers as “New York, New York” and the comical “Gabey’s Coming.” They excel individually and as part of duets and production numbers where they also display elegant dancing moves.

Mr. Ludwig and Ms. Zampelli score high marks in performing in the hilarious “Carried Away” and join with Mr. Casey and Ms. Olivera in “Ya Got Me” and “Some Other Time.”

For his part, Mr. Guter as Gabey, who as disclosed by his fellow sailors, performed a heroic act during the war and saved their lives, engages in less comedy than the others but still has his moments forlornly trying to hook up with Ivy. His solo “Lonely Town” is stellar.

Ms. Olivera shines in the funny “I Can Cook, Too.” In a tour-de-force performance, she possesses amazing comical instincts and is perfectly cast for the role.

Ms. Rathbun and Mr. Ludwig’s dance duet “Pas De Deux” is sensual and majestic.

There are several other actors who do a magnificent job supporting the principals.  Bobby Smith plays among his half dozen other roles the part of Pitkin W. Bridgework, a judge who happens to be engaged to Ms. Zampelli’s Claire.  Understanding at first of Claire’s penchant for other men (“I Understand”), he becomes less so, leading to a madcap conclusion. 

Also playing multiple roles is Donna Migliaccio as Madame Maud P. Dilly, who is a standout as the heavy drinking, often inebriated vocal coach for Ivy and foil for Gabey.

Rounding out the talented cast are Ashleigh King, Amanda Kaplan, Alan Naylor, Connor James Reilly, Shawna Walker, Suzanne Lane, Jennifer Flohr, Ian Anthony Coleman, Lance E. hayes, Robert Mintz, Ron Tal and Taylor J. Washington.

On The Town is a fun musical with plenty of talented performers, musicians, and an expert technical crew. Leave your worries at home for a few hours and enjoy a talented cast giving their all in this wild adventure in New York, New York, a helluva town.  And this is one helluva show.

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

On The Town runs through July 22 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.   

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Bold Madaleno Ad is Sheer Genius

Rich Madaleno
Maryland gubernatorial candidate Rich Madaleno shook up the Democratic primary race and threw caution to the wind with an ad that ended with the kissing of his longtime husband Mark Hodge. He preceded the kiss with the comment, “the number one way I piss off Donald Trump and the Republicans” and concludes the ad with the taunt, “Take that, Trump.”

The 30-second campaign ad, "Take That, Trump", will run on Fox and Friends in the D.C. market leading up to the June 26 primary is most likely an attempt, among other things, to goad President Trump to respond.  #hocopolitics

The ad does not mention any of his half dozen primary opponents nor does it mention incumbent Republican Governor Larry Hogan. Instead, he directly takes on Trump in the ad touting his voting record, accomplishments and positions on issues that are anathema to Trump and his Republican cohorts.

Madaleno, Maryland’s first openly gay state Senator and a resident of Silver Spring, Md., was one of the leading forces in winning passage of marriage equality in the Maryland General Assembly.

To me, this ad is pure political genius and the type of in-your-face boldness so frustratingly absent from many Democratic office seekers.  While Trump’s approval may be inching up nationally, there is no evidence that the president’s popularity is anything but low in Maryland and especially in the D.C. area.  Thus, attacking Trump here should not result in much backlash.

Even those who may be put off by the same-sex kiss, there is no reason to believe that such individuals would have voted for Madaleno anyway. Clearly, there was more upside than downside to this endeavor and if nothing else, excited the progressive Democrats in the state in which many had, up to this point, been undecided in the race.

Moreover, the ad has received national and international intention, which will likely generate significant donations from supporters from places far and wide.  From news organizations, such as CNN, Time, USA Today, and the Washington Post to scores of local print and online outlets, the exposure is golden.  

The timing of the ad leading up to early voting in the state form June 14-21 culminating in the primary election on June 26 presents a great opportunity.  

“June is LGBT Pride Month and I couldn’t think of a better time to release this ad,” Madaleno, who will turn 53 on June 16, said in a statement. “Love truly does trump hate.”

The ad is seen below.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Final Pitch

My closing arguments for election to the Howard County Democratic Central Committee

By Bob Ford

As early voting begins, I would like to offer my closing arguments as to why I am asking for your vote to continue to serve on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee.  #hocopolitics

Having been appointed four years ago, I have worked hard on the Committee including the role of co-chair for Voter Registration and co-chair for New Democratic Voter Outreach. 

I gained a reputation for my solid work ethic and for being a fair-minded, pragmatic voice of reason as well as progressive advocate.  This record earned the respect of my colleagues. 

I’m proud of the fact that I have a unique résumé compared to the rest of the field who are running for this position, and this enables me to bring a fresh and distinctive perspective to the Central Committee.

Being the only LGBT person out of 30 candidates, I’ve been a passionate advocate and activist for LGBT rights and equality for nearly four decades and fought hard to persuade elected officials to support marriage equality.  I’m also a strong supporter of organized labor and of working class men and women having been a member of the Steelworkers, Teamsters and Communications Workers of America unions.

I’ve been engaged in the community promoting civil rights by currently serving as a Commissioner on the county’s Human Rights Commission, a member of the Steering Committee for the #OneHoward initiative, a member of the County Executive’s LGBT Round Table, and the Treasurer and Membership Chairman for the Columbia Democratic Club.  I am also a member of the Ellicott City and Western Howard Democratic Club and an active member of PFLAG-Howard County.

I want to help the Democratic Party both nationally and locally to prosper and grow and will wholeheartedly support Democratic candidates and officials who share my values of inclusion, openness, diversity and equality.  I am pro-choice, pro-labor, pro-LGBT, pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-gun reform, pro-human rights, pro-immigrant, pro-universal health care,  pro-environment protections, and pro-teacher. In short, I am “pro – gressive.”

To break it down further:

♦ We need LGBT representation on the Central Committee. While I have no doubt that most of the other Central Committee candidates support LGBTQ rights, being actually LGBTQ and having lived through the journey of coming out and dealing with issues that directly impact the LGBTQ population make me uniquely qualified to represent and promote LGBTQ interests.

Even in Howard County there are instances of bullying in schools and online against LGBTQ students as well as the existence of LGBTQ homelessness.  The recent racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic vandalism at Glenelg H.S. underscores the fact there is still much work that remains.

The LGBTQ community is a key and growing component of the Howard County and Maryland Democratic Party. The latest estimates indicate there are at least 9,000 voters in Howard County who identify as LGBT.  Adding in our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and allies, we have emerged as a potent coalition within the party.  This vital Democratic bloc needs to be represented.

♦ Working for Democrats. During Democratic election cycles I’ve been a tireless participant and have helped numerous local candidates by burning shoe leather door-knocking on their behalf, literature dropping, phone banking, envelope stuffing, working the polls, sign holding, marching in neighborhood parades for local Democrats, staffing tables at a spectrum of events, and contributing a good deal of money towards candidates’ campaigns.

♦ Experience counts. I strongly favor an infusion of “new blood” to participate in the democratic process, and that is why I have been an ardent promoter of voter registration. I also welcome younger and less experienced candidates to breathe more life into the party and share their perspectives, which will ensure the party’s growth and success in the future. 

However, there is no substitute for experience, stability and dependability.  These traits, which I believe I possess, are needed to navigate myriad issues that come before the Committee.  And it doesn’t hurt to be a moderating, calming influence during emotional debates and not getting caught up in personal distractions.

♦ Attendance at Meetings.  Half the battle is being reliable, dependable and showing up at Central Committee and State Democratic meetings. I am proud to say I have a near-perfect attendance record at these meetings over the past four years and believe that the members should do so as well. It is imperative that the business that take place at the meetings receive the full participation by those elected to serve.  As such, I will propose that the attendance records at these meetings be published to foster accountability.

♦ Precinct captains. Another plan of mine is to recruit volunteers to be precinct captains.  These individuals would be tasked to enlist the support of other volunteers in their particular precinct to help distribute literature, signs, canvassing and perform other functions needed to boost the Democratic Party as well as the candidates’ visibility. They also would be asked to send out post cards welcoming newly registered Democratic voters--a function I recently participated in with two other volunteers.

♦ Endorsements and Testimonials. I am honored to have received endorsements and testimonials from colleagues on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee, former and current elected officials, candidates, community leaders, bloggers, and political activists who recognized my efforts on behalf of the Democratic Party and acknowledged my passion for diversity and inclusion.

I greatly appreciate African Americans in Howard County; former County Executive and State Senator James Robey ; State Senator Guy Guzzone ; Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane ; and civil rights icon and Vice President of Research & Agenda Planning of the African American Coalition of Howard County, Sherman Howell , for their endorsements.

In addition, I want to thank the following for their public expression of support for my candidacy:  Bill Woodcock,  Carole Fisher,  Delegate Clarence Lam, Colette Roberts, Courtney Watson,  Dan Medinger,  Deb Jung,  Dylan Goldberg, Delegate Eric Ebersole, Frank Aquino, Greg Jennings, Jason Booms, Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, Councilman Jon Weinstein, Jonathan Branch, Marcia White, Delegate Mary Washington, Maureen Evans Arthurs, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Patti  Medinger, Rich Gibson, Spencer Dove, Steve Hunt, Delegate Terri Hill and Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary.

♦ Speaking out against Trump. Finally, this corrupt and lying President has debased the office, believes he is above the law, is assaulting our democratic principles and institutions, attacks minorities, and cozies up to despots while hurting our allies. Too many local Democratic office holders and candidates have been frustratingly reticent to publicly criticize Trump, and as a member of the Central Committee, I will urge elected Democrats to do so.

In summary, if you want an experienced, hardworking, progressive advocate with a proven record of helping Democratic candidates win, and who will not just talk the talk but in fact, walk the walk, please vote for Bob Ford during early voting June 14-21 or on June 26 for the Howard County Democratic Central Committee.

In addition, please vote for the other experienced, well-qualified candidates on my independent team (you may choose up to 10 women and 10 men): Alicia Altamirano, Suzanne R. Geckle, Jan Oliver, Margaret Weinstein, Bill Adams, Rich Corkran, Josh Friedman, Dave Garabowski, Gabriel M. Moreno, and Pravin Ponnuri.

Authority: Bob Ford, Candidate, 5912 Trotter Rd., Clarksville, MD  21029