Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Timeless and Timely Optimistic 'Annie' Comes to Olney

Noelle Robinson as Annie and Kevin McAllister as Oliver Warbucks
Photo: Stan Barouh
As we edge into the holiday season, a heartwarming production of Annie has made its way to the Olney Theatre Center, and the timing is perfect.  Many people aren’t too optimistic this year on several levels, but Annie brings what the doctor ordered: a dose of much needed sanguinity and a two and a half hour escape from the real world.     #hocoarts

To his credit, Director Jason King Jones’ iteration on Olney’s Main Stage stays mainly true to the beloved musical—considered one of the all-time most popular Broadway productions internationally and in the U.S.  Mr. Jones, who helmed Mary Poppins last year at Olney, skillfully guides a wonderfully talented cast and crew in this joyful, smoothly presented production.

The forty year-old, seven-time Tony Award winning classic is based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan. The story centers on a plucky, adorable 11- year-old girl, Annie, brimming with contagious optimism, whose parents dropped her off at an orphanage in New York City. 

From that venue during the depths of  the Depression, Annie's shining personality and upbeat demeanor ticks off the orphanage’s matron, the cruel Miss Hannigan, and ultimately wins over the heart of billionaire factory mogul Oliver Warbucks (and just about everyone else including President Franklin D. Roosevelt) while trying to find her parents whom she believes are still alive.

A terrific score highlights the musical with the iconic “Tomorrow” leading the way.  Other songs, such as “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “N.Y.C.,” “Easy Street,” “Maybe” and “Something Was Missing” are also solid.  Led by Musical Director Jay Crowder, Christopher Youstra’s nine-piece orchestra proficiently supports the vocals.

Photo: Stan Barouh
Rachel Leigh Dolan choreographed with precision, and such numbers as “Little Girls,” “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here,” “N.Y.C.” “Easy Street” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” are meticulously executed by the talented leads and ensemble.

Young Noelle Robinson, whom local theatre-goers may remember as adorable Lil Inez in Hairspray at Toby’s Dinner Theatre earning her a Helen Hayes Award nomination, hits it out of the park in the title role.  At a young age, her already skilled acting prowess and dancing skills are clearly on display. 

Yet, it is Ms. Robinson’s vocals that amaze.  Her powerful rendition of “Tomorrow” brings goose bumps as she flawlessly hits each note dead on.  She also soars in the moving ballad “Maybe.”
As billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who is so powerful that he can casually drop in on the President and summon the FBI to find Annie’s parents, Kevin McAllister couldn’t be better.  Using his potent acting abilities, Mr. McAllister, a 2016 Helen Hayes Award winner in Ford Theatre’s Ragtime, perfectly plays the stiff, cold, demanding tycoon in need of adopting Annie to soften his thick-skinned image.

Mr. McAllister’s opera-quality baritone is simply magnificent and shines particularly in the tear-inducing “Something Was Missing” where he tells Annie how much he loves her.

Rachel Zampelli, a seasoned performer who is well-known in DC-area theatre from portraying Eva in Evita at Olney, romps through her role as the villainous Miss Hannigan.  When the matron of the orphanage is not berating the children and forces them to tell her they love her, she is hitting the bottle and hits on just about any male who comes to the door.  She teases the children by telling them “no hot mush today” to which they cheer and celebrate only to find out she will be serving cold mush instead.  You get the picture.

Ms. Zampelli’s comedic skills are showcased with impeccable timing, facial expressions and body language throughout.  Her clear soprano voice also scores high marks in “Little Girls” and a reprise of “Easy Street” with Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s brother, and Dani Stoller as Lily, Rooster’s “hen” you can say.

Dani Stoller, Wilson Jermaine Heredia and Rachel Zampelli
Photo: Stan Barouh
Mr. Heredia, a 1996 Tony Award winner as well as the recipient of other honors for his role as Angel in Rent, is effective as the conniving Rooster, a small-time crook and ex-con. He along with Lily devises a plan to swindle Warbucks’ $50,000 reward by impersonating Annie’s parents, but to no avail.  The trio’s work in the number “Easy Street” is sterling.

Lovely Patricia Hurley does a fine job as Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ devoted secretary who had taken an immediate liking to Annie. Her vocals shine in “Annie” and in the group number “I Don’t Need Anything But You.”

Other standouts in the large cast include Karl Kippola as Warbucks’ butler Drake; Rob McQuay as FDR; Alan Naylor as Bert Healy, a radio announcer who broadcast Annie’s search for her parents; and Emily Madden, Julia Lancione and Ashleigh King as the Boylan Sisters who appear on Healy’s radio show.

The remainder of the cast is outstanding and in particular, the young girls who play Annie’s orphan friends on a rotating basis.  And let’s not forget the trained pooch which plays Sandy, also alternately.

The entire ensemble is attired in exceptional period costumes designed by Seth M. Gilbert. Daniel Ettinger’s scenic design is well constructed with drop-down scenery and moveable set pieces seamlessly transforming the multitude of scene changes to include a dingy, Depression-produced “Hoovertown” locale, to Warbucks’ great room in his mansion, to the Oval Office in the White House. 

Sarah Tundermann’s lighting design and Roc Lee’s sound design cap off a terrific effort by the technical crew.

Annie hasn’t lost her magic over the past 40 years.  The timeless feel-good story with memorable music and choreography couldn’t come at a better time.  Under Jason King Jones’ direction, the exceptional cast and crew at Olney did justice to the classic Broadway smash.  Annie should not be missed.  

Get your tickets—tomorrow.  Bet your bottom dollar you’ll enjoy it.

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

Annie runs through December 31 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 .

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hold off on Impeachment

The latest attempt is ill-timed and ill-advised.

Six Democrats on November 15 signed a resolution to introduce five articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. According to Politico, They “charge that Trump obstructed justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey; that he has violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by continuing to frequent and profit from his businesses; and that he has undermined the federal judiciary and freedom of the press.”  #hocopolitics

A Republican House Judiciary Committee aide said in response, “Under the Constitution, impeachment is an extraordinary remedy to remove certain elected officials from office who have committed high crimes and misdemeanors. It’s the policy of the committee to consider impeachment articles if and when the constitutional criteria for impeachment exist.”

For those Democrats, this may have been a cathartic move for their constituents or the 40 percent of the country that would want to see the president impeached. 

Moreover, California billionaire and Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer has launched an impeachment drive and is demanding that every Democratic candidate make impeachment the centerpiece of their 2018 campaign.

Trump “is a threat to the American people,” Steyer said last week in an interview with ABC News. “Why aren’t people willing to stand up and say that? I don't understand it.”

Democratic leadership has put the kibosh on that. “I’m not making [impeachment] a priority,” Pelosi told LA Times columnist Doyle McManus last week. “If you're going to go down the impeachment path, you have to know you can do it not in a partisan way.”

Democrats may want an impeachment effort to go forward but independents aren’t on board yet.  A Politico/Morning Consult Poll this month found that although 40 percent of voters believe the House should begin impeachment proceedings, 49 percent disagree.

While many in the country see Trump as unfit for office and a national embarrassment—his mental instability, incessant lying, lack of intellectual grasp of policy, unqualified appointments to the cabinet and judiciary, the nepotism in the administration, his affection for world despots especially Russian president Putin, his unhinged obsessions with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and, of course, his childish and his reckless tweets—the impeachment process must meet a high standard, and proponents of impeachment should systematically try to gain bi-partisan support for it to work. Pelosi is correct.

Democrats do not control either body of Congress, and while most Democrats and a good number of Republicans would prefer that Trump not remain in office, nothing will come of an impeachment effort now.  To be sure, Republicans are terrified of ticking off Trump’s base and would like nothing more than to avoid a Bannon-led primary to unseat them. Therefore, you can’t count on them.

If Democrats make impeachment the focus of their 2018 campaigns without offering a positive rationale for voters to support their own candidacies, all they will accomplish is bringing out the Trumpsters to the polls in droves as their loyalty to him though faltering slightly is still strong. It would accurately appear as a politically partisan effort.  This would compromise the Dems’ efforts to regain control of the House, if not the Senate.

The dilemma of whether to impeach or not to impeach should find a solution with the Robert Mueller probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, possible collusion with the Trump campaign to aid that effort, and obstruction of justice among other criminal charges to Trump’s associates and even his family members if not the president himself.

Mr. Mueller, one of the most highly respected (and feared) prosecutors in the country, is methodically building a case so strong that it will shake the world.  When the findings are revealed—and they will be damning—only then will bi-partisan impeachment and conviction by two-thirds of the Senate be probable because the country will demand it. 

Of course, if Trump finds a way to fire Mueller beforehand, that is an impeachable offense in its own right.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Frederick Commemorates Transgender Day of Remembrance

The Frederick Center, its Trans and Gender Nonbinary Group, and Hood College present the 2nd annual Frederick Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on Monday, November 20 at 7 pm in the Marx Center of Hood College (401 Rosemont Avenue). 

We remember those taken from us by anti-transgender violence and transphobia through murder and suicide – centering the experiences of trans women of color, who continue to be targeted in our community and country as well as around the world.

Transgender and gender non-binary community members come together with the greater LGBTQ community, allies, civic leaders, Hood College students and staff, and loved ones and neighbors to share our grief and anger, appreciate the lives and gifts of those lost, highlight the legacy of transgender people, and commit to work towards trans-inclusive social justice. 
The names of transgender people lost in 2017 to an epidemic of violence at home and abroad will be a focus of the observance.

This is the second Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Frederick organized and led by the transgender community. Following the July 26 reinstatement of the ban on transgender soldiers in the U.S. military and record numbers of murdered trans people for the fourth year running, it is imperative that we gather and support this marginalized people.

This event, celebrated internationally, is a critical expression of concern about increasing levels of anti-trans violence as we work for a world free of hatred and brutality. “In Houston, Missouri, a transgender teen was brutally killed and defaced. She was further erased by both local and national media, who identified her with a male name and pronoun,” says Marcia Simpson, a local community leader and member of the planning committee. 

“We are going to say her name, Ally Steinfeld, and talk about the need to understand and support work committed to ending ignorance and anti-trans violence.”

The event is free, but donations are welcome and will support local trans resources. Wheelchair accessible. More information is available online at twitter account @FredTDoR, please use hashtag #FredTDoR for all social media mentions. 

The announcement flyer appears on Facebook

In November 1998, the murders of trans women Chanel Pickett and Rita Hester in Boston MA inspired a local candlelight vigil and the creation of the international Trans Day of Remembrance, now observed in dozens of countries and hundreds of cities – more here.

The Frederick Center was founded in 2012 with the vision of being the leading organization for LGBTQ resources and advocacy in central Maryland. It mission is to support, educate, link, organize, and provide outreach to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community and its allies. 

Contact The Frederick Center at: TheFrederickcenter.org; tfc@thefrederickcenter.org;
facebook.com/TheFrederickCenter; facebook.com/TheFrederickCenterYouth; The Frederick Center, PO Box 3231, Frederick, MD 21705-3231.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

A Ray of Sunshine Through the Clouds


Victories by trans candidates at the ballot box add visibility, fuel optimism.

Victorious Danica Roem
As the Baltimore transgender communities and allies ready for the Transgender March of Resilience on November 20, their spirits have been buoyed by the election results on November 7 of no less than seven transgender individuals around the country.

On this historic night, a significant number of LGBTQ candidates, women, and people of color were elected to office. Among them was Tyler Titus, an out transgender man and father of two who was elected to school board in Western Pennsylvania. Jenny Durkan became the first lesbian mayor of Seattle, and in Minneapolis, Andrea Jenkins became the first out trans person of color to be elected to a major U.S. city’s council.

In the high profile Virginia’s 13th District race, openly transgender Danica Roem (D-Prince William) ousted a 13-term incumbent and self-described homophobe and transphobic author of Virginia’s North Carolina-style anti-trans bathroom bill, Bob Marshall.  That result provided satisfaction to progressives as the match was seen by many as good vs. evil.  However, Roem did not run on the issue of transgender rights; in fact, she connected to and won over voters by advancing her policies on such bread and butter issues as transportation and infrastructure.

While many reports indicated that Roem became the first transgender individual to win a seat in a state legislature anywhere in the country, some fact-checking has proved that to be untrue. 

Althea Garrison was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Republican in 1992. But she did not openly identify herself in public as a trans woman. Her gender identity was outed to the public by a story in the conservative Boston Herald. The reporter who outed Garrison, Eric Fehrnstrom, would go on to work as a campaign strategist for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, according to Snopes.com .

“We must remember Althea Garrison, a black transwoman who was the first trans person elected to public office in 1993,” says Ava Pipitone, Executive Director of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, the organization that is spearheading the upcoming March of Resilience.
At the Women's March in Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of Ava Pipitone

“Out trans folx serving in conservative spaces will have important ripple effects for the trans communities there. And still we do not have to be out to be trans. Visibility is correlated to privilege and safety,” said Pipitone.

Logan Casey, who is transgender and a research associate at the Harvard Opinion Research Program, agrees that the wins are important for transgender visibility.

“With so few transgender people in office, everyone is important,” Casey told the Washington Blade. “And so, there’s one level on which these wins are really important just for trans people and the LGBTQ community generally, saying that we can win elections. We can be out, and be proud and be ourselves and be successful.”

The added visibility and electoral victories are significant, but the reality remains that for many transgender individuals, especially people of color, there is a much higher chance of being a victim of violence, bullying in school, poverty, joblessness, homelessness and drug addiction.  Often, they must live in the shadows and engage in sex work just to survive.  Moreover, the trans community has been under attack by the Trump administration.

November 20 has been set aside as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) to honor deceased transgender people.  It began in 1998 following the murder of Rita Hester.

“This holiday has served our community as a time to mourn and reflect upon the lives senselessly lost to transphobic violence in the previous year,” the Baltimore Transgender Alliance said in a statement.

“However, the impact of silence is lost on those who already feel voiceless. Our tradition, the Trans March of Resilience, subverts this holiday and serves to celebrate the resilience of life in our community.”
The March gathers at the YNOT lot at the corner of Charles Street and W. North Avenue at 5:30 p.m. and proceeds up the stroll at around 6 p.m. Elders and folx with different levels of ability will join from the Safeway parking lot on 25th  and Charles Streets, as well as from the GLCCB.

The elders will lead the March to its conclusion at 27th and St. Paul Streets. Inside the 2640 Space there will be a rally, which then leads to an evening of dinner and entertainment. The event ends at 9 p.m.

“Join our resistance on Monday the 20th, urges Pipitone.  “We will march for Transgender Resilience followed by dinner and dancing. Join our gender expansive celebration and find sanctuary and community. Build with us in Baltimore!”


For more information, visit the event on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/1933171537004796/ or follow the hashtags #bmoretmor #transresilience #transispowerful #transisbeautiful

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Iron Crow Delivers a Naughty ‘Rocky Horror Show’

Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
No man or woman is safe from the antics of the zany characters performing in Iron Crow Theatre’s production of The Rocky Horror Show-The Musical.  As the second installment in the 2017-2018 Season of Identity, Director Sean Elias who is the Artistic Director and CEO of Iron Crow Theatre, must have had a gay ‘ole time helming this version of the cult favorite.  #hocoarts

With music, lyrics and book by Richard O'Brien, The Rocky Horror Show was adapted into the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The campy rock musical spoofs the science fiction and B movies of the 1940’s and beyond while integrating the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Mr. Elias guides a somewhat different version of the musical with a deft hand bringing in a talented, high-energy, mischievous cast to lead the audience to witness a sexually fluid debauchery like no other on the stage. 

To add to the flavor, Costume Designer Danielle Harrow sprung opened the closets and brought out stilettos, fishnets and tight satin shorts, and that was just for the guys. The female cast members were attired in skimpy suggestive garb as well.

The dissolute mood is set when you first enter the intimate theater at the Motor House. Scantily clad “Usherettes” and “Phantoms” guide you to your seats with each patron toting a prop bag filled with an assortment of weird goodies to hurl around the theater.  A callout script prompts the audience to shout out a word or an epithet or take action to toss toilet paper, confetti or rice.  Also, included in the bag was a page from a newspaper, a rubber glove, glow stick, a party hat, a water pistol (no water in mine), a condom and a playing card.

If that isn’t enough, prior to the show the acerbic, slightly sadistic emcee appears (Eduard Van Osterom) and devilishly lures “virgin” audience members onto the stage to participate in a couple of “games.” One of those was a group of virgins laying on the floor whereby a person was told to eat a red velvet pastry off of the butt of another individual lying on the floor in front of him or her.  Another contest determined who made the best orgasm sounds.  I think you get the drift.

So, even for first time attendees of The Rocky Horror Show or “virgins,” the decadent atmosphere is already baked into the show by dint of the preludes and nothing should surprise, right?

The story revolves around Janet, played by Allison Bradbury, and her fiancé Brad, played by Nick Fruit, who enter a mysterious castle after their car blew out a tire on a stormy night.  The couple, innocent and naïve to the bone, merely wanted to make a phone call for help.  If that had happened, there would be no musical; Mr. O’Brien had other ideas.

The castle is filled with an assortment of odd souls who are servants of some sort to the master (or mistress) of the abode, Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, played by Nicholas Miles, who claims he is a transvestite scientist from Transsexual, Transylvania.

He was determined to create the perfect male specimen—muscular—and he succeeds. But this was no Frankenstein monster with a severe scar on his forehead or a bolt across his neck. 

Let me introduce you to his creation, Rocky, played by Terrance Fleming.  Flexing his biceps repeatedly as if that was needed to showcase an impressively perfect physique, Mr. Fleming was perfectly cast in the role.  Ripped all over and rocking tightly contoured gold satin shorts, Mr. Fleming may have a body fat composition of zero or less and a muscle composition of 90 percent or more. Perfect indeed.  And he sings, too.  Mr. Fleming performs movingly in “The Sword of Damocles.”

Meanwhile Janet and Brad encounter these characters and interact with Frank ‘N’ Furter in ways they did not expect.  The couple discovered their inner selves with their bad-girl and bad-boy persona lying beneath the surface, and they were liberated by the insatiable libido of Frank ‘N’ Furter. The wacky story goes on but with all the surprises still to come, it’s best to leave it there.

Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
Allison Bradbury as Janet is excellent displaying a wide range of emotions from a frightened innocent young girl to one who had “enjoyed” an unexpected sexual experience. It is amazing that her strong voice holds up given the amount of screaming she is asked to do especially in the early encounters in the castle.  Ms. Bradbury’s duet with Nick Fruit with backup from the Phantoms in “Damn It Janet” is one of the show’s best.

As dorky, bespectacled Brad, Nick (my favorite) Fruit also transforms into a wild and crazy guy.   Don’t believe me?  Catch his show-stopping performance in the second act. Besides his athletic body, his proficient vocals are also on display in the aforementioned “Damn It Janet” and in the solo “Once in a While.”

Nicholas Miles as Frank ‘N’ Furter delivers a tour-de-force performance.  Commanding onstage, Mr. Miles delivers the goods in more ways than one.  His vocals are powerful and is highlighted by his rendition of  “Sweet Transvestite”  and also in “I Can Make You a Man” and “Planet Schmanet/Wise Up Janet Weiss.”

Nancy Linden as the Narrator, Christian Gonzalez as Riff Raff, Danielle Harrow as Magenta, spunky Caitlin Weaver as Columbia, and Meghan Taylor as Eddie/Dr. Scott perform their roles with skill and talent.

The Phantoms include Monica Albizo (also plays as one of the Usherettes), Alyssa Bell, Robert Corona, Roxanne Daneman (an Usherette), Justin Johnson, Cassandra Miller, Eduard Van Osterom, and Mark Quackenbush.  Other Usherettes include Danielle Harrow and Caitlin  Weaver.
  
These folks perform exceptionally—singing, dancing and comedic antics—throughout the production.  They also sit among the audience and lead the callouts adding to the loony atmosphere.

Quae Simpson skillfully choreographed the show.  The company dances in synch throughout and is especially enjoyable during the show’s iconic number “Time Warp.”

Mandee Ferrier Roberts ably conducts the five-piece orchestra that includes Chris Spagnolo, Jarrett Rettman, Tanner Selby and Garrett Fields.

Under the solid direction of Sean Elias, The Rocky Horror Show-The Musical is a well-staged, seductive, sexy, sassy and satirical spectacle.  With only until October 31 to view it, you should rush to get tickets. It is Iron Crow Theatre's annual fundraiser for both itself and Baltimore's Moveable Feast. If you can’t make it in time to see this production, it will likely appear next year. Either way, you should see it.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: The Rocky Horror Show-The Musical contains sexual situations, profanity and adult situations and is not recommended for children under age 18.

The Rocky Horror Show-The Musical runs through October 21 at the Motor House, 120 West North Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, click here

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Trump’s Lunacy Could Be His Best Insurance

Donald Trump’s erratic behavior during the campaign was clear evidence there was something nutty about the candidate. But I actually worried when at the final debate between front runner Hillary Clinton and himself last October that he wasn’t willing to accept the results of the election should he lose. He said he would keep everyone “in suspense” as he believed (or claimed) the election was “rigged.”

This would have been extremely troublesome to say the least had Clinton won and Trump refused to acknowledge it.  What would he have done or said to his hair-on-fire angry supporters?

All his comments and tweets during the campaign and the nine months since he took office—far too many to list—give many people anxiety as he navigates towards a military confrontation with North Korea, Iran or both.

From his bizarre narcissism to his lies about virtually everything to his need to fight people who are revered by most Americans, Trump’s fitness for office has been rightly questioned.

“The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” said outgoing Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) in the first of several salvos lobbed Trump’s way.

I am by no means a mental health professional but it is clear Trump’s penchant for projection; i.e. blaming people for doing the things he does, should raise a red flag.  A good example would be his constant criticism of President Obama for playing golf when he, in fact, plays almost every weekend.

His obsession with all things Obama is simply startling as is his need to re-litigate the 2016 election and rub Clinton’s face in the dirt.  Trump’s fights with Gold Star families would otherwise be political suicide, but with the Republican Party still terrified of him and his supporters, they run for the hills when asked to comment on his stunning behavior.

I am certainly not alone who believe that Trump’s words and actions are downright scary. In a recent poll, one in three believe Trump’s mental health is poor.

 Said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the 2016 GOP presidential primaries: “I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but the guy needs therapy.”

In addition, a new book has recently been published titled “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.”  While the authors cannot provide a diagnosis without an examination of the President, they write we should all be concerned about Donald Trump’s mental health.

Some have referred to Trump’s narcissism as pathological.  “Pathological narcissism begins,” clinical psychologist Craig Malkin  writes, “when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their ‘high,’ including lie, steal, cheat, betray and even hurt those closest to them.”  #hocopolitics

Pathological narcissists feel entitled to whatever they want and have “empathy-impairment.” (That certainly came into play during the needless, recent skirmish with a Gold Star widow,) They often are emotionally volatile and employ “gaslighting” to create their desired reality.

Photo: Salon.com
Malkin adds: “When they can’t let go of their need to be admired or recognized, they have to bend or invent a reality in which they remain special despite all messages to the contrary. In point of fact, they become dangerously psychotic. It’s just not always obvious until it’s too late.”

My own belief is that this characterization seems applicable when, for example, Trump was not joking when he mused that then FBI Director James Comey was getting more attention than him.

So what if the President has some form of mental illness?  If backed against a wall, what would Trump do? Does anybody actually believe he would sit quietly if there was a 25th Amendment action taken against him or in the event of impeachment proceedings?  His threatened refusal to accept the election results had he lost provides a clue.

We’re a long way from that happening if it ever does, but frankly I’m scared.  Recall how he famously asked why do we have nuclear weapons if we can't use them?  He has access to the nuclear codes, whereby a strike cannot be vetoed or overruled by any party.  Congress knows that.  

Will they be willing to take the chance even if the evidence against him on obstruction of justice charges is compelling or even proven collusion with the Russian government to alter the election?

I’m afraid not.  Trump’s dubious mental health provides him with the necessary insurance.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Grand Central in Baltimore is Up for Sale

Grand Central nightclub, a mainstay of Baltimore’s LGBT community for over a quarter century has been put on the market.  Citing his age and health issues in addition to the fact that he lives in San Antonio, TX, owner Don Davis is trying to sell the business.  The property and business is a turnkey operation listed with KLNB retail and commercial realtors for $1,850,000.  

“It has a thriving business with potential growth,” Davis told me. “It is a historic corner prime property with just under 15,000 sq ft. I priced this with a bottom line turnkey sold as is, with an LBD- 7 on or off premise LGBT / Alternative nightclub and sidewalk cafe license and a entertainment license.” 

He said that if the business remained a bar, it would need an owner/operator who would be hands on.   Any new owner would have a variety of options, says Davis. “Keep it the way it is and market and promote it as a business that has so much more potential or keep the pub and make the dance club side a nice restaurant.”

Grand Central, located at 1001 N. Charles Street in the heart of the Mount Vernon neighborhood, has been a popular gay establishment since its opening as a pub called Central Station in September 1991.  Davis later purchased the adjacent north building in February 2003, and reconstruction was undertaken adding a double bar disco with state-of-the-art dance floor, sound and lighting systems, and an additional upstairs lounge.

In keeping with the major improvements and new facilities, the club was renamed Grand Central, and the expanded complex opened May 29, 2003.  

Diagonally across the corner was the iconic Club Hippo, the largest dance bar in the state.  It closed two years ago leaving the “gayborhood” with Grand Central and two longstanding gay bars, The Drinkery and Leon’s. 

Anyone interested in purchasing the property can contact Matthew Copeland of KLNB LLC retail and commercial real estate brokers, 100 West Road. Suite 505, Towson, MD 21204. The telephone number is 443-632-2051; FAX is 410-321-1029; and email is mcopeland@klnb.com.

“I cannot continue living my life away and have no structure in the place,” Davis says.  “I have always been extremely grateful for a good staff and extremely thankful for the support that Baltimore has given me.  It’s time to pass the torch. I’m 66 years old with some health problems. It’s now for me to relax.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Crazy Cool 'Cry-Baby' at Silhouette Stages

Lindsey Litka and Michael Nugent  Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography
Wouldn’t you like to escape for a couple of hours from the current tumult in the world and head back to the 1950’s when polio shots were mandatory, kissing with tongue seemed like hitting a triple, and air raid drills were routine?

If so, then head to the Slayton House Theater in Columbia to see “Cry-Baby the Musical” presented by Silhouette Stages. Director and Choreographer Tommy Malek and Assistant Director Matt Wetzel guide a terrific group of performers under the musical direction of Nathan C. Scavilla and John Keister in what is an extraordinarily executed, gorgeously costumed production.

With a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan and songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, the musical version of John Waters’ 1990 film of the same name doesn’t contain the vulgarity normally associated with Waters’ past films.  And this particular work, though it received four Tony Award nominations in 2008, didn’t endure on Broadway past the 68th performance. 

The hope was that the show could match the theatrical success of “Hairspray” that had been adapted by Mr. Meehan from another famous Waters film. While “Cry-Baby and “Hairspray” deal with class warfare in Baltimore, “Cry-Baby” does not contain the provocative social messaging within the storyline of “Hairspray” (racial segregation) or match its potent score.

Nonetheless, Silhouette Stage’s production of “Cry-Baby the Musical” knocks it out of the park. The prevailing campiness and the quirkiness of the characters that are a hallmark of Waters’ portfolio are evident throughout, and a youthful enthusiastic cast seems to have a great time performing.

You can easily notice the influence of Waters on Javerbaum and Schlesinger’s songs by just the titles, such as “Anti-Polio Picnic,” “Watch Your Ass,” “I’m Infected,” and “Screw Loose.”  Name one other Broadway musical with song titles of this ilk. While I don’t find the melodies in most of the rock, soul and doo-wop numbers particularly memorable, the songs are lyric-driven and are a key contributor to the hilarity of the show.   #hocoarts

Rachel Sandler and her four-piece orchestra situated at the back of the stage do an excellent job of supporting the vocals without overwhelming them.  And you can credit Alex Porter for superb sound design allowing every note, every lyric and every spoken word to be heard with great clarity. He and Mr. Malek designed the set, which consists largely of scaffolding and stairs with an assortment of set pieces to denote scene changes.

Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography
Costume Manger Clare Kneebone assured that the cast is fitted in spot on period garb including colorful dresses and sweaters for the richer kids as well as leather jackets, tee shirts and jeans for the others. 

Specialty costumes for the eccentric characters add to the laughs.

Set in Baltimore in 1958, “Cry-Baby the Musical” pokes fun at the early James Dean and Elvis movies and the rockabilly music that surrounds the plot. The story centers on Allison Vernon-Williams (played charmingly by lovely Lindsey Litka), a never-been-kissed, upscale society girl who would like to cross those proverbial tracks to become a “drape” (delinquent). 

She does so when she connects with a drape Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Michael Nugent), a cool, good-looking, aspiring rock ‘n roller who is not anywhere as bad as his reputation.  He is orphaned as his parents were wrongfully convicted of a crime and executed.  Be patient; there are loads of laughs to be had.

Allison has to overcome two obstacles: her pious, wealthy protective grandmother, Mrs. Cordelia Vernon-Williams (played superbly by Conni Ross), and her corny, squeaky-clean, square boyfriend, Baldwin Blandish (played sprightly by Matt Sorak).  Allison wants to leave the bland Blandish behind and find a new adventure with Cry Baby.  It’s not that simple though.

As Allison, Ms. Litka demonstrated strong acting skills conveying a wide range of emotions. This ability effectively wins the audience over with everybody rooting for her. Ms. Litka’s pitch perfect singing voice is golden and performed well in such numbers as “”I’m Infected,” and “Nobody Gets Me.”

Michael Nugent as the title character puts on a tour-de-force performance.  Commanding the stage, handsome Mr. Nugent rocks a pair of tight jeans, leather jacket and a tee-shirt like it’s nobody’s business. His acting is strong without going over the top, and he delivers the comedic lines with skill and good timing.

Mr. Nugent is blessed with a solid singing voice and performs extremely well in a duet with Ms. Litka in the clever “I’m Infected” and as a solo in “Do That Again”—one of the few conventional song titles. 

In another duet with Ms. Litka, “Girl, Can I Kiss You…?” he tries to introduce French kissing to the innocent girl and the number is totally hilarious with John Waters’ affinity for the outrageous all through it.

Photo: Stasia Steuart Photography
There are the eccentric drapes that form Cry Baby’s posse and who encourage Allison to transform her upscale persona to theirs.  Pepper Walker, Cry Baby’s switchblade-toting pregnant 16 year-old sister is played hilariously by Amy E. Haynes.  So pregnant is she, I thought she was about to give birth to a DeSoto.

My favorite character—the one I relate to the most—is Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski, a disfigured soul who was told when she was younger that she could rob a bank just by using her face!  She proudly brags that she is equally ugly on the inside.  Hatchet-Face is played exceptionally by Parker Bailey Steven.

Another drape is Wanda Woodward played by Clare Kneebone.  It’s not a major role, but she performs well in several group numbers throughout in addition to her duties as the show’s Costume Manager.  The trio score in the funny “A Whole Lot Worse.”

Monique Cheryse Wilson plays Cry Baby’s best male friend Dupree W. Dupree and sings well in the solo “Jailyard Jubilee” and the group number “A Little Upset.”

Then there is Lenora Frigid, an odd girl whose engine apparently does not contain all of its spark plugs.  Played superbly by Bailey Wolf, she wants to be a drape and is smitten with Cry Baby.  Her rendition of the hilarious “Screw Loose” is one of the show’s comedic highlights.

Back across the tracks, Conni Ross deliciously plays the role as Allsion’s wealthy, protective, moralistic grandmother, Mrs. Cordelia Vernon-Williams (Allison’s parents, too, are dead), who desperately tries to keep her young granddaughter away from that bad-boy Cry Baby. She excels in the solo “I Did Something Wrong Once” and what she was referring to was a biggie.

Matt Sorak as Baldwin Blandish, the conservative square who plays a key role in a plot twist that will not be revealed.  He is completely campy and fun.

Baldwin is a part of a doo-wop group called The Whiffles, always dressed alike, who hopes to make a record.  The members played by Johnny Dunkerly, Jacob Hale and Jeff Miller do a fine job with their vocals and dancing.  Their numbers “Squeaky Clean” and “This Amazing Offer” hit the mark.

Rounding out the talented cast are Richard Greenslit as Judge Stone and Officer O’Brien, Christopher Kabara as the Bailiff, Mr. Woodward and DJ, the male ensemble Bradley Allen, Derek Anderson, , and the female ensemble Maddie Bohrer, Libby Burgess, Ty’Aira Johnson, Lauren Romano and Jamie Williams.

Silhouette Stages’ presentation of “Cry-Baby the Musical” is a lively, well-staged production with a splendid cast and is community theatre at its best.  The show is not here long so hurry up and catch it.  The only tears you will have will be from laughing.

Running time. Two hours with an intermission.

Advisory: “Cry-Baby the Musical” contains adult language and situations and is not recommended for children under 12.

“Cry-Baby the Musical” plays on weekends through October 29 at the Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, call 410-730-3987 visit online 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Baltimore LGBT Ally Surprised at Ellen Show


Wyatt Oroke, a Baltimore teacher for five years, appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show this past week to receive a series of surprises.  Oroke, who had been invited to the studio, was led to believe he was being recognized for his work in the East Baltimore City Springs Elementary Middle School with a pre-recorded clip praising his work with his students, who call him “Mr. O”.  Suddenly, he was told he was going to sit in that famous chair on the set to talk live with Ellen herself.

Clearly emotional and taken aback by the unexpected appearance in front of the lights, cameras and live audience, Oroke participated in a brief interview with Ellen.  Then he was stunned and became teary-eyed when a significant number of students appeared live by remote from Baltimore to offer praise of the young Humanities teacher, how he has inspired them, and how, in one student’s case, he provides the needed support since she lacks a support system at home.

If that wasn’t enough, a check for $25,000 from Shutterfly was presented to the school, again shocking Oroke.

Oroke points out that the East Baltimore school is “under resourced and underserved for centuries based on political decisions that were made, segregate housing, or redlining for neighborhoods. ” This resulted in the fact his “students come from the highest poverty rates of any school in Baltimore City.”  Moreover, Oroke notes there have been homeless students every year, one lost to gun violence, some have given birth to children. 

He says he tries to show as much empathy as he can and encourages his students to read by purchasing independent reading material for his students.  Oroke explains that the students need “access points” to give help provide them with equal access to opportunities. He instills the idea that “if you fill the classroom with love today, you’re gonna will fill the world with love tomorrow.”

Oroke is an ally of the LGBT community and a member of the Board of Directors for GLSEN  Maryland. 

“Mr. Oroke represents the kind of teachers we all want in our schools,” says Jabari Lyles, executive director of GLSEN Maryland. “Kind, compassionate, knowledgeable about vulnerable populations and willing to go the extra mile. Mr. O once led the GSA club at NAF (National Academy Foundation) Middle School in Baltimore City, and joined our board of directors last year to broaden his impact. We are very happy to have him on our team.”

Lyles states that Oroke’s students raised thousands of dollars for the recovery effort in Puerto Rico despite being from some of the poorest neighborhoods of Baltimore.

The video of the segment is shown below:



Oroke told me, “As a proud board member of GLSEN Maryland I am always happy to be an advocate for all students in our state.”

Thursday, October 12, 2017

G•A•Y Lounge to Close

G•A•Y Lounge closing its doors.  Photo courtesy of OpenTable.com

After less than six months in operation, the owners of Baltimore's G•A•Y Lounge decided to close the Mount Vernon establishment.  The reason for the closing is not due to a lack of popularity; instead, the owners—Robert Gay and Joshua Persing—believe they could not comply with the contract.

“Unfortunately, when we entered into this venture, we entered with what we thought, was a concrete contract with the previous owner,” according to a statement posted on the bar’s Facebook page on October 11.

“Contract and legal jargon aside, the bottom line is that this contract has become more fluid than we are comfortable with, and at this time, we do not have the ability to keep up or comply with the ever-changing demands and expectations. After much deliberation and with sadness in our souls, we have been forced to make the difficult decision to close G•A•Y.”

G•A•Y Lounge opened on April 28 to much enthusiasm within Baltimore’s LGBT community who had seen the loss of gay bars in recent years.  Its venue at 518 North Charles Street was the same building that had previously been inhabited by Louie’s Book Store and subsequent businesses. 

Prior to its opening, Pershing touted G•A•Y Lounge’s concept and "chic, eclectic style" and believed it "would stand out as an icon within the community."  

"It is with heavy hearts, but full glasses that we toast to the official closing of G•A•Y. We toast to you – the community that immediately embraced us, supported us, defended us and made us an absolute success here in Mount Vernon. Opening G•A•Y was our dream. It was a dream that came to fruition, and that was because of you, our loyal and steadfast patrons - Thank you. You have made us feel more welcome and wanted than we could have ever imagined."

Disappointing as the closing may be, the owners vow to re-emerge in the future.

“While today we announce that we are closing our doors, we also make a promise for the future – This is not the end,” the statement reads. “We want you to know that we have every intention of coming back, and coming back better than before. When the time is right and the cards fall back into place, we plan to recreate this dream of ours and rekindle the spark that ignited so quickly here in a small corner bar in Mount Vernon.”

They can take solace in the fact that few people thought the Baltimore Eagle could overcome a series of daunting obstacles and return, but it has, and it’s thriving.



Sunday, October 01, 2017

Trump is Winning at Flag Football

Photo courtesy of lowellsun.com.
While millions of people in Puerto Rico were beginning to reckon with the demolition of that beautiful island at the ferocious hands of Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump was using his tiny grabby hands for other reasons.  #hocopolitics

Instead of responding with leadership to assure U.S. citizens there are at the very least receiving basic essentials, the President decided to go to his refuge—Twitter—and deflect again from a string of losses to create an issue of NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem at the games played last weekend.

Instead of calling the Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz four times during the week to determine the immediate needs of those victimized citizens, he called Dallas Cowboys owner and his friend Jerry Jones four times to insist that his players stand for the National Anthem.

When he eventually tweeted about Puerto Rico, he did so with the pettiness, narcissism and immaturity that have characterized his presidency so far: blaming others for missteps, taking credit for things he did not accomplish, exaggerating his abilities, and disclosing that Puerto Rico is an island in a very big ocean.

Wow.

This pathetic, callous and rather un-American response is appearing as his own Katrina albatross and would add to another hard-to-swallow loss.  However, if he was ever looking for a win to stem this descent, the football angle appears to be what his doctor ordered.

Last year, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took it upon himself to protest the all-too-frequent occurrence of police officers gunning down unarmed African-American men and wind up getting away with it.  These incidents have unquestionably been a stain on our society and Kaepernick, a black man, felt compelled to “take a knee” during the national Anthem prior to games last year.  He was booed mercilessly by fans and excoriated on social media with few of his peers demonstrating support.

Kaepernick was eventually let go by the 49ers and has yet to find a new team despite the fact he is better at this position than some of the current starting QBs and clearly better than many of the backups.  He is still awaiting that call.

So Trump lambasted players for not standing during the Anthem and told owners to fire those protesting players because they are disrespectful to the flag.  In a rebuke to Trump last weekend, teams around the NFL  joined in the protests, and it took different forms—kneeling, joining locked arms, remaining in the locker room while the Anthems were played.

Seizing the opportunity to demagogue and to deflect from his troubles, Trump took to Twitter and blasted the protesters.  He cast the kneelings as a disgrace and an affront to the flag, the Anthem, the military and our country.  He and his supporters maintained that our servicemen and women fought and died in combat to defend our flag and Anthem.

To be clear, we have never gone to war, never shot a bullet, or never bombed a target to protect our flag or the National Anthem.  Nobody died in defense of these symbols. In fact, our troops have always defended our Constitution, which includes Freedom of Speech and the right to protest peacefully. This is hyperbole at its worse, using the casualties of our military conflicts as props in a cynical political effort to feed  red meat to the frothing-at-the-mouth base.  

As an aside, Trump has no standing as far as military appropriateness is concerned regardless of his title as Commander-in-Chief.  He dodged the draft on five occasions, took on a Gold Star family for political gain, and is clueless as to the meaning of the Purple Heart.  

Nonetheless, Trump turned this legitimate protest into a question of patriotism and what he did what he does best, divide the country on race.  He riled up his mostly white base so that they have adopted his logic and has couched these protests as nothing short of treason.

To a large extent, it has worked.  
Fans burned various teams' jerseys, caps and what-not. They threatened to cancel season ticket subscriptions.   (Note that most if not all of those anti-protesters don't stand for the National Anthem in their living rooms regardless of the sport, but who cares about hypocrisy?)  The anti-protesters grabbed the momentum and seem to be winning the argument.

Accordingly, NFL games this week saw less players taking a knee during the Anthem than last week. When players knelt to pray for kindness and equality in our country prior to the National Anthem, fans at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium booed vociferously even though the public address announcer explained what they were doing. Then the players rose when the Anthem began.

So uptight about the week-long debate was Ravens’ management and sensitive about being labeled anti-military, they included every military trapping they could muster before the game including a flyover by military aircraft.  I was surprised not to see members of the 101st Airborne Division parachuting to mid-field for the coin toss.

“It’s not about the ... flag,” Randy Lynn, an accountant from Baltimore who said he served seven years in the Army, told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s about killing black people.”

 “It’s not against the flag. It’s against the injustice that the police are killing unarmed black people and getting away with it.”

But others disagree and see the protests as disrespecting our national symbols and country.  Trump pounced on this controversy to once again stoke divisions while the people of Puerto Rico stand in lengthy lines in oppressive heat for food, water, fuel and access to cash.

We see where the President’s priorities lie.
_____

UPDATE: The clock ran out and apparently Trump won this game.  Here is an explanation in Politico.