Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An Energetic 'Romeo and Juliet' at Spotlighters

“Two households, both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, where we lay our scene/From ancient grudge break to new mutiny/Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean./ From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life/Whose misadventured piteous overthrows/Do with their death bury their parents' strife.”
Photo by Chris Aldridge
Arguably the world’s most famous love story, William Shakespeare’s classic, Romeo and Juliet, has been performed for centuries and along with Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.  Written sometime between 1591 and 1595 during the Elizabethan era, it had been adapted numerous times for stage, film, musical theatre and opera.
Over the years, producers and directors have taken some liberties by modifying the original play, and in one case, Georg Benda in the 18th century, removed much of the action and gave it a happy ending.  The Spotlighters energetic production, directed by Lance Bankerd, did not veer from the original to the extent that Benda’s version did, but Mr. Bankerd, who is making his Spotlighters directorial debut, took a chance and inserted a wrinkle that will be discussed later.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.


Find Your Grail at Toby's 'Spamalot'

We’ll never know if King Arthur, his subjects and rivals actually behaved as they did on the stage of Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, but if they had, it would have been one uproarious era.  In the musical theatre’s version of the 1975 film Monty Python’s Spamalot     (with a number of differences from the film), director Mark Minnick and his cast and crew offers up one hilarious, laugh-a-second production to the delight of the audience.

Photo by Kirstine Christiansen
The book and lyrics were by Eric Idle who also composed the music with John Du Prez.  Mike Nichols directed the original Broadway production of Spamalot in 2005 garnering three Tony Awards including Best Musical among 14 nominations.   It ran for over 1,500 performances, and the show has been seen in over a dozen countries.

Exquisitely costumed and staged, the performers at Toby’s have as much fun as the patrons, as the zaniness of Monty Python is executed to near perfection. Spamalot’s goofy irreverent plot, eschewing any semblance of political correctness, centers on King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail.    But that merely serves as a vehicle to string together a series of oddball encounters and shtick augmented by a deliciously funny and clever score.
Ross Scott Rawlings, who earned a well-deserved ovation at show’s end on the night it was reviewed, led the excellent six-piece orchestra that supported the talented vocalists as they conquer each number with aplomb.  First and foremost in that regard is Helen Hayes Award winner Priscilla Cuellar who plays the role The Lady of the Lake. 
As the only female lead in the cast, Ms. Cuellar demonstrates her sensational vocal talents with clarity and strength.  She hits the right notes in such group numbers as “Come With Me,” “Find Your Grail,” and “The Song That Goes Like This.”  But her magnificent solo, “The Diva’s Lament,” is a show stopper.

The astoundingly versatile Lawrence B. Munsey, who plays the central character, King Arthur, is the production’s rock.  Never disappointing throughout his professional career, Mr. Munsey plays every part with verve and magnificent attention to detail.  His performance in Spamalot is no exception using his commanding stage presence and muscular voice.

Consistently a fine actor with a penchant for well-timed and delivered comic lines when called upon, Mr. Munsey’s singing voice also shines. “King Arthur’s Song,” “Come With Me” with Ms. Cuellar, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a glorious dance number with his Knights, and “I’m Alone” were stellar performances.
Demonstrating the true disciplined star that he is, Mr. Munsey manages beyond all odds to keep a straight face throughout the non-stop insanity of the plot and the antics of the other cast members. 

Also performing fabulously is another Toby’s veteran David James.  It’s one thing to commend him for his role in this production as Historian (Narrator).  But he is also tasked with five other roles with my favorite being Prince Herbert.  You see, Prince Herbert, much to the chagrin of his father, played wonderfully by Nick Lehan, does not want to marry the girl his father had arranged for, mainly because he is, well, gay.
The always campy Mr. James played Prince Herbert to the hilt as he did at the beginning of the show when he played Not Dead Fred.  His Prince Herbert’s back-to-back numbers “”Where Are You?” and “Here Are You!” are fun.  The production number that follows, “His Name is Lancelot,” with the ensemble attired in flamboyant garb, is one of the highlights of this show.

Photo by Kirstine Christiansen
Other cast members performed extremely well—most playing multiple roles—making this production so well-rounded.  David Jennings played Sir Lancelot splendidly as well as the hilarious French Taunter during a particularly funny scene.
Darren McDonnell played Sir Robin with flair especially during the side-splitting number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” as well as “I’m Not Dead Yet.”  Nick Lehan turned in an excellent performance as Sir Dennis Galahad delivering one funny line after another, and as Prince Herbert’s overbearing father who had to come to grips that his son is gay in a riotous scene. 

Jeffrey Shankle’s primary character, Patsy, dutifully follows King Arthur around as his servant banging two coconuts shells together simulating horse’s hooves as King Arthur “rides” before him.  He excelled in “I’m All Alone” as a counterpoint to Munsey’s King Arthur.  Notables in the production also include Shawn Kettering, Heather Beck, Jay Garrick and Jimmy Mavrikes and the other members of a very energetic and talented ensemble.
Director Mark Minnick, who also serves as choreographer, put his dancers through the paces, and they excelled in several numbers especially “Knights of the Round Table” with much of the cast and ensemble participating.  As precise as the dancers were, the influence of a zany Marx Brothers movie seeped in making it a classic visual experience.

David Hopkins’ simple yet functional set consisted of brick castle walls around the perimeter of the theater.  Stage entrances are used proficiently to keep the action sustained and balconies are in place for various scenes. Props were a key element in this production that included such items as a pull wagon, a oversized wooden rabbit, fake human limbs, barnyard animals, candles that effectively simulated burning and lots more.
The costume team coordinated by Lawrence B. Munsey and Marianne VanStee outfitted the cast in a dazzling array of medieval chain mail costumes originally designed by Tim Hatley and other attire that ranged from French maid costumes to a “very gay” Broadway production number apparel to a sparkling Cher gown (Bob Mackie would approve) to Laker Girl Cheerleading outfits to a woman clad in just underwear.  Yet, the period costumes worn by King Arthur and his Knights as well as the ensemble are simply outstanding with their detail and authenticity.

Lighting designer Colleen M. Foley makes effective use of color lights and sudden illumination to augment the action.  Sound designer Drew Dedrick also does a nice job of creating echoes when authoritative pronouncements are made (such as when God is talking) and clasps of thunder on occasion..  All the performers are effectively mic’d so that the lyrics and dialogue are clearly audible.
Spamalot is classic slapstick comedy with an extraordinary cast and technical crew that is ably directed by Mr. Minnick.  There is no better way to kick the winter doldrums than with this totally enjoyable, fun journey to find that elusive Holy Grail.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes with an intermission.
Spamalot runs through March 23 at the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  For more information and to purchase tickets, call 410-730-8311 or online.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Graying of the Rainbow

Most of us LGBT folks have learned over time that the sunset years in our community usually begin at age 30 or perhaps 40 depending on the person.  In our youth-obsessed culture that transcends sexual orientation, once you move out of the roaring 20’s, you might as well pack it in.  It is especially true in the gay male world where full heads of (non-gray) hair and sculpted abs are iconic. 
This reality had been ingrained in our minds, and we live our lives accordingly—some better than others.  Not everybody comes to terms with that fate lying down.  We fight it.  We deny it.  We work hard to disprove it.  One thing you cannot do is change it.  No one wants to be looked at as “that old man” or “that old woman.” It’s all about self-esteem.

There is another reality: time marches on and so should we.  If we can benefit from good fortune and not perish in an unexpected non-health related fashion,  the chances are that with improving medical advances and living a healthy lifestyle we should be able make it through the 80’s or even higher.  It means that we leave our youthfulness in the rear view mirror as we continue on that journey, but we should accept ourselves at any age with grace, dignity and, of course, pride.
Nonetheless, many mature folks take to heart the marginalization exhibited by some LGBT youth.  Rejection by the younger generation, however, is not universal as there are instances where young LGBT people find attraction to their elders and establish friendships.  Younger folks tend to look for role models, experience and wisdom as they attempt to navigate through a high-speed, complex and challenging world. 

But there are other issues confronting older LGBT folks that go beyond their acceptance by their younger brethren.  The number of seniors in the LGBT population—a microcosm of the general population—is increasing faster than just about any other age group. This has been enhanced by the Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964.  Currently, there are an estimated 1.4 to 3.8 million LGBT people in the U.S. over the age of 65 with that number expected to double by 2030.
A San Diego Needs Assessment Survey polled some 500 LGBT seniors, ages 50 and up, on topics most important to them as they grow older. Social matters, support, and fear of social isolation were the top issues among those surveyed. That was followed by health and quality of life issues, financial unease, LGBT-affirmative housing and housing affordability, and health insurance/access to quality health care.

As identified in the survey, an important issue facing LGBT seniors is living alone. That’s true for 50 percent of LGBT elders versus 33 percent of the general population, according to Dr. Judy Bradford of The Fenway Institute, a Boston-based researcher of LGBT health issues. She notes that LGBT seniors are more likely to be estranged from their families thereby contributing to loneliness and isolation.
This isolation is compounded by the fact there is a paucity of LGBT retirement communities in the U.S. While the number of such communities is increasing each year, there are still too few to house the burgeoning older LGBT population.

Nursing homes are also a problem for LGBT seniors.  Despite the progress in achieving marriage equality, most states still do not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, and the existing cultural discrimination results in couples being split up in such facilities.  We hear of too many instances whereby LGBT seniors are forced to return to the closet to remain safe in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
Yet with all these gray clouds forming above the heads of LGBT seniors, there are solid support networks to help allow the sunshine to peer in. The Prime Timeers of Baltimore offers an outstanding array of social activities and interaction to help their members address some of these concerns, especially the major issue of social isolation.  For lesbians, there is the social group Older and Wiser Lesbians (OWLS) of the Greater Capitol area. Other groups are forming as well.

And there are a number of excellent resources available for LGBT older adults to consult. Among them is The National Research Center of LGBT Aging, SAGE-Metro D.C. and SAGE .  Hopefully, our other local and national LGBT organizations will also recognize that the aging LGBT population is a stark reality and meeting the challenges associated with it should be a high priority. 
No matter how young you are now, with good fortune, you will eventually join the ranks of the gray hue in the rainbow and will need these issues resolved.  It’s time to start now.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

On the Retirement of Vic Broccolino

Letter published in the Jan. 16, 2014 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier

Thank you for the well-deserved article on the retirement of Vic Broccolino from Howard County General Hospital (“Hospital’s ‘people person’ steps down,” January 9).  The article points out accurately that Vic has been and will always be a “people person.”   

I had the privilege to be employed by the hospital on a part-time basis for a couple of years during the early 2000’s.  While I did not work directly for Vic, I had opportunities to work under him on projects and found him to be a smart, amiable and often humorous individual for whom I developed a great deal of respect.

I will never forget one of our early encounters when I appropriately addressed the CEO as Mr. Broccolino.  Instantly, he explained,  “Mr. Broccolino is my father’s name; you should call me Vic.”  I also had fun times watching and listening to Vic be the emcee for the annual volunteer awards dinner.  At the time there was no YouTube, but his performances would surely have landed there.

While he earned a solid reputation for being a jocular leader of an important institution, Vic had been a tough, no-nonsense executive constantly striving for excellence.  He sincerely believed and his policies reflected a demand  that the welfare of and service to the patients were the highest priorities.  In that capacity, he as well as the hospital’s administrative and medical staffs who followed his lead have served our community with distinction. 

Vic never lost track of the fact that the people make a hospital run, and his respect for employees from the top surgeon to the hard-working maintenance worker was never lost on us as we proudly served under his leadership.

To Vic, I wish him a long and healthy retirement, and to his family a well-earned reunion with him.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Wyatt Evans: The Man Behind 'RAGE'

One would think Wyatt O’Brian Evans would not have the time to write a novel, much less two.  Besides being an author, the DC-area resident is also a journalist, entrepreneur, instructor, public/motivational speaker, voice-over instructor/talent, actor and comedian.
Communication is a huge part of Wyatt’s DNA as evidenced by his ability to speak in complete sentences when he was just months old.  As an adolescent, he wrote poems and created a series of comic books. 

In college Wyatt received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Journalism and Political Science from George Washington University and went on to become a solid journalist over the next 25 years that included stints with the Huffington Post, Bilerico, Maryland Journal, Washington Post, American Politics, Baltimore OUTloud and a host of other print and online outlets.

Wyatt has written in-depth and influential syndicated series on both LGBTQ intimate partner violence/abuse (IPV/A) and racism—issues that are significant to him as well as the community at large.  He put to use the skill set he has developed over the years and wanted to create a novel that examines these key issues.
Wyatt did just that when he wrote the popular and well-received series of novels, Nothing Can Tear Us Apart  (gay/ethnic), released by Nair’Bo Universalthe publishing and production house he created.   The next installment in the Nothing Can Tear Us Apart series, RAGE!, will be available in mid-January.

RAGE! centers on Wes, a 45 year-old, successful African-American celebrity, and his new-found love, ‘Tonio, his 31 year-old muscular Puerto Rican Chief of Security. One thing they have in common is that they both have had rather unsuccessful relationships in the past.  They eventually fall in love only to have someone attempt to ruin the relationship by making ‘Tonio believe Wes had been unfaithful. 

Taking the bait, the frenzied bodyguard physically brutalizes his soul mate.  The final blow comes when the couple learns just who is behind the deception. But that’s not the end of the story because far more occurs that profoundly impacts both men.   
“The characters can’t help but fall deeply, passionately and madly in love,” says Wyatt.  “I created a ‘slow burn,’ if you will—no sex occurs until they pledge their love for one another.  I wanted to show these two guys falling into love, not lust.  Afterwards, they form a monogamous relationship.”

Wyatt fervently believes this novel is thought-provoking and that it would have universal appeal.Nothing Can Tear Us Apart—RAGE!  addresses and explores topical, relevant and timely themes and issues,” he explains. They include partner violence/abuse, the DL, and ethnic tensions between African-Americans and Latinos.
Wyatt adds, “It is full of rich drama, action, masculine romance, intrigue, provocative sexual situations, and twists and turns.  Men and women—be they gay, straight, bisexual, transgender—can embrace and relate to Wes and ‘Tonio because their story is one of true, deep romantic love between two individuals.” 

RAGE! will be available January 15 and exclusively available for three months on his website. and follow him on Facebook and the Wyatt OBrian Evans Official Fan Club.