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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Monday, September 24, 2018

Standing By His Man

President Trump standing by Brett Kavanugh Photo: Mother Jones

There have been some flawed nominations for the United States Supreme Court in the past, but the current one, Brett Kavanaugh, is one for the books.  

In what is projected to be pure theatre should the scheduled sham hearing take place on Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the lead-up will have your heart pounding and head spinning.

Now, not only one allegation of sexual misconduct—attempted rape to be precise—in which Judge Kavanaugh has been accused while in prep school, another just surfaced last night whereby he allegedly pushed his genitals into a face of another woman while at Yale.  The accuser in the latter case, Deborah Ramirez, admitted memory lapses from a drunken stupor but believes the incident did occur.

While Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Chairman Charles Grassley intend to “plow through” this “hiccup” in the confirmation process regardless of the testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, this second allegation adds a new wrinkle. Such accusations would ordinarily be troublesome, and in normal times with a normal Republican president, the nomination would be pulled with a new right wing, anti-minority, anti-choice candidate would be brought up.

Not this time, at least not yet. President Donald Trump is steadfastly standing by his man. There are three primary reasons for this stubborn, if not politically fatal, position:

1.   Trump knows the hearing will be a sham and regardless of what Dr. Ford has to say, the Republican majority on the committee will vote yes in pure rubber-stamp fashion and refer the confirmation to the full Senate.

2.     By pulling the nominee from consideration, Trump would be forced into admitting—whether or not he actually says so, and he won’t—that he made a mistake.  More likely, he will blame the Democrats, the “deep state,” the media, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, the NFL and all his myriad enemies for this smear campaign against this “fantastic man."

3.     Most importantly, Trump wants Kavanaugh on the bench because of the judge’s previous declarations  about strong executive power and that sitting presidents be shielded from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits while in office. In other words, Kavanaugh would protect him where his Attorney General Jeff Sessions would not.

The hearing should it occur will be a disgrace  as well as a sham in that an FBI investigation will not have taken place prior to the proceedings and other witnesses will not have been subpoenaed. It is clear the president as well as the servile Republicans on the committee don’t want to get to the bottom of the allegations and learn the truth for the three reasons cited above.

The losers in all this besides the Republican brand heading into the midterms just six weeks away are all the victims of sexual assault and misconduct who again will be doubted and disparaged, and it explains why these people are reluctant to report such incidents in a timely manner. Trump loses, too, because it reminds folks that he has been subject to some 17 accusations of sexual misconduct.

Thank you Randy Rainbow:

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sassy Ain’t Misbehavin’ Swings into Toby’s

The cast of 'Ain't Misbehavin''  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Step into Toby’s time machine and visit Lennox Avenue in Harlem during the 1920’s and 1930’s. You will experience the famous Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom, rent parties, and an assortment of smoke-filled honky-tonk bars along that stretch where the conversation is loud; the slide piano-playing jazz, Dixieland, ragtime, and swing music manage to compete with the din; and the hard partying never seems to end. 

It was the world that the legendary composer, jazz pianist, comedian and singer Thomas “Fats” Waller lived in. This accomplished artist lived for only 39 years before succumbing to pneumonia, but he clearly left his mark on American culture and was a noteworthy contributor to the Harlem Renaissance.  #hocoarts

The world of Fats Waller, with its laughter and partying mixed in with some introspection generated by the social realities of the time, is brought to life in an energetic production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ playing at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

With some 30 songs performed by a talented hard-working cast of five under the direction of Monique Midgette, choreographed by Shalyce Hemby, and supported by Ross Scott Rawlings and his seven-piece orchestra, this musical revue pays homage to black musicians of the era with Waller’s prints all over it.

He either composed, collaborated or recorded these songs—some of which had become standards—including the title song “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint is Jumping,” Black and Blue,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Ain’t Misbehavin’, which captured three Tony Awards in 1978 and launched the career of Nell Carter, features a book penned by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., with the music created by various composers and lyricists as arranged and orchestrated by Luther Henderson.  

Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins neatly sets the atmosphere at Toby’s with a host of old-time chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and a major ballroom chandelier centered above the round stage.  There is also a mirror ball emitting lights around the theater to simulate a dance hall scene. A piano, emblematic of Waller’s iconic instrument, appears often as does a portable platform from which several numbers are performed.

Intermittent black and white projections are displayed on screens around the theater to add context to the moments, and the use of fog machines to denote cigarette and cigar smoke in the clubs is an effective touch.  All the atmospherics have been enhanced by Lynn Joslin's effective lighting design. 

If you’re not familiar with Ain’t Misbehavin’ (I last saw the show 30 years ago when I was just a toddler), as a musical revue, the production consists of song after song—high tempo and sultry ballads in the mix—with no plot, no chronology, nothing really tying the songs together other than Fats Waller’s involvement.  It’s a pleasant, sit back and relax toe-tapping experience that takes you back to an important part of American musical culture.

Kelli Blackwell,  Bryan Jeffrey, Kadejah Oné, Tobias A. Young and
Kanysha Williams
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Yet, it’s not a static concert where the numbers are merely sung. The songs come right at you from the get-go with hardly a pause except for intermission. There are lots of movement, dancing and action taking place on different parts of the stage and on a stairway. Ms. Midgette and Ms. Hemby ably take into account the in-the-round format and the cast performs accordingly.

The five talented artists performing are Kadejah Oné, Kelli Blackwell, Kanysha Williams, Tobias A. Young and Bryan Jeffrey. Since the program lists them in the song list by their first names only, I will also refer to them in that way.

They vigorously perform with sass, attitude and playfulness as they are featured in solos, duets, trios and as a company. Individually, the performers shine and collectively they blend beautifully. The joy and warmth exhibited by these performers tell the audience they are truly having a great time onstage.

Dancing adroitly to the swing and jazz numbers, they are in constant movement throughout. It should be noted that for a large man, Tobias acquits himself very well nimbly dancing in such numbers.

"The joy and warmth exhibited by these performers tell the audience they are truly having a great time onstage."

The cast, attired in colorful period costumes by Janine Sunday, are dressed to the nines, which replicate classic Harlem Renaissance style. For most of the show, Kadejah, Kelli and Kanysha  are wearing solid colored dresses—blue, purple and red, respectively; Tobias is in a three-piece suit and Bryan in a snazzy jacket and slacks combo with a pink tie.

Furs for the women are also adorned. Yes, they were not only acceptable during that era, they were desired.

At times, however, the sound became problematic the night this production was reviewed forcing the vocalists to project more than they probably wanted to.  This led to the blurring of some of the lyrics and causing an occasional issue with pitch. Hopefully, this will be rectified as the run progresses.

Nonetheless, the cast members deliver. “Honeysuckle Rose” performed by Tobias and Kadejah is strong.  So is the fine dancing number “Handful of Keys” with Kanysha and the company. Kelli does well in her solo “Squeeze Me.”

Bryan and Tobias utilize the steps in the well-performed “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band.” Kanysha’s solo of “Yacht Club Swing” is quite fine.  Kadesha excels in “Cash for Trash.”  The company performs ably in the lively dance number “The Joint is Jumpin’” closing out the first act.

Bryan’s comical performance of “Viper’s Drag” at a rent party is superb. Tobias shows off his vocal prowess in his solo “Your Feet’s Too Big.” The duo hooks up neatly in a well-executed song and dance number “Fat and Greasy.” For their duet, Kelli and Kadejah are excellent in “Find Out What They Like.”

The non-stop party takes a more somber tone just before the finale in the company number “Black and Blue”. While the projection screens show images of “Whites Only” signs to reflect the Jim Crow segregationist era, the group movingly performs the poignant song and is a highlight for me.

Because Ain’t Misbehavin’ focuses on a specific slice of American music, it may not appeal to everybody as other Toby’s productions generally do. However, it is an important time for the resurgence of black music from the 20’s to the 40’s and a significant part of our history.

Whether you enjoy Fats Waller’s music or not, you will appreciate an exceptionally talented cast who gives their all to entertain you.  Plus there’s always Toby’s luscious buffet.

Running time. Approximately two hours with an intermission.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs through November 4 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 410-730-8311 or visiting online

Thomas "Fats" Waller

Sunday, September 09, 2018

“Mr. President, please sit down with Robert Mueller”

An open letter to Donald Trump
Image: The Hill

Dear Mr. President,

Although I’m not one of your supporters, I have so much in common with you I feel there’s a kinship whereby I can offer you good advice.

For example, we both grew up in Queens.  We both have been unable to shed that horrific New York accent. We both lost money in casinos. Neither of us publicly revealed our tax returns. We both suck at golf though you have spent a quarter of your presidency on golf courses.

Yes, you avoided military service like the plague and I served, but we’re both civilians now, right? We both hold Jeff Sessions in low regard. We both have contributed to the Clintons.

We both believe Rick Perry is the smart one in your cabinet. We both feel tall next to Kim Jong-un. We’re both bald.  Neither of us was invited to two high profile funerals and a royal wedding.  You think Ivanka is pretty; I think Jared is pretty.

I can go on but I know you’re busy with all that executive time.

Here’s my advice. If Special Counsel Mueller invites you to sit down for an interview, please go. What do you have to hide? 

Ignore your attorneys’ advice to avoid it. I mean, come on…Rudy Giuliani? You gotta be kidding.

You said many times there’s no collusion, no obstruction. Go with it.  We all know you never lie. All those negative stories about you from so many people can’t be true, right? So, go and show how honest you are under oath.

Yes, Mr. Mueller is a very intelligent, well respected individual and a war hero. But does he have his name on buildings around the world? I think not. Has he accumulated as many ex-wives as you? No way.

You can outsmart him with one hand tied behind your back. You went to the best schools and know the best words. It would be a piece of cake for you.

You don’t want to show that you’re weak and that you have something to hide. Your enlightened base would turn on you. They want strength, not weakness. The last thing you want to see is #TrumpScaredOfMueller trending on Twitter.

Go ahead, Mr. President. Make America great again and agree to an interview with Mr. Mueller.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Tuneful ‘South Pacific’ Makes a Big Splash at Olney

Photo: Stan Barouh
The iconic musical South Pacific is as well known for its lusty melodic score and loveable characters as it is for its controversial progressive stance on racism and tolerance. The issue of prejudice in our society has always been in the forefront of American history and culture; sadly, it continues today when white nationalism once again has reared its ugly head. #

The 1949 hit show, which captured 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical and a Pulitzer for Drama in 1950, is making its Olney Theatre Center debut, kicking off its 81st season. Under the direction of Alan Muraoka and musical direction of Kristen Lee Rosenfeld, an exceptionally talented cast and crew does justice to this classic whose music was composed by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and the book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan.  
The show brings laughter and tears almost alternately. You will find an upbeat or comedic scene, followed by an intensely dramatic one.  This pattern continues throughout causing emotions to bob up and down as if you’re on a small craft navigating the ocean’s waves. It’s not a criticism; in fact, it’s a strength because it provides context and balance and keeps the audience engaged in the emotional plot.

The legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein team crafted such a spectacular catalogue of songs in South Pacific, it is nearly impossible to decide which of them is the most memorable. Generally speaking, in musicals a key song leaves members of the audience still humming it as they exit the theater. In South Pacific, you can hum a medley—they’re all that good—and many became standards.

“Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “Happy Talk,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Bloody Mary,” “Dites-Moi,” and “Younger Than Springtime” are among the highlights.

Then there is “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which is performed midway through the second act.  This is the one number that generated controversy because it clearly points out that racism and prejudice are not innate traits but people are taught to hate. The line preceding the song was racism “is not born in you! It happens after you’re born.” 

Some had objected to the song’s message and others questioned its appropriateness for musical theatre.  It was vilified in the south as well as other segregated areas when the production went on tour in 1950.

Jessica Lauren Ball and William Michals
Photo: Stan Barouh
Set on an island in the South Pacific during World War II, the saga of two couples in which white prejudice against Polynesian people provides the underlying drama in the plot.  Ensign Nellie Forbush (Jessica Lauren Ball) is a nurse stationed on the island who falls in love with an older expatriate from France and plantation owner Emile de Becque (William Michals).

She had agreed to marry Emile until she found out that he was the father of two small children whose now deceased mother was Polynesian.

In another plotline, Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (Alex Prakken) arrives on the island on a military mission and while on brief leave to the nearby island of Bali-Ha’i, he immediately falls in love with a young Polynesian woman Liat (Alexandra Palting). Sadness takes over when Cable could not bring himself to marry Liat because of her ancestry.

This is when Emile and Cable—one a victim of prejudice and the other the perpetrator of it—examine racism and in which Cable sings “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

Helen Hayes Award nominee and a familiar performer at Olney, Jessica Lauren Ball is superb as Nellie. Strong acting skills guide her through the dramatic scenes, and her vocals shine in ballads and up-tempo numbers alike. “A Cockeyed Optimist” and a reprise of “Some Enchanted Evening” are well-performed solos, and her duets with Mr. Michals and group numbers are among the show’s best moments.

A particular standout in such a group number is “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” whereby she had pledged unsuccessfully to rid herself of Emile because she did not know enough about him. This was prior to her learning about his children’s background. Ms. Ball performs this highly entertaining show-stopping number with her other nurse friends.

For his part, Mr. Michals, a veteran of Broadway, clearly displays his Broadway-caliber, powerful baritone in every number he's involved with as he is one of the finest vocalists I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to on Olney’s main stage. His passion is evident with each word and note; his voice resonating throughout the theater.  Simply put, Mr. Michals’ renditions of “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine“ are sufficient alone to make you want to buy a ticket. 

In addition, Mr. Michals’ acting skills come through especially when Nellie can’t bring herself to marry Emile.  It is one of the most emotionally-charged scenes of the show as Ms. Ball and Mr. Michals’ onstage chemistry is first-rate.

As young Lt. Cable, Alex Prakken performs quite proficiently.  Though he starts off a bit too reserved, Mr. Prakken warms up steadily as the show progresses. The brief scenes with Liat are searing and impassioned.  His sturdy tenor voice is outstanding in the gorgeous ballad “Younger Than Springtime” making every tough note as well as in the poignant aforementioned “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”
Alexandra Palting and Alex Prakken Photo: Stan Barouh
As wonderful as the leads are, the supporting cast shines throughout. Cheryl J. Campo ably plays Bloody Mary, one of the comedic characters in the show. A grass skirt seller on the island, Bloody Mary is also Liat’s mother who strongly urges Cable to marry her as she believes it’s Liat’s best shot at a better life. Ms. Campo’s retorts and mannerisms provide much of the lighter sequences. She plays the role to the hilt without going too far over the top, and her rendition of “Bali Ha’i” is sung tenderly.

Another comic force is David Schlumpf as Luther Billis, an entrepreneurial sailor.  He is total camp and plays the role extremely well. He along with his fellow Seabees perform superbly in the snappy “There Is Nothing Like A Dame.”

Stephen F. Schmidt and Michael Bunce effectively play Navy Captain George Brackett and Commander William Harbison, respectively.  Emile’s adorable children are played by Daniela L. Martinez/Eliza Prymak and Nathan Pham/Hudson Prymak.

Rounding out the talented cast with some playing multiple roles are Jay Frisby, Calvin Malone, David Landstrom, Ryan Burke, Calvin McCullough, Chris Rudy, Kurt Boehm, Jessica Bennett, Megan Tatum, Christina Kidd, and Amanda Kaplan. The Swings are Tiziano D’Affuso and Teresa Danskey.

Dancing is not a significant feature in South Pacific But for those numbers that require dancing, such as “There’s Nothing Like A Dame” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” the choreography by Darren Lee is lively and well executed.

Christopher Youstra’s nine-piece orchestra is exceptional in supporting the vocalists without overpowering them. This blend of orchestration with vocal prowess delivering these magnificent songs is outstanding.

Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway’s set is more artistic than extravagant. In keeping with the locale of the show, there is a Polynesian feel to the scenery with its random criss-cross of bamboo and aquatic hues.  The nearby island of Bali Ha’i is depicted like a painting but when the song is performed, a projection of clouds sweeping over the island is shown—a nice touch.

The drop-down curtain, containing a montage of symbols related to the plot with bamboo again being featured, also set some scenes.  Lighting Designer Max Doolittle allowed light to shine on such symbols where appropriate.  For example, when the scene shifted to a military event, spotlights are aimed on the Japanese and U.S. flags.  This curtain is also used to allow set pieces and props to be moved around behind it for certain scenes while the action takes place in front of it. 

Mr. Doolittle’s lighting design, Ryan Hickey’s sound design and Ivania Stack’s costume design employing a wide array of period costumes and uniforms contribute mightily to the show’s ambiance.

South Pacific is a classic Broadway sensation, and the cast and crew at the Olney Theatre Center should be proud of the talent and effort on display. Despite the serious subject of racism and the sadness during various aspects of the show’s plot, this majestic production excels on so many levels and is highly recommended. 
Running time. Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.

South Pacific runs through October 7 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