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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Friday, June 21, 2019

Straight Pride: Another Way to Mock LGBTQ Folks

Photo: Boston Globe/Boston Globe Via Getty Images
With each year, the annual ritual of holding LGBTQ Pride festivals and parades all over the world is gaining more media coverage and popularity.  These celebrations have been taking place for 50 years since the first one in New York City marked the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising where patrons in the Greenwich Village underground bar fought back against yet another police raid.

Pride, as it is simply called, has had different meanings to different people. To me it is acknowledging the adversity LGBTQ people have had to endure throughout their lives, and that we are proud that we have survived though sadly, not everyone has.

To some straight folks who are not allied with the LGBTQ community, there has been a growing distaste for this traditional event and have mocked us with calling for or establishing “straight pride” parades to counter it. One, for instance, is being planned in Boston.  

Even merchants see a profit in this development and are selling straight pride t-shirts and similar merchandise online. They are the opposite of the familiar rainbow colors; they’re black, white and (perhaps 50) shades of gray.

The notion that straight folks need to demonstrate their pride is ludicrous, and that’s being mild.  LGBTQ Pride, as I indicated, is a celebration of enduring the myriad manifestations of hatred directed towards our community.  Straight people have not had to grapple with being straight in our society. 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 from  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.

There are more contained below in this popular meme.

People took to social media to voice their displeasure at the proposed straight pride parade in Boston.

“Straight” pride is culturally irrelevant. It means nothing, except as an insult and degradation of LGBTQ+ people. Such a statement isn’t about equality, but is an exclamation of continued superiority. It screams: Look at me! I’m insecure as hell!”

Says another, “Holy f***ing shit balls! Have you ever BEEN to pride??? This isn't even about ‘well I think I should support the LGBT’s, this is about FUN!  Just think for three seconds…how much fun do you think these ‘straight pride’ idiots are going to be having? Stomping around in their white golf shirts and Dockers khakis chanting slogans?”

And from one who is straight, “They have the right to assemble just like everyone else, but to call it a 'Straight Pride' parade is really a misnomer. They should just say what they mean, and say we are Anti-Gay Pride. Everyone knows what they are about, and trying to call it something that they think will be more politically correct doesn’t replace their underlying theme. I certainly won’t be participating no matter what they call it. It is going to be a bunch of narrow minded people who are intimidated by the idea that being gay is acceptable and that LGBTQ people should have the same rights and recognition of their relationships that heterosexuals enjoy.”

There are a number of reasons why straight folks support this.  I believe that many would like to push LGBTQ folks back in the closet.  They don’t like us out and proud.  The Pride celebrations don’t conform to their beliefs that we are inferior, different, and an abomination. Thus, there is resentment.

As we approach Howard County’s first ever Pride festival (HoCo Pride) on June 29 at Centennial Park, marking the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, opponents, I would say haters, have taken to social media to voice their displeasure. They have posted memes like this one

or comments like this one.

They can mock all they want. The LGBTQ community and its growing number of allies need to ignore the taunts by a noisy few and enjoy our special day.  As the theme for HoCo Pride states, our community and supporters should Remember, Resist and Rejoice.  

We expect a large representation of straight allies attending the festivities and to them, there is no need to have a separate, silly straight pride.  This one will be far more fun and far more meaningful.

For more information about HoCo Pride, visit the website.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trump’s Cheatin’ Heart Could Beat on Him

Last month I argued that the Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls ignore the pundits and handlers and start going after President Donald Trump. Go on the offense, I implored. Why cede the offense to Trump?

One of the ways to do that is to fight on “his” turf and resort to nicknames as Trump does routinely.  It’s been a successful tactic for Trump because labeling and branding are key components of the modern election campaign.  If he does it, so should his opponents. Remember how “Crooked Hillary” stuck on her like a stain.  Now it’s “Pocahontas,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Crazy Bernie” or whoever becomes the eventual nominee.

Yes, I know it’s childish. Why stoop to the level of a pre-teen?  Well, with so much at stake—our democracy, the rule of law, our standing and leadership in the world, and fighting for the middle class, climate change, and gun violence— winning back power is crucial.  If the media, who made Trump, continues to cover his inane tweets and rallies, then his opponents must get on the stage and battle him.  We can’t afford to give this lawless, corrupt and profoundly incompetent narcissist a second term with no accountability.

Let’s give him a nickname that will surely get under his skin. My suggestion: Cheatin’ Trump.  We have seen similar monikers employed on social media like “Don the Con” but that’s on social media. 

Candidates themselves must use two words and make it stick and ignore the sanctimonious objections by those who feel we must maintain decency.  It’s a different ballgame now, and like it or not, I assure you this election will be all about Trump and not Wall Street and other pet issues.
Cheatin’ Trump. That’s the message. There is so much to back it up.

► He has cheated on his 3 wives.

► His cheating is so obvious he had to pay adult film stars to keep quiet about it.

► He has cheated employees and contractors out of their payments.

► He cheated military service by concocting a fake bone spurs condition.

► He undoubtedly cheated on his taxes, which is probably one of several reasons he is fighting tooth and nail to keep his returns from the public.

► He cheated the unsuspecting with his joke Trump University.

► He cheated to win the election in 2016 by seeking and accepting help from a foreign adversary to persuade voters.

► He cheats the taxpayers as he violates the Emoluments clause in the Constitution by raking in millions from private properties while sitting in the White House.

► He cheats in golf “at the highest level” as sportswriter Rick Reilly pens in his book, The Commander-in-Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.

There are potentially many more examples as his foundation and charities are under investigation.
Cheatin’ Trump would be a good name for him; it’s certainly accurate.  He can’t defend against it. He can only go on the offense.  Dems should, too.

Image by Murdo McCleod, The Guardian

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Power of the Music of the Night

CCTA Delights with ‘The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’

Aficionados of musical theatre and even those who are not are well acquainted with the body of work by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber would have been appreciative of this presentation. The English composer, who had collaborated with several lyricists like Tim Rice throughout his career, has been wildly successful in this genre spanning five decades with a string of some 13 musicals and 2 film scores among his accomplishments.  Several shows have run for over 10 years—a remarkable feat whether on Broadway or London’s West End.

“The Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita, and “Memory” from Cats are popular hit songs that have been cemented in our musical culture.  #hocoarts

On June 9, the Columbia (Md.) Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA) and The Young Columbians Senior Ensemble & Alumni presented a magnificent offering of Lloyd Webber’s works including those and other favorites from the composer’s vast catalogue at the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College.  The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, performed by mostly middle and high school students, was a wonder to behold.

CCTA founder Toby Orenstein, the artistic director of Columbia’s venerable Toby’s Dinner Theatre, made brief remarks before the show in which she pointed out that the mostly student performers also included CCTA staff and alumni.  She singled out a student from her very first class, Larry Friedman, who is currently the Young Columbians’ artistic director and with Ms. Orenstein co-directed this show.

From the rocking number “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar in which Mr. Friedman took the lead, to the finale “Love Changes Everything” from Aspects of Love, the performances by these artists were scintillating. The selections consisting of a combination of solos, duets and group numbers were generally organized by show.  

It was fitting that “Superstar” launched the presentation not only because the invigorating high tempo of the song and the cast’s journey up the theater’s aisles induced the audience to be involved immediately, but I have no doubt there are potential superstars among this group of entertainers.

Guided by choreographer Tina Desimone, the ensemble remained on the stage throughout each song utilizing methodical movements and a variety of positions from standing to lying down while featured performers emerged downstage to sing.  In some instances the positioning of the ensemble simulated that of the Broadway version of the numbers.

A duet consisting of Kyra Britt and Abby McDonough beautifully performed “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.  During the rendition Ms. McDonough experienced a mic snafu. Undaunted, the young lady kept her poise, recognized the situation and increased the volume of her vocals to help compensate. Both performers deserve kudos for seamlessly overcoming a technical problem outside of their control. 

Prince Havely, an alumnus of the program, performed a stunningly moving interpretation of “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera while the Ensemble silently stood motionless in the background.

All the other lead performers were outstanding as well. The talented list includes: Bradley Leverett and Ben Saunders (“Song of the King”) and Justin Diaz, Richard Seipel and Gavin Willard (“Close Every Door”) from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Cade MacFee (Light at the End of the Tunnel”/”Starlight Express” from Starlight Express); Andrew Fleming, Evan Williams and Justin Diaz (“Oh What a Circus”) and Alyssa Young and Sophie Snider (“Another Suitcase”) and Caroline Otchet and Logan Dixon (“Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”) from Evita; Rachel Kohen (“Memory”) from Cats; Avery Fahey (“Anything But Lonely”) from Aspects of Love; Peyton Kern and Andrew Fleming (“Think of Me”) and Bradley Everett, Leah Reineck, Cade MacFee and Shira Seaman (“All I Ask of You”) from The Phantom of the Opera; and Gavin Willard and Ben Saunders (“Love Changes Everything”) from Aspects of Love.

The Ensemble deftly performed vocally in support of the leads and had their own selections in the group numbers “Evita Requiem” from Evita, “Jellicle Ball” from Cats, and “Masquerade” from The Phantom of the Opera.

They are: Julia Chapman, Amaya Cunningham, Ana Cunningham, Madeline Ellinghaus, Hallie Goldstein, Ally Kolp, Andrew Pavuk, Alyssa Renew, Drew Seipel, Sierra Segal, Kate Tourison, Ava Vanek, and Carly Victor.

Musical Director Todd Twining and the 5-piece orchestra were superb and did justice to Lloyd Weber’s rich and melodious score.  The production itself was stellar, but seeing how the hard work of these young people led to a successful show with tons of potential to be realized is truly inspiring.

There are two flaws I can identify, however. One, the performance was only for one night and the broader community will not have a chance to witness this terrific show. And two, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber wasn’t on hand to marvel how his work was performed in such a superb manner. #hocoarts

Ironically, this presentation took place on the same night as the 2019 Tony Awards (yay DVR!) It would not be a stretch to imagine at least one of these young performers receiving that honor someday.

CCTA is a non-profit organization founded in 1972 by Toby Orenstein. Its mission is to educate through the arts by creating theatrical experiences that inspire thought, action, creativity, and change. This performance was a fundraiser for CCTA’s outreach programs aimed at helping special needs and at-risk youth.  More information can be found on CCTA’s website.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

‘Grease’ at Toby’s is the One That I Want

Nicki Elledge as Sandy and Matt Hirsh as Danny in Toby's
production of "Grease'  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
It’s pretty safe to say that virtually all theatre-goers have heard of or seen the American classic musical Grease in some form or another. Grease had been one of Broadway’s longest running productions. It spawned several revivals on Broadway and has played all over the world in professional theatre via tours as well as in summer stock, community theatre and in schools all over the U.S.

The 1978 movie with the same title starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John was a smashing success.  And even that led to a sequel. 

In 2007, a reality TV show was presented whereby a combination of judges and viewer voting determined who the two lead characters should be in an upcoming Broadway revival. And in 2016 a live TV presentation was aired.

Therefore, in so myriad ways through the years this beloved 1971 musical, written and composed by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, found a way into the hearts of so many. So it is fitting that the bouncy nostalgic 1950’s era production is currently playing at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia and it, too, can be characterized as a smash.

Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick directed and choreographed this vibrant masterpiece with supreme skill and vision. The precise staging and period aesthetics are matched by an utterly superb young but experienced cast whose dance moves are dazzling and whose vocals are sparkling.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings’ six-piece orchestra is in total synch with the performances, never overwhelming the vocals. Janine Sunday designed a splendid array of 1950’s costumes including black jeans, black tight t-shirts and black leather jackets for the male characters and cheerleading uniforms or below-the-knee pastel-colored skirts for the female characters.

Lynn Joslin’s lighting design is captivating and creative. And Mark Smedley’s sound design brings crystal clear audio to Toby’s in-the-round theater.

Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins kept things simple allowing the audience to focus on the performers on the stage, as they should. This doesn’t mean that the stage was bare save for the cast.  Awesome set pieces from diner booths to a miniature Chevy convertible dubbed “Greased Lightning” amplified the presentation so adroitly.

"...an utterly superb young but experienced cast whose dance moves are dazzling and whose vocals are sparkling."

In addition, a variety of posters are mounted on the walls around the theater denoting the cultural charm of that bygone era.  You would see a poster of James Dean or an advertisement for a box of Frosted Flakes or a poster of TV shows Lassie or Howdy Doody and even cigarette ads—so commonplace during that period—like Lucky Strikes.  While the audience enjoys the fabulous buffet prior to the show, they can peruse these posters and get squarely into the mood.  So cool!

The plot, probably familiar to most due to the show’s prolific exposure, has undergone some tweaking in terms of score and dialogue during its course.  Yet, it continues to center on the relationships between lead characters Danny Zuko (played brilliantly by Helen Hayes Award winner Matt Hirsh) and the Sandra Dee-like Sandy Dumbrowski (played exceptionally well by Nicki Elledge) and among their respective working class peer cliques—the Burger Palace Boys (formerly called the T-Birds in other iterations of the show) and Pink Ladies—at the fictional Rydell High School in 1959. 

While other characters emerge and their attempts at coupling form much of the comedic sequences, the focus remains on the ebbs and flows of the romantic relationship between Danny and Sandy.

Director Minnick steers the action with a light touch and keeps the proceedings breezy and fun throughout. Yet, embedded in the plot are such social issues as teenage pregnancy, peer pressure bordering on bullying, and gang violence amid the themes of love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration during adolescence, and class consciousness. 

Although those issues are legitimate in any period, Grease is all about the 50’s in terms of music, wardrobe, culture, dialogue, and gestures. Its popularity over these many years is a testament to the show’s ability to entertain audiences of all ages and in all eras.

And entertain they do.   #hocoarts

The perfectly cast, energetic and multi-talented ensemble in the Toby’s production do the show proud.  Once the iconic production number “Summer Nights” is performed so effectively in the second scene of the first act, the tone is set and the audience is captured for the duration.
As one would expect in a musical with the pedigree of Grease, the songs are the show’s strength, and the cast delivers under the guidance of Mr. Minnick and Musical Director Rawlings.

A big dance number “Greased Lightnin” with the aforementioned hot rod rolling on the stage belonging to one of the greasers Kenickie (played strongly by handsome Paul Roeckell) is a crowd pleaser to be sure. As part of the choreography are flawlessly executed cartwheels by two members of the ensemble, the always athletic AJ Whittenberger and Shiloh Orr.

Other numbers with high-level, high-intensity choreography include the production numbers “We Go Together,” “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” and “Born to Hand Jive.”
Members of the cast of Grease  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
“You’re the One That I Want, ” another production number, has been a long-time favorite.
Then there is the hilarious song “Mooning” performed wonderfully by Justin Calhoun and Kalen Robinson.

As Danny, Matt Hirsh excels as an actor and vocalist.  With his D.A. haircut (see if anyone remembers what that is) complete with the requisite spit curl, Mr. Hirsh does his greaser garb proud.  He has all the moves: a cocky swagger, preening and adjusting his hair frequently to make it crystal clear he is the lead greaser and attracting women is essentially a given.  Mr. Hirsh’s strong tenor voice excels in “Summer Nights” and “Alone at the Drive-In Movie.”

Nicki Elledge plays innocent Sandy to the hilt. Also equipped with strong vocal prowess, Ms. Elledge performs very well in “Summer Nights” and the lovely ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You”—a song popularized by Olivia Newton-John in the film version of Grease and later incorporated in the stage musicals. She also performs well in the reprise of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

As Betty Rizzo, the tough, gum-snapping, chain-smoking heavy among the Pink Ladies, Maggie Dransfield plays her role with relish.  She expertly performs the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

The other outstanding lead performers include Paul Roeckell as Kenickie, Justin Calhoun as Roger, Taylor Witt as Doody, Nia Savoy as Marty, Joey Ellinghaus as Sonny, Allie O’Donnell as Frenchy, Shiloh Orr as Eugene, Crystal Freeman as Teen Angel whose performance of “Beauty School Dropout” is a goose-bump-producing vocal, Jeffrey Shankle as Vince Fontaine, recent Helen Hayes Award winner DeCarlo Raspberry as Johnny Casino, Rachel Kemp as Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and Louisa Tringali as Patty Simcox.

Rounding out the cast are the ensemble members Brandon Bedore, MaryKate Brouillet, Kourtney Richards and AJ Whittenberger.

The Toby’s production stayed true to Grease’s rock ‘n roll core, and everybody associated with it deserves an ovation. Even if you spent a summer night with Grease before, drive your hot rod over to Toby’s and catch this amazing production.

Running time. Two hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

Grease runs through July 28 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

Monday, June 03, 2019

Stonewall Bartender Recalls the Historic Night

Back in June 1981 when I was a volunteer writer for the former Baltimore publication The Gay Paper, I was fortunate to receive a significant lead for a story.  I was advised that a former bartender at the Stonewall Inn the night the bar was raided, which touched off nearly a weeklong uprising against the police, had moved to Baltimore and was available for an interview.

During this exclusive interview, the bartender used the name of “Don” as he had taken up a different line of work and wanted to protect his identity. However, the facts as he laid them out during our conversation jived with the research conducted by a number of reputable journalists and authors that had been made public subsequent to this interview.  Therefore, I concluded that the substance of his description of the events on that fateful night of June 27-28, 1969 just 12 years prior was legitimate.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of this seminal chapter in the LGBTQ rights movement, I thought it fitting to post the story with a copy of the actual published article appearing below.