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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

‘Elf’ at Toby’s Brings Christmas Right This Very Minute

The cast of Elf The Musical

It may be 95 degrees outside, but when the doors at Toby’s Dinner & Show opened, it might as well be a frosty December at the North Pole.

Elf The Musical, a fanciful, totally enjoyable Christmas production based on the 2003 film with the same name, is a welcome remedy for the horrendous past 15 months we endured that included essentially missing in-person holiday celebrations with family and friends due to the lockdown.

As Broadway musical icon Jerry Herman penned for the classic Mame, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute. We need a little Christmas now!”  With the production Elf, Toby’s delivers just that—in the midst of summer—and at a time we could all use it.

Yes, the pandemic and the associated government restrictions have altered theatre production schedules so what would normally be a timely Christmas musical in December, we can celebrate the holiday in July. In fact, Toby’s bills the show as “Christmas in July.”

Leaving the heat outside, patrons enter a holiday wonderland in a comfortably air conditioned theater with Christmas trees attached to the walls and lit garland and cardboard snowflakes above. The simple Christmas atmosphere is done just right by scenic designer David A. Hopkins.

The musical, which played on Broadway from 2010 to 2011, the West End from 2015 to 2016 and spawned several tours, was scored by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. The book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan was adapted from the film version, which did not contain music.

The songs are largely sentimental and lighthearted with melodies that are not necessarily memorable. Nonetheless, they effectively tie the story together and are performed exceedingly well by the Toby’s cast and the four-piece orchestra conducted by Nathan Scavilla on the evening of this reviewed performance.

The story is about a young orphan named Buddy Hobbs who accidentally crawls into Santa’s bag of toys and winds up at the North Pole where he is brought up by elves. He thought he was one of them as he became older until one blurted out he was really human.  Santa urged him to travel to New York City to find his actual father who happens to be on Santa’s naughty list because he doesn’t believe in, well, Santa and by extension, the spirit of Christmas.

Buddy learns to his chagrin that all adults do not believe in Santa Claus. He attempts to win over his newly discovered family and instill the true meaning of Christmas. Along the way, Buddy finds love that showcases some of the more touching scenes in the show.

"In a tour de force, veteran performer Jeffrey Shankle, slays the lead role of Buddy."

In over a decade of covering productions at Toby’s, there are three constants. One, the buffet is always scrumptious and themed to the show that is playing. Two, there is maximum effort put forth by the performers, musicians and technical crew under solid direction. And three, Helen Hayes award winners Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick and Artistic Director Toby Orenstein always seem to cast the right people for the roles. In Elf, that wonderful trend continues.

In a tour de force, veteran performer Jeffrey Shankle, slays the lead role of Buddy.  Playing the naive but happy elf/human, Mr. Shankle draws upon his comedic instincts, timing and superb vocals. Not only is his singing pitch perfect, but man can he hold a note! Mr. Shankle’s tenor voice is in stellar form in such songs as “”Happy All The Time,” “World’s Greatest Dad,” “Just Like Him” and in a marvelous, well-choreographed production number “Nobody Cares About Santa.”  

His duet with his love interest Jovie, played well by MaryKate Brouillet, in the tender ballad “A Christmas Song” is moving. Ms. Brouillet also showcases her crystal clear, melodic voice in the touching “Never Fall In Love (With An Elf)”.

Jeffrey Shankle as Buddy

The supporting cast is similarly outstanding. David Bosley-Reynolds as the stern father Walter Hobbs exhibits his strong acting skills and solid baritone voice. With his job on the line as a developer of children’s books and little time for family, Mr. Bosley-Reynolds as Walter conveys his toughness and newly revealed tenderness as the story unfolds. He performs well in the group number “In The Way.”

Janine Sunday does a fine job as Emily Hobbs, Buddy’s stepmother and devoted wife of Walter. She proficiently expresses her true love for her family while hoping her beleaguered husband spends more time with them. It was Emily who procured a DNA test to prove that Buddy is Walter’s son.

Her son Michael, an adorable and smart 12 year-old, was played by Luka Van Herksen on the night of this review. He demonstrates potential as a strong performer in musical theatre as he is blessed with a fantastic singing voice. Happily, Luka had the opportunity to showcase that talent in duets with Ms. Sunday in “I’ll Believe In You” and “There Is A Santa Claus.”  He shares that role with two other boys on a rotating basis.

DeCarlo Raspberry performs admirably in the dual roles of Santa Claus and Manager using his laudable comedic skills. He also can sing with the best of them and performs well in the production number “Happy All The Time” and in a solo “Nobody Cares (Santa Reprise)”.

Other members of the cast and ensemble are outstanding as well. They acted, they sang, they danced, they moved set pieces, they did it all. Among them are Kalen Robinson, Alexis Krey, Justin Calhoun, Shane Lowry, Crystal Freeman, AJ Whittenberger and Patricia Targete.

Then there is the always entertaining David James, who effectively plays the part of Walter’s boss, the cranky and demanding Mr. Greenway who never spent Christmas with his family in 30 years to build a children’s book company and it shows.

Mark Minnick’s choreography is precise and detailed as always. Using all areas of the in-the-round stage, the performers moved about in synch and in rhythm. Such numbers as “In The Way,” “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” (what a title!) and “Nobody Cares About Santa” are fine examples. And the simulated Rockefeller Center skating rink with several cast members rollerblading in lieu of ice skates in the number “A Christmas Song” is a nice touch.

Brilliantly hued costumes were coordinated by Janine Sunday—from colorful elf attire to street garb. There are countless combinations and costume changes throughout—all executed seamlessly.

Also notable are the imaginative set pieces employed. David A. Hopkins and Shane Lowry (also a member of the Ensemble) designed numerous clever props and sets especially in the opening scene where the elves were riding wagons. That was awesome.

And kudos to sound designer John Pantazis for the well mic’d audio throughout.

Elf The Musical is an early Christmas present for the young and not so young. It provides much joy and fun in Santa’s bag of goodies for a laugh-filled, nostalgic escape highlighted by a talented cast and crew under expert direction.  Enjoy the show, think Christmas even now, and know that you won’t have to deal with icy roads on the way home.

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

Elf The Musical runs through August 22 at Toby’s Dinner & Show, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 410-730-8311 or visiting online . The website also contains the theater's updated policies and protocols that are in place to add comfort to the patrons.
 

Photos by Jeri Tidwell Photography

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Alphabet Mafia Showcase Promises to be Funny to the Letter

 I Baltimore will once again be treated to live (that’s right, live!) entertainment as an eclectic group of young LGBTQ+ comedians from around the mid-Atlantic region will celebrate Pride by performing at The Crown on June 26. And who cannot use a good laugh about now?

Alphabet Mafia is an LGBTQ+ standup comedy showcase that will be hosted by Baltimore comedian Jake Leizear (he/him).  The performers, says Leizear, include some of the region’s best queer comedians, with a lineup of Alejandro Morales (he/him, Phillidelphia), Andie Basto (they/them, Baltimore), T Moony (she/her, Baltimore), Kate Flaherty (she/her ,DC), and Anthony Oakes (he/him, DC), with special guest appearances from Tom Behler (he/him, Alexandria, VA), Alexa Sciuto (she/her, Baltimore), and Charlie Girard (he/him, DC).

Andie Basto  Photo credit: Hayley Nelson

“The lineup looks to represent not just Baltimore’s queer comedy scene, but also the greater mid-Atlantic, bringing in performers from Pennsylvania, DC, Virginia, and Maryland,” explains Leizear.  

“Comedy in the DMV is a multifaceted and diverse scene, as is the LGBTQ+ community, and this show works to provide opportunities to all kinds of comedians within the community.”

Because of the pandemic, entertainers had to perform on Zoom or other digital platforms.  Going live for this show pleases Leizear.  “We wanted to celebrate Pride with a laugh shared in person at a beloved venue that has always been a home to out and proud performers of all kinds,” he says.  

No stranger to comedy, Leizear is a show runner at The Lou Costello Room in Hampden and has performed at DC Pride, the Ellicott Silly Comedy Festival, and the Charm City Comedy Festival. With over a decade of theater and improv behind him, Leizear says his humor “focuses on his experiences as a queer millennial dealing with nerdom, anxiety, dating, and being a gay little fish in a big straight pond.”

Leizear is eagerly anticipating Alphabet Mafia performing at The Crown. “The whole lineup is beyond ready to get back out there to live comedy and is excited to do what we do best: make people laugh!”

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The Alphabet Mafia LGBTQ+ Pride Comedy Showcase performs on June 26 from 8:00 p.m.to 9:30 p.m. at The Crown, 1910 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Tickets are $10 in advance by visiting Eventbrite or $12 at the door.




Tuesday, June 08, 2021

HoCo Executive Shines Light on LGBTQ Pride Month



June has traditionally been LGBTQ Pride Month (originally called Gay Pride) ever since the Stonewall uprising in June 1969 that most historians credit as the birth of the modern gay rights movement. In Howard County, Maryland, the tradition continues.

On the evening of June 7 County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball read an executive proclamation recognizing June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the county. The event was witnessed by nearly two dozen diverse members of the county’s LGBTQ+ community and supportive allies who gathered in front of the George Howard Building—the seat of the county government—for the ceremonial proclamation reading.

County Executive Calvin Ball

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Whereas… The LGBTQ+ community in Howard County is vibrant and growing with a mission to create ongoing opportunities for open dialogue about sexual orientation and gender questioning for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+; and

Whereas… Each resident deserves to be accepted with compassion, acknowledged for their contributions and inspired to celebrate life’s gifts within a safe and supportive community; and

Whereas… It is fitting for Howard County Government to recognize Pride Month as a way to support individual rights and reaffirm our commitment to inclusion, equality and justice for all.

Now therefore, I, … Calvin Ball, County Executive of Howard County, Maryland, do hereby proclaim

June 2021

Pride Month

In Howard County, Maryland

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When the skies darkened following the ceremony, the Howard Building was alternately bathed in lights representing the colors of the rainbow, the familiar symbol of the LGBTQ+ community.

Howard County government has traditionally supported LGBTQ+ rights. In fact, it was the first jurisdiction in the state to pass a non-discrimination measure based on sexual orientation in 1973. And in 2011 it was among the first jurisdictions in the state to pass protections based on gender identity and expression.

In 2019, Howard County government co-sponsored the first ever LGBTQ+ Pride celebration in the county, which turned out to be a colossal success with some 10,000 attending. HoCo Pride will renew the festivities on October 9 after a year off because of the pandemic.

The significance of the proclamation presented by the County Executive was not lost on LGBTQ+ community leaders.

“This is a very important moment for the community,” says Jumel Howard, Chair of HoCo Pride, Vice President of PFLAG Howard County, and Regional Director of PFLAG Mid-Atlantic. “We are appreciative of the County Executive and his administration for being on the front lines in advocating for equity and inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Alisha Tronetti, a student at University of Maryland and a member of the HoCo Pride Steering Committee, points out, “Events like these are extremely important. The LGBTQ community is small and need the public display of support from county government.”

Others see this as an opportunity for progress beyond the symbolism of this recognition.

 “I’m grateful our county government has recognized Pride Month,” says Byron Macfarlane, the county’s Register of Wills and the first openly LGBTQ elected official in Howard County. “It sends a message that Howard County embraces the LGBTQ+ community and that hate has no home here.”

He adds, “I hope that beyond today’s proclamation, we’ll continue to break down barriers and stand in solidarity for true and meaningful equality in every aspect of the daily lives of our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors.”


A video of the proceedings produced by the Office of the County Executive is shown here.