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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Pride Cap Fuss Shows Why Pride is Needed

It’s just a ball cap. But oh, how some people get triggered!

The Los Angeles Dodgers announced that for the first time, the players will all be wearing a Pride cap featuring rainbow colors on the interlocking LA logo during the team’s LGBTQ+ Night on June 3 at Dodger Stadium when they face off against the New York Mets. Moreover, the following week at Oracle Park in San Francisco, both the Dodgers and the Giants will for the first time wear their respective Pride caps during the game.

“The Los Angeles Dodgers are proud to stand with and recognize the LGBTQ+ community in Los Angeles and globally,” said Stan Kasten, President & CEO, Los Angeles Dodgers in a statement. “The Dodgers have a history of breaking barriers and we’re proud to be a part of another chapter in MLB history as the Dodgers and Giants each wear their team’s pride caps on June 11. While our organizations have a long-storied rivalry on the field, we stand together when it comes to equality for all.”

Adds Gabe Kapler, the manager of the Giants, “It is an honor to be a part of this moment. I hope everyone watching the game on June 11 sees the clear statement being made — we stand for equality and respect of all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Wearing the Pride logo is both a reminder of the discrimination the LGBTQ+ community faces and the importance of supporting and creating a more inclusive environment.”

Most major league baseball clubs have held similar Pride celebrations at their ballparks but never had players taking the field wearing such attire. According to Outsports.com, a site that focuses on LGBTQ+ athletes in sports, only the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros did not host a Pride event during the pre-Covid 2019 season.

Not everyone shared in the celebration of the new ball cap to be worn by the Dodger players.  When the Dodgers unveiled the cap on Instagram, there were quite a number of negative comments sprinkled among the many who voiced support. Some were benign as in juliannavaaa’s post, “Why can’t we just play baseball?” Others were more sinister (reported to Instagram as hate speech) like “We should have taken them [gays] out years ago.”

Then you have the typically juvenile homophobic snark by commenter richnowlandrn “Brings a whole new meaning to ‘Switch Hitter.’” Or the genius of aliyahsdead, “need the dodgers and the giants to make out to truly express their support for pride”.

But responding to one of the haters, sdotarick wrote, “You can tell who woulda booed Jackie back in the day too.” On that same theme, baserobber posted, “All the people hating now would have been the same people hating on Jackie Robinson. Be open to new ideas and other people being different.”

It is encouraging that nearly 88,000 liked the announcement on Instagram and the unveiling of the Dodger’s new Pride cap with many speaking up to defend it and calling out the homophobes.

Homophobic comments frequently appear on fan pages and message boards all over. One jerk on the Baltimore Orioles Facebook group lamented the Orioles Pride Night last year and inquired why there wasn’t a Christian pride event. I guess he was bothered by so many Christians being physically attacked or fired from their jobs or bullied at school or kicked out of their homes by family members for being Christian. Or maybe he believes the manufactured war on Christmas is real.

Whatever the reason, there are too many folks who resent that the LGBTQ+ community being celebrated. Surveys have been positive in recent years regarding LGBTQ+ acceptance. In the macho world of sports, however, we haven’t made enough progress though leagues and teams have become very supportive. Still, there is no open LGBTQ+ athlete currently playing in any of the four major male sports leagues.

There are going to be ignorant buffoons and haters no matter what, especially those who are shielded by the relative anonymity of the internet. The stereotyping and homophobia are palpable on these platforms.

And this is exactly why the LGBTQ+ community needs Pride.  A tip of the cap to the Dodgers, Giants and all the MLB teams who celebrate diversity and equality and do so in a public way.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Blue Skies?

Why Republicans shouldn’t be spiking the ball just yet.

Republicans could hardly contain their glee. The president’s approval rating is low. A bloody war is waging. Inflation and gas prices are threatening our economic stability.  There’s trouble at the border.  Covid is hanging around. The stock market has been in a free-fall. Biden’s economic agenda has been stalled. Gerrymandering has locked in Republican districts. These developments and more are pointing to a November blow-out. Even popular presidents see their party lose seats in Congress during the mid-terms.

All Republicans needed to do is hold on to the ball and run out the clock. A red tide would sweep the country. But sometimes there could be a bad snap, a fumble or an ill-advised penalty and suddenly victory, which was ostensibly certain moments earlier, could be in jeopardy.

The bombshell leak last week of the Supreme Court draft opinion that foretold the demise of the popular Roe v. Wade ruling was tantamount to a political earthquake. The most nervous person in the U.S. is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has expected to return to his majority leadership position, has been in the “let’s run out the clock camp.” Now he has seen the ball sail over the quarterback’s head.

So worried that the news of the likely overturning of the 49-year-old ruling could galvanize downtrodden Democrats—downtrodden because of the political headwinds mentioned above—that the Republican response was Trump-like focused on the identity of the leaker rather than the substance of the opinion.

GOP folks have attempted to downplay the impact by turning the subject back to inflation. In other words, change the subject and fast. But people don't like their rights taken away and will motivate them to act.

Importantly, the early indication of how SCOTUS would rule on Roe gave the Dems an extra month or so to mobilize the opposition and change their attitudes and strategies towards the mid-terms. Democrats received a new lease on life.

It’s hard to say at this point how this will play out. Democrats can wound themselves if protests at

Supreme Court justices’ residences get out of hand. Recall how Republicans turned largely peaceful protests over the murder of George Floyd into the radical left burning down cities narrative. They used this whataboutism technique in trying to explain away the riots and insurrection on January 6, 2021 and they will use it again to blunt the outrage over Roe.

Democrats stand to regain the allegiance of suburban women and independents based on overturning Roe. They could let that slip away if they don’t play their cards right.

The hope for Democrats as they scramble to do what’s necessary to protect a woman’s right to determine the well-being of their own bodies is that the fire and energy we see now will not dissipate come November. Clearly, they can use this highly emotional issue and bludgeon Republican candidates from the Senate to the state legislatures.

Potentially aiding the cause will be the onset of the bipartisan January 6 House Select Committee’s public hearings, which will occur next month. It is fairly obvious the committee will lay out methodically how President Trump not only inspired the riots of that day and did nothing to squelch them, but more significantly how he and his allies plotted to execute a coup. The public should also be reminded of which congressmen and senators voted to not certify the presidential election.

This one-two punch should give the Dems a major boost. They need to harness this energy to raise money and launch major voter registration drives and develop get out the vote strategies in all 50 states.

We won’t know the outcome until November as to which party recovered that bad snap. But right now it’s a free ball.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

‘Ain’t Too Proud’ at the Hippodrome Brings Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

I totally enjoyed Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, currently playing at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a whirlwind national tour. To me, it ranks right up there with my favorite jukebox musical Jersey Boys. Perhaps it’s because of my growing up in the 60’s in recalling the superb music and entertainment generated by The Temptations and the Four Seasons.

It is no small coincidence that both musicals were directed by Tony and Olivier Award winner Des McAnuff in which he won the honors for Jersey Boys as Best Musical and Choreographer Sergio Trujillo for taking home the Tony for the Broadway production of Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. This is a winning combo for sure.

There have been quite a number of high-quality jukebox musicals making it to Broadway, but Ain’t Too Proud with music and lyrics by The Legendary Motown Catalog and a book by Dominique Morisseau is a standout on so many levels.  

First and foremost, you have the vast cache of mostly familiar hits to work with. In this production 31 Motown favorites are performed—most but not all are Temptations songs. Some of the songs featured in the show include “Cloud Nine,” “I Can Get Next to You,” the iconic “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” “I Wish it Would Rain,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Get Ready,” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” among a host of others.

Then there are songs from the fabulous Supremes who ruled Motown until the Temptations climbed to the top and are part of this show. “Baby Love,” “Can’t See About Me” and “You Can’t Hurry Love”—all in a marvelous medley are performed. And one of my personal favorites, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” where both the Supremes and the Temptations team up, is simply wonderful.

Acknowledged as the best-selling R&B group of all time, the Temptations can boast four Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles and fourteen R&B number-one singles among forty-two Top 10 hits. They earned three Grammy Awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award while six of the members had been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But for these irresistible treasures to be effectively brought to life you have to have a powerful cast and ensemble as well as a strong orchestra to deliver them. In Ain’t Too Proud, there is that.  The talent level among the cast, especially the lead performers, is off the charts. The blending of disparate vocal registers is amazingly pure; the harmonies are perfect. It is tantamount to listening to the actual record.

And the dancing that goes along with the songs is beyond amazing. Yes, Trujillo’s meticulous choreography is worthy of the Tony. But the cast performing those numbers—each with a separate set of moves—is eye-popping. Even more polished than the actual Temptations, the cast executes these slick steps all in synch with an abundance of smoothness, rhythm, spins and when called upon, splits.

"The talent level among the cast, especially the lead performers, is off the charts."

However, Ain’t Too Proud is not just a concert although it feels like one. As many jukebox musicals do, the songs are woven together with a story, a bio of the subjects. In some cases that plot is secondary to the music and audiences eagerly anticipate the next song to be performed. 

The story of the Temptations is as integral to the production as the music, and Morisseau’s storytelling is superb. The scenes where the Temptations’ journey is depicted are short enough to keep the music flowing, and in doing so, maintains a high level of energy during the course of the production.

The principal narrator is Otis Williams, a co-founder of what eventually became the Temptations. Played magnificently by Marcus Paul James, not only his singing prowess is on display throughout, but his acting skills shine as he expertly takes the audience on a journey with all its highs and lows. The cornucopia of emotions—melancholy, anger, regret, worry, joy, celebration—are all on display effectively captured in Morisseau’s book and portrayed so expertly by Mr. James and the other cast members.   

Through dialogue and song, this journey chronicles the formation of the group in 1960 Detroit whereby the members navigate crime, drugs, poverty and fall in and out of love. At first there is a great amount of cohesion and camaraderie as their fame begins to increase. Then there is the ensuing friction caused by bouts of alcoholism, drugs, and unreliability.  Many of these episodes take place with the civil rights struggles and the turmoil that ensued as the backdrop with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King becoming the punctuation mark.

While their musical and financial successes mount during the 60’s and 70’s, jealousy and suspicion of each other and the contract the group signed with Motown and in particular its mogul Berry Gordy begin to seep in. Members leave, others like Al Bryant and David Ruffin who in his case allowed success to get to his head are kicked out.

Others replace them; the Temptations amount to a revolving door and ultimately becomes a franchise of sorts, a brand, and not a singular group like the Rolling Stones who essentially stayed intact for over a half century. Later, as the original members pass away, Otis Williams had to endure the ultimate loss. It’s a moving story that is realistically portrayed by a skilled group of performers.

Besides Mr. James, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes, Jr. as Melvin “Blue” Franklin with his intoxicating bass voice, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin, and Harris Matthew as Dennis Edwards excel in their roles as members of the Temptations. Their vocals, dancing and acting are stellar.

Other members of the cast deserve praise as well. Brett Michael Lockley as Al Bryant, Shayla Brielle G. as Mama Rose and Florence Ballard, Traci Elaine Lee as Johnnie Mae and Mary Wilson, Michael Andreaus as Berry Gordy, Najah Hetsberger as Otis’ wife Josephine, Lawrence Dandridge as Smokey Robinson, Deri’ Andra Tucker as Diana Ross, and Joshua Morgan as the group’s manager Shelly Berger.

The remainder of the talented cast and ensemble as well as the orchestra that is co-conducted by Darryl G. Ivey and Jonathan “Smitti” Smith add to the quality of the production.

Robert Brill’s basic scenic design allowed for Peter Nigrini’s projections to depict the cities and venues where the Temptations were touring to provide context to the performances. A conveyor belt worked feverishly to bring all kinds of set pieces and props on stage. Howell Binkley’s lighting design is exceptional and created simulated theatre marquees that brightened the stage and created added visual energy to the production.

Costume Designer Paul Tazewell attired the cast in slick period costumes, particularly the dazzling, colorful suits worn by the Temptations and the gorgeous gowns donned by the Supremes. It is no surprise that the costumes are so magnificent given that Tazewell had won a Tony for costume design for Hamilton.

In all, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations is a thoroughly entertaining experience whether or not you recall the Temptations first-hand. The production features an uber-talented cast that acts proficiently while performing wonderfully memorable songs along the way. If you want to see the show in Baltimore, hurry to get tickets because the show will shuffle off to Buffalo next.

Running time. Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: The show contains profanity and adult situations and is not recommended for young children.

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations runs through May 8 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit Ticketmaster or the Baltimore Hippodrome.

Photos by Emilio Madrid



Sunday, May 01, 2022

A Sign of the Times

Neighbors, clergy, allies stepped up to support LLUMC in replacing stolen welcoming sign.

Photo courtesy of LLUMC
Just two months after a welcoming sign at Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church on Route 108 in Clarksville, Md. was chopped down and stolen from the property, a new replacement sign was installed. The new sign is almost identical to the stolen one, and its supports have been made sturdier.  

On a background of rainbow colors, the sign reads “Ever One Is Welcome Here” with a heart at the bottom. The LLUMC emphasizes that the message of welcoming applies to a broad population that includes among other groups, the disabled, immigrants as well as the LGBTQ+ community.

The vandalism and theft, which was first chronicled in this space and reported on the Clarksville Happenings group page on Facebook, led many people in the community to offer support both financially and spiritually to help the church replace the sign.

Undeterred by a steady rain on May 1, Pastor Gayle Annis-Forder moved what would have been an outside ceremony marking the replacement of the new sign to the church’s multi-purpose room to celebrate the event. Members of the church’s council, congregation and community attended. She reiterated the message that everyone is welcome including those who stole the sign. “Love is better,” she said.

Pastor Gayle expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support during this period. She thanked various representatives from local religious organizations and individuals within the community as well as County Executive Calvin Ball.  Pastor Gayle read statements from Rabbi Susan Grossman of the Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, Md. and Rev. Paige Getty of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia in support of the LLUMC.

Said Richard A. Smith, Church Council Chair of LLMUC: 

"An act of vandalism, at a minimum, or more likely a targeted message of hate, the cutting down of this sign prompted an outpouring of support and love within this community. I for one, cannot thank enough those who have expressed support and graciously provided the funding for its replacement.

"There are not enough hours in the day to provide the context behind this sign. Although various groups who are being singled out and persecuted in numerous ways in today’s society is heartbreakingly too many, the LGBTQ holds community a unique place currently in the United Methodist Church (UMC)."

Though the sign had been vandalized last year, Pastor Gayle was surprised that the sign had been destroyed and removed in late February of this year. “Driving to the church the following morning, I had to do a double-take in noticing the sign was no longer there,” she said.

The church received donations from the community to help pay for the costs associated with replacing the sign. Pastor Gayle especially was appreciative of the owners of the Red Bird Bar and Grille in Glenelg, who held a fundraiser just days after the incident that raised $1,000 for the church.

Pastor Gayle explained that the church is still accepting donations to help with security and other expenses incurred by the incident. 

Pastor Gayle addressing the audience



Monday, April 25, 2022

Out on the Trail

Felix Facchine is the only out LGBTQ+ candidate for Howard Co. Democratic Central Committee.

On a gorgeous April weekend, Felix Facchine did what many candidates for elected office do three months away from the primary. He knocked on doors, in this case through North Laurel and Columbia, Md.; phoned friends and associates asking them to chip in for his campaign; made appearances and mingled among folks at neighborhood festivals and events; and worked on his social media to help spread the word.

But Felix is no ordinary candidate. There are two aspects of his campaign for a seat on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee that adds uniqueness to Felix’s quest: he is not part of either of the two competing registered slates of candidates that encompass 40 of the 45 in the field, and he is the only openly LGBTQ+ candidate in the race.

The top 10 male vote getters and the top 10 females earn seats on the Central Committee. 

I contacted a representative from each slate and confirmed that no out LGBTQ+ person is on their respective slate, and I confirmed the status of four of the remaining five who are unaffiliated. Unless that one raises his hand to say he is openly LGBTQ+, Felix is the only one running.

Felix Facchine chose to run independently and not be part of a slate of candidates. “I set the vision for my campaign in February, and decided at that time to run an independent, grassroots race for Central Committee.”

He explains, “The Central Committee is the elected leadership of our Democratic Party in Howard County and is responsible for growing our party, engaging with voters, and electing Democrats up and down the ballot. I am running for Central Committee to build on this important work and help lead our party into the future.”

By being LGBTQ+ Felix Facchine believes he can serve as an important voice on the Central Committee.

“One of the reasons that I’m running is that representation is important. I am proud to be an openly gay candidate for Central Committee, and I am committed to including and uplifting the voices of Howard County residents who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community,” he points out.

“As a Central Committee, it is essential that we amplify all voices in our community and actively work to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. Our Democratic Central Committee should reflect the diversity of identities, backgrounds, and experiences of our county, including LGBTQ+ voices.”

He adds, “As a Central Committee member, I will also center LGBTQ+ issues in our community. While Howard County has some of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the country, there are still many areas where we must do more to protect and support our neighbors. Just recently, there have been concerted efforts to ban LGBTQ+ books from the library shelves in our public school system. These efforts have been rooted in harmful rhetoric about the LGBTQ+ community that seek to spread fear and misinformation. As a Democratic Party, we have a responsibility to stand firmly against these efforts that seek to divide our community and sow fear.”

Felix Facchine with Rep. Jamie Raskin

He sees a broader role for the Central Committee as it relates to the community. “I would also like to see the Central Committee continue to partner with local LGBTQ+ organizations to support, uplift, and celebrate our LGBTQ+ neighbors,” Felix says. “We are a vibrant and growing county where everyone should feel welcomed, included, and able to live their authentic and best lives.”

In 2018 openly gay Bob Ford who had served on the committee was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election. He believed then and does now that representation matters, and for the past 4 years he notes there was no openly LGBTQ+ person on the committee.

“Despite the important gains stemming from marriage quality and gender identity protections, so much work remains to combat bullying in our schools including cyber bullying, fighting discrimination in the foster care and juvenile justice systems and homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth, to name a few. These tend to impact transgender individuals the most,” Ford said.

“It is imperative that there is a voice on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee to represent our LGBTQ+ citizens.” He adds, “While I have no doubt that most of the other Central Committee candidates support LGBTQ+ rights, being actually LGBTQ+ and having lived through the journey of coming out and dealing with issues that directly affect the LGBTQ+ population makes such a person uniquely qualified to represent and promote LGBTQ+ interests.”

"Our Democratic Central Committee should reflect the diversity of identities, backgrounds, and experiences of our county, including LGBTQ+ voices."

Says Byron Macfarlane, the county’s Register of Wills and the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to office in Howard County and who happened to have been a member of the Central Committee, “As a key constituency of the Democratic Party, having LGBTQ+ representation on our central committees and in every level of elected officials is a matter of basic fairness and social justice. We have a large and growing queer population in Howard County and having us represented matters.”

Indeed, the LGBTQ+ community is an increasingly significant component of the Howard County and Maryland Democratic Party. To illustrate that point, when HoCo Pride took place in Centennial Park in June 2019—an event co-sponsored by the Howard County chapter of PFLAG and Howard County government—a crowd of approximately 10,000 attended, according to the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

By some estimates there are several thousand voters in Howard County who identify as LGBTQ+.  Adding in families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and allies, the LGBTQ+ community has emerged as a potent coalition within the party.

Felix Facchine, 24, is a lifelong Marylander and has called Howard County home for the past five years. He’s worked on numerous Democratic campaigns since 2015, including knocking over 10,000 doors during the 2018 election to help achieve record Democratic turnout in Howard County. Last year, Felix graduated from University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with a Master’s in Public Policy and has worked in county government since 2018. He lives in Columbia with his fiancé, Saad, and two cats.

“We love being part of this welcoming and inclusive community and are so glad to have made Howard County our home.”

He hopes that if you elect him to the Howard County Democratic Central Committee on July 19, he can help make the community even more welcoming and inclusive.

Given his work ethic, you will likely see Felix on the campaign trail in the coming months. 

To learn more about Felix Facchine’s campaign, you can follow him on social media at @Felix4HoCo and on Facebook.

If you wish to make a donation to his campaign to help spread the word around Howard County, you may visit here.



Saturday, April 09, 2022

Yo, ‘Rocky’ at Toby’s is a Fight to the Finish

I have to admit that when I saw Toby’s ad for Rocky that showed the legendary Toby Orenstein sporting boxing gloves surrounded by two boxing pugilists, I fantasized that she would climb in the ring during the show and swing away at an opponent. Alas, that was not the case and lucky for her potential opponent. But there are enough punches flying around the stage to make you feel you’re at the Oscars.

Indeed, Rocky, the musical version of the 1976 Oscar-winning film (Best Picture) with the same title has made its way to Toby’s Dinner Theatre. The musical iteration of Rocky features a score composed by Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. The book was penned by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone. The latter wrote the story for himself as he starred in the mega-hit.

From the outset I was concerned how the intimate in-the-round theater would do justice to a production that involves many set pieces and scene changes, not to mention a boxing ring. But as the creative team at Toby’s does time and time again, they come through with flying colors. I had the same apprehension about Toby’s putting on such spectacles like In the Heights, Fiddler on the Roof, Grease, Les Miserables, Newsies and a host of others. Someday I will finally learn that no show is too big for Toby’s.

Under the meticulous direction of Helen Hayes Award recipients, the aforementioned Ms. Orenstein and Mark Minnick, the production of Rocky with a talented cast and excellent staging lands a good punch.  

The familiar feel-good story that graced the screen back when Gerald Ford was president and spawned a zillion sequels centers on local club fighter and “enforcer” for a loan shark from South Philly, Rocky Balboa, known as “The Italian Stallion” in the ring. Not that educated and with no apparent career path in his late twenties, he struggles to find love as well as the confidence he needs to excel in boxing, the only thing he really knows.

"...the production of Rocky with a talented cast and excellent staging lands a good punch."

Rocky gets a proverbial kick in the rear by a retired and oft-injured boxer Mikey who hates to see the promising fighter waste his life. In trying to get a job as a sparring partner for Apollo Creed, the reigning heavyweight champion, Rocky receives an unbelievably lucky break when a boxing promoter convinces him to actually fight the champion and would stand to earn 150,000 smackeroos, win or lose. That’s about $750,000 in today’s money.

Initially, Rocky had doubts about it despite his winning against record against lesser opponents at the club. But enters Mikey who convinces him that through intense training he can be successful instead of being KO’d in the first minute of the first round. So, Rocky trains hard, real hard.  As a huge underdog, he winds up fighting Apollo Creed for the heavyweight championship, gets national attention in the process and finally achieves the confidence level he never had.

Rocky also finds his love along the way. Smitten with a pet shop saleswoman, Adrian, who sold him his two pet turtles, Rocky pursues her relentlessly on the encouragement of her mean brother Paulie. Shy and meek and also lacking in confidence, Adrian eventually falls for the diamond-in-the-rough.

Given the fact the Flaherty-Ahrens team wrote Ragtime and Once on This Island and Seussical winning multiple Tony and Grammy awards, I had expected more from them. The melodies of most of the songs are not memorable but the lyrics helped bring the story along. Nonetheless, there were pieces of “Gonna Fly Now” sprinkled around and “Eye Of The Tiger” during the Training Montage—both from the Rocky film to lend familiarity.

The songs were performed competently by the leads and ensemble, however, which matters most. They were well-supported by conductor Ross Scott Rawlings and his five-piece orchestra. Nathan Scavilla leads the orchestra on other performances.

Making his Toby’s debut, Clarksville’s own Patrick Gover is stellar as he is called on to carry much of the show on his broad shoulders while maintaining a commanding presence on the stage. Possessing rugged handsomeness and a well-trained physique, Mr. Gover plays the Fonz-like Stallone role to a tee.

Rocky’s thick Philly steak sub accent must be maintained throughout, and Mr. Gover delivers. He often approaches the edge but does not truly go over the top with his dialect. “Yo, Adrian,” you hear a lot.

Mr. Gover whose singing voice is as muscular as his frame, is quite adroit in maintaining that accent even while he belts out songs. His rendition of “Fight From The Heart” is one of his best where he demonstrates his ability to hold a long note. He also excels in “Keep On Standing.” Remember, Stallone never had to sing.

Mr. Gover as an actor is convincing in unearthing a soft spot from under his tough exterior.  Oozing with charisma and possessing a ton of charm, you can't help but root for him. 

His scenes with Adrian, played by Lydia Gifford who is also making her Toby’s debut, are tender and they both demonstrate solid onstage chemistry.

But it is a physical role and a demanding one at that.  During Rocky’s training sequences, the obviously fit Mr. Gover must jog around the stage, sprint across the stage and back, run up the iconic stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (talk about a set piece!), do a series of pull-ups, take whacks at various punching bags and a hanging side of beef, down three raw eggs and then box in the climactic action-packed 15-round bout. Whew! Mr. Gover pulls it all off like a true champion.

For her part, Ms. Gifford conveys the low-keyed Adrian well. However, when there are such disparate personalities, such as Rocky and Adrian performing opposite one another, duets can be a challenge. “The Flip Side” and “Happiness” come to mind as songs where Mr. Gover’s big voice tends to overpower Ms. Gifford’s in spots. She performs a lovely solo in the moving number “I’m Done.”

The always reliable Robert Biederman takes on the Burgess Meredith role of Mikey from the film version complete with stocking cap. He demonstrates his sincerity in pushing Rocky to reach new heights and helps train him for the big fight. Mr. Biederman performs well in his solo “In The Ring.”

Adam Grabau convincingly portrays Paulie Pennino, Adrian’s mean, often drunk brother. While he originally pushed Rocky hard to pursue Adrian, he later regretted it but eventually came around full circle. Mr. Grabau does a fine job in this rather complex role.

As Apollo Creed, Gerald Jordan is also on the mark. He takes the ring with flamboyance and fanfare following the introductions and executes the boxing sequences with Rocky flawlessly.

Other members of the talented cast contribute to this excellent production. They include Justin Calhoun who also serves as the fight choreographer, Ryan Sellers, Shane Lowry who is the referee in the main bout, the fight promoter David Bosley-Reynolds, the loan shark Shawn Kettering, TV announcer Jeffrey Shankle, Simone Brown, Janine Sunday, Kalen Robinson, MaryKate Brouillet, David James, Ryan Holmes, Anwar Thomas and Crystal Freeman.

A big round of applause goes to the creative team for the climactic title match. Using a portable boxing ring, the fight choreography by Justin Calhoun and the fight training by Title Boxing Club of Columbia, the battle between Rocky and Apollo comes off as authentic as can be. Both Mr. Gover and Mr. Jordan bobbed and weaved, ducked and punched in the ring realistically. They even drew “blood.”

Various methods are used to augment the scene, such as lighting blackouts to denote rounds not shown and slo-mo effects to focus on the blows landed.

Other techniques throughout the production are also meritorious. For example, hand-held cameras are employed during interviews and the fight introductions with images reflected on monitors on the walls around the theater. 

Credit David A. Hopkins for the imaginative scenic design, Lynn Joslin for the effective lighting design, Janine Sunday for the costumes especially the boxing garb, and Mark Smedley for his sound design that uses an echo effect from a hand mic to portray the introductions on a PA system. Well done, all.

It’s difficult to buy tickets to a championship title bout, let alone ringside seats. But at Toby’s the entire audience has ringside seats at a tiny fraction of the cost. And a delicious buffet is added on for more enjoyment.

Yo, come to this one and enjoy a round or two of the drink special, “The Italian Stallion” and 15 rounds of pure fun.

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

Rocky punches through June 5 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office 410-730-8311 or visiting here as well as Ticketmaster.

____

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Charming ‘Pretty Woman’ Graces the Hippodrome

If you liked the 1990 movie Pretty Woman starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, you will love the musical version that is making a brief stop at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a national tour. That extremely popular rom com grossed a cool $463 mil from a mere $14 million investment. Yikes!

This iteration features music and lyrics by Bryan Adams (“Summer of 1969” and “Everything I Do” among many others) and songwriting partner Jim Vallance, and a book by the legendary Garry Marshall and J. F. Lawton. The story and dialogue match the film nearly verbatim. And Gregg Barnes’ costume design is also tied directly to the film version.  

So, if it’s 1980’s nostalgia you are seeking, this will fit the bill. If you’re hoping for a fresh rendering that reflects a more contemporary treatise on gender and class stereotyping, you won’t find it here.

What you will find, however, is a gorgeous, vibrant production that is well paced under the meticulous direction and choreography of multiple Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell. It also features Adam Pascal as the male lead who played the role of Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman on Broadway, and you might recall his portraying the original Roger Davis in Rent for which he received a Tony nomination as well as other major credits.

The show presents a rather straight-line story that conjures up both Cinderella and Pygmalion. Wealthy businessman Edward Lewis meets plucky prostitute Vivian Ward on Hollywood Boulevard seeking directions to the posh Beverly Wilshire Hotel where he will be staying while he executes a lucrative business transaction. The tomboy Vivian convinces him to drive him there using his lawyer’s car since she is a big aficionado of cars.

From there, he procures her services, not for a sexual liaison, but as a companion, an escort so to speak, as he navigates the highbrow social functions of LA. It turns into a weeklong arrangement, and as this proceeds, Vivian recognizes the need to find her true self and worth and to improve her life. Meanwhile, Edward slowly transforms from a cold, rather heartless mogul with unlimited money to a softer soul with a heart that is ultimately unearthed. Needless to say, they fall for each other, and that journey forms the gist of the story.

"...a gorgeous, vibrant production..."

The success of Pretty Woman can be derived from a combination of a sweet romantic fairytale, a brilliantly aesthetic stage, and exceptional performances by the leads and ensemble.

There is a nice mixture of 80’s style up-tempo musical numbers and ballads throughout. Adams and Vallance’s score is sufficiently tuneful with the lyrics neatly augmenting the plot by exploring the characters’ feelings. Some of the songs are particularly entertaining, such as “Welcome to Hollywood,” a snappy dance number that opens the show and sets the mood, “Anywhere but Here,” “Something About Her,” “I Could Get Used to This,” “On a Night Like Tonight,” “Freedom” and “I Can’t Go Back,” just to name a few. The outstanding vocals by the cast and the excellent support by the six-piece orchestra conducted by Daniel Klintworth who offers 80’s style instrumentation enhance the musical experience.

As the attractive hooker Vivian, Olivia Valli is superb. The character is gritty and street-smart yet suffers from low self-esteem.  But Vivian seeks to improve her lot, and during the time she is employed as Edward’s “beck and call girl,” Vivian discovers she can indeed improve.

While Edward takes her around the social circuit and fits her into lovely outfits, she realizes she is out of this league and wants to make something of her life on her own. This is reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady.  Vivian talks about her dream of being Cinderella and being rescued by a prince. In the end, it is she who rescues him in an emotional fire escape-based conclusion.  

It is a rather complex role and Ms. Valli pulls it off splendidly. Her vocals shine in many of the show’s numbers including “Anywhere but Here,” “I Could Get Used to This,” “This is My Life” and the particularly moving “I Can’t Go Back.”

Adam Pascal is quite familiar with the role of Edward Lewis as stated earlier, he played it on Broadway. He competently and in a low-key manner portrays the cold, detached tycoon who made a bundle dismantling companies and selling them piece by piece. He doesn’t feel relationships are worth the trouble so his involvement with Vivian was more for display.

But as they get to know each other more in his penthouse at the Beverly Wilshire and the various parties and dinners, the chemistry begins to develop. Edward experiences a softening of his persona whereby he seeks connection and not live merely for the profit. In the end, he demonstrates he does indeed have a heart. His onstage chemistry with Vivian is excellent and critical to the success of the show.

Mr. Pascal’s vocals are masterful. Displaying a pitch-perfect tenor voice, he soars in “Something About Her” and “Freedom.”

On the night the show was reviewed, Michael Dalke moved from understudy to play both Happy Man, a street hustler selling maps to the stars’ homes on Hollywood Boulevard and Mr. Thompson, the manager of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. As a matter of fact, it seems that Mr. Dalke pops up everywhere including the orchestra pit. Normally, Kyle Taylor Parker plays the roles.

Mr. Thompson befriends Vivian and helps her to become less conspicuous as a prostitute. Kind and gentle, he forms a warm bond with her, acting as a kind of fairy godfather to her helping her fit in more with the folks that Edward surrounds himself with. This connection ultimately helps lead Vivian and Edward to their inevitable falling in love.

Mr. Dalke, a veritable scene stealer, was magnificent throughout and garnered the loudest ovation at curtain call. His singing is wonderful and is especially entertaining in “Welcome to Hollywood,” “Never Give Up on a Dream,” “On a Night Like Tonight” and “Don’t Forget to Dance.”  

Vivian’s best friend and roommate Kit De Luca is played deliciously by Jessica Crouch. Also a prostitute, Kit got Vivian involved with the profession. Supportive of Vivian and sporting an accent that is more New Jersey Turnpike than Hollywood Boulevard, Kit also has low self-esteem. She manages to turn her life around at the end by being admitted to the police academy. Ms. Crouch performs well in the funny production number “Rodeo Drive.”  

As Edward’s cutthroat attorney, Phillip Stuckey, Matthew Stocke plays the role convincingly. He is a close and longtime friend of Edward but is angry over Edward’s decision not to dismantle a shipyard company without his counsel and sexually assaults Vivian as a response. That company that Edward saves and becomes a partner is owned by David Morse who is played well by Alex Gibbs.

A shout-out goes to cute-as-a-button Trent Soyster who amusingly plays Giuluio, a bellboy from the hotel. His obvious dancing skills are on display in various forms while in that character and in the ensemble. Also noteworthy is Amma Osei as Violetta who showcases her spectacular mezzo-soprano vocals in the production number “You and I.”

The remainder of the cast and ensemble are excellent adding to the quality of the show.

David Rockwell’s scenic design is clever and functional. Using dropdown scenery and a multitude of set pieces, the scenes transform smoothly from one to another and the stage is pleasant to the eye.

Kenneth Posner and Phillip S. Rosenberg teamed up to present one of the best lighting designs I’ve seen. There had to be at least 50 shades of pastels splashing onto the stage denoting scene changes, time of day, mood changes, etc. It is a remarkable display that adds so much to the experience.

Pretty Woman is a marvelously entertaining production encompassing a sweet but familiar storyline, solid music, exceptional performances by a talented cast and a terrific crew. It is a must-see and yes, a version Roy Orbison’s iconic “Oh Pretty Woman” is eventually performed.

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

Pretty Woman: The Musical runs through April 10 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit Ticketmaster or the Baltimore Hippodrome.

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Photos by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

'Dear Evan Hansen' at the Hippodrome is Letter Perfect

It’s hard to imagine a musical can bring laughter when themes include mental health issues, social anxiety, isolation, lies, drug addiction, suicide and grieving, but Dear Evan Hansen, currently making a six-day stop at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a national tour, manages to pull it off. To be clear, the show is not entirely stocked with comedy; in fact, there are some heart-pounding dramatic moments within. But the balance makes for great entertainment as Steven Levenson’s book takes the audience on an emotional ride not often seen in musicals.

It is no surprise that Dear Evan Hansen captured six Tony Awards in 2017 and numerous other accolades, and the touring production does justice to the critically acclaimed Broadway production that starred Ben Platt.  The performances by the cast at the Hippodrome under the direction of Michael Greif are superb aided by a wonderful eight-piece orchestra directed by Garret Healey seated on the upper level of the stage and an awesome set.

Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony) is a timid and bullied 17-year-old high school senior suffering from social anxiety and a lack of self-esteem. He has a cast over a broken arm from falling from a tree, but how that happened is murky.  His father had left the family when Evan was 7 leaving his mother Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman) to make ends meet. However, she works during the day and attends paralegal school at night leaving Evan to himself much of the time. Heidi procures a therapist for Evan who assigns him the task of writing a letter to himself each day saying why this will be a good day in an effort to be positive.

Another outcast at school is Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo), drug addicted and hostile, who bullies Evan and knocks him down in the hallway. Connor’s parents Larry and Cynthia Murphy (John Hemphill and Claire Rankin) are wealthy and have a daughter Zoe (Stephanie La Rochelle) who happens to be Evan’s crush.

Evan pens this letter:

Dear Evan Hansen:

It turns out, this wasn’t an amazing day after all. This isn’t going to be an amazing week or an amazing year. Because… why would it be? 

Oh, I know. Because there’s Zoe. And all my hope is pinned on Zoe. Who I don’t even know and doesn’t know me. But maybe if I did. Maybe if I could just talk to her, then maybe… maybe nothing would be different at all. 

I wish that everything was different. I wish I was part of… something. I wish that anything I said… mattered, to anyone. I mean, face it: Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? 

Sincerely, your best and most dearest friend, 

Me

So central is this letter to the plot that fragments of it is projected on a screen on the stage virtually throughout the show.

After Connor signs Evan’s cast, he grabs the letter from the printer in the school’s computer lab despite Evan’s pleading and runs off with it in anger as he notices the reference to his sister. He puts it in his pocket.

A couple of days later, Connor commits suicide and this letter was found in the pocket. His distraught parents conclude that this letter was Connor’s suicide note and was surprised he had a friend, Evan Hansen, to whom he can share his deepest thoughts.

When Evan notices how the Murphy’s grief was mitigated by the notion that Connor actually had a friend and seeing that this may be an entrée into establishing a relationship with Zoe, Evan somewhat reluctantly plays along.  The revelation that Evan and Connor were good friends (especially when neither had any friends at all) came as a stunning surprise to Zoe, Heidi and fellow students.

A classmate, Alanna Beck (Ciara Alyse Harris), seeks to enhance her extracurricular activities by trying to promote this newly revealed friendship on social media as a way to honor Connor following his death. Jared Kleinman (Alessandro Costantini), a “family friend” of Evan helps perpetuate the ruse by creating and backdating emails between Connor and Evan and showing the Murphy’s.

What then transpires is how both families are impacted by the charade. This is especially true with Evan who attempts to come to terms with the dishonesty and weighing it against the fact Connor’s parents see their son in a new light and that Evan becomes unexpectedly popular.

With music and lyrics by Tony Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the score is solid.  They had teamed up for A Christmas Story among others as well as cinema hits The Greatest Showman and La La Land. Songs like “For Forever,” the show stopper “You Will Be Found” and “So Big/So Small” are exceptional. “Sincerely, Me” is the singular comical song, and it is hilarious.

In a tour de force, Stephen Christopher Anthony as Evan is simply magnificent. (The role will be played by Sam Primack on the Saturday matinee and Sunday evening performances.)

It’s a major challenge to replicate the work done by Ben Platt in the Broadway production but Mr. Anthony comes pretty close. His tenor voice is stunningly powerful, holds the notes proficiently and is able to reach the higher registers using falsetto. Mr. Anthony excels in all his numbers with “For Forever,” “If I Could Tell Her,” ‘You Will Be Found,” and “Words Fail” particularly outstanding.

"In a tour de force, Stephen Christopher Anthony as Evan is simply magnificent."

Yet, it is Mr. Anthony’s superb acting skills that form the core of the show’s success. In portraying the timid and self-doubting teenager, he convincingly plays the character with his fluttering speech, mannerisms, keeping his arms close to his body denoting his insecurity, and nervous giggles with nuance.

Onstage throughout most of the production, Mr. Anthony maintains these details with great success. His exchanges with Zoe, his mother and Connor’s parents are notable in how he is able to change the tone so fluidly depending on who he is interacting with. In short, he puts on an acting and vocal clinic.

As Heidi, Evan’s mother, Jessica E. Sherman, also turns in a stellar performance. She conveys the hardworking but oft absent mother to a tee. Also, surprised to learn of Evan’s friendship with Connor, her suspicions effectively come to the surface through her acting skills.

But it is her tender, tears-inducing solo “So Big/So Small” that is arguably one of the most heart-wrenching songs in musical theatre. In that song, which is performed near the end, Heidi reassures Evan that she will always be there for him despite his father’s abandonment. This is one of the show’s highlights.

As the ambitious, dramatic Alana, Ciara Alyse Harris does a splendid job in portraying Evan’s classmate and catalyst for Evan’s tribute to Connor. She does not have a solo number but she sings well in the group number “Disappear.”

The one comical role in the show belongs to Jared Kleinman played so well by Alessandro Costantini. Sex-obsessed and funny throughout, Jared is a co-conspirator in the ruse concerning Evan’s and Connor’s manufactured relationship. He sings well too, as he performs in the comical group number “Sincerely, Me.”

Stephanie La Rochelle does a fine as Zoe, Connor’s sister and Evan’s crush. Soft spoken, perhaps too much so, Zoe is the most suspicious of the Evan-Connor relationship. She hated her brother but became closer to Evan when she became convinced they were actually friends. Ms. La Rochelle sings well in the duet with Mr. Anthony in “If I Could Tell Her” and “Only Us.”

Claire Rankin is very effective portraying Cynthia Murphy, Connor’s and Zoe’s mother. Her family, while affluent, was never close, and Cynthia tries to keep them together. She was particularly moved by the emerging story that Connor and Evan were friends.

Both she and her husband Larry, played well by John Hemphill, begin to see Evan as a son following the revelations of the boys’ friendship even offering Evan college fund money that had been set aside for Connor. Mr. Hemphill performs a tender duet with Mr. Anthony “To Break in a Glove.”

Then there is Connor himself played by Nikhil Saboo. He makes brief appearances at the outset where he bullies Evan. Then in death, he appears in Evan’s conscience to guide and reassure him. Mr. Saboo appears in several numbers including a duet with Mr. Costantini in “Sincerely, Me.”

A creative and functional set designed by David Korins and projections designed by Peter Nigrini enhance the production. When a scene takes place in Evan’s room, the rear screen is filled with moving projected images of computer screens depicting the active world of cyberspace. Scenes transform seamlessly and smoothly from a simple kitchen table where Evan and Heidi have intimate talks to a school corridor to the Murphy house with windows projected on the screen. Japhy Weideman’s excellent lighting design adds to the strong visuals.

You can come to see Dear Evan Hansen for the music. You can come for the drama.  You can come for the magnificent performance by Stephen Christopher Anthony as well as the other cast members. You can come for the dynamic scenery. In any case, do come but hurry as tickets are limited. This is theatre at its best.

Running Time. Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory. The show contains profanity and adult situations and is not recommended for young children.

Dear Evan Hansen plays through March 20 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit here

Photos: Patrick Murphy

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Welcoming Sign Stolen From Church in Howard County

If you drive east on Route 108 just beyond the River Hill Village Center in the Clarksville area of Howard County, Md. you can’t miss the 3 ft. by 6 ft. sign in front of the Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church. That sign boldly proclaimed, “EVERY ONE IS WELCOME HERE” with rainbow-colored decorations on it.

Well, you will miss it now, at least for the time being.

Apparently, not everyone buys into the message of inclusion. Under the cover of darkness on the night of February 24, a person or persons used a chainsaw to cut through the substantial wooden posts supporting the sign adjacent to the church located at 12101 Linden Linthicum Lane and removed it.

Gayle Annis-Forder, pastor of the roughly 500-member congregation church promptly took to the Clarksville Happenings group on Facebook—one that typically includes member posts requesting information on contractors, babysitters, lost pets and the like—to explain that it was not the church that took down the familiar sign but someone else had done the deed. She pointed out that the sign had been defaced last June and despite its unauthorized removal this time, “LLUMC still believes what the sign said, that everyone is welcome here.”

A whopping total of 300 reactions appeared along with 150 comments all supporting Pastor Gayle and the church and denouncing the act of vandalism, which was reported the next morning to Howard County Police. Many believe this act should be investigated as a hate crime.

Bob Ford, a member of the Howard County Human Rights Commission, stressed the importance of reporting hate bias incidents to the police. “Even if a crime is not committed, being the victim of racial, religious, ethnic or sexual orientation and gender identity slurs should be reported to the police as hate bias incidents,” Ford explains. “Data must be compiled by law enforcement concerning these incidents so that measures can be implemented to reduce them in the future.”

In this matter, however, a crime was committed as private property was vandalized and removed.

“I’ve always loved that sign, big, bright, and right up front for all to see,” Charlotte Gammel Wojcik posted as an example of the type of comments displayed in response to the incident. “I’m sorry some jackass ruined it. I hope you’ll replace it because I believe many who saw it felt supported, even if they never entered the church.”

Another comment was posted by Howard County Councilwoman Deb Jung whose district currently includes LLUMC.

“There is no doubt in my mind that you and your congregation live the values represented by your beautiful and welcoming sign. Reading these comments warms my heart knowing there are so many in our community who will not allow this to stand. We will replace the sign and it is my hope that we can make the sign replacement an event that will allow us all to come together and celebrate our love for one another. Later, Jung told me, “It was a despicable act of hate and vandalism.”

Janssen Evelyn, who is opposing Jung in the Democratic primary in that district, weighed in as well.

“The fact that someone went there with a chainsaw meant that they were intentional in their hate. We must be more intentional than that individual in our resolve and in our love. As a community, we must not accept hate. This is our watch, and we must show that everyone is welcome in our community.”

Pastor Gayle points out that although the sign contained rainbow colors, the welcoming message is not exclusively aimed at members of the LGBTQ+ community. She noted that members of that community would recognize the color scheme and understand that they are welcome. The message is broader, however. “LLUMC welcomes everybody.”  

Indeed, the church’s Statement of Values and Inclusion on the website reflects that point.

“As followers of Jesus, we the people of Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church are committed to welcoming and loving everyone as he did, without regard to ability, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, family make-up or religion. We embrace the principles of love over hate, inclusion over bias, respect over prejudice, equality over bigotry, and caring for all. Therefore, we reject the targeted hate messages and exclusivist ideologies advocated by any group. Such messages are antithetical to the inclusive message of Jesus. We are committed to living out non-discriminating love in our lives, worship, study and service.”

Nonetheless, the LGBTQ+ community especially transgender kids have been under attack and would find this church a spiritual safe space for them and their family members to receive support. As an example of the assault on members of the community, Republican Senator from Florida, Rick Scott, laid out a widely panned agenda that says that there are only two genders, failing to acknowledge the reality of a gender identity spectrum. Moreover, Florida passed legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill whereby the subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be discussed in primary grade levels.

Recognizing these developments in Florida and Texas specifically, Becca Niburg, an immigration attorney and a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates from Howard County, issued the following statement:

“The sign referenced states that all are welcome across a rainbow background, specifically signaling inclusion to those in the LGBTQ community. Especially under the backdrop of the governor of Texas persecuting Trans kids, the removal of the sign signifies hate and division in our community and those who perpetrated the destructive act should be punished to the full extent of the law both criminally and civilly. I stand with the LGBTQ community and the Church, ready to assist and support.”

Adds Byron Macfarlane, the County’s Register of Wills and the first openly gay elected official in Howard County, “This is a reminder that Howard County isn’t immune to criminal acts of hate and intolerance. We have to reject hate in all its forms, call it out when we see it, and stand together. Our amazing rainbow LGBTQ+ community and our tremendous allies, including so many faith partners, must remain vigilant and undeterred as we build enduring relationships based on love and solidarity. These criminals can take down a sign, but they’ll never stop the march to true and lasting equality.”

Pastor Gayle has been moved by the support she has received from the community and by other faith leaders in Howard County. She indicated a new sign will be ordered and a celebration outside the church whereby community members can join in and observe the new welcoming sign is under consideration.

Photo of sign prior to the incident courtesy of LLUMC


UPDATE FROM PASTOR GAYLE, 3/6/2022:

After Easter (which is the 17th) We’re getting trees taken down on the 13th to give a sight line, and don’t have the cameras up yet. The sign is ready and we just need to get the site prepared. This is all a lot more steps than it seemed it would be. It’s all good, though. People continue to be lovely.

 


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Nostalgic ‘Summer’ at the Hippodrome

Looking for some Hot Stuff?  Heaven Knows you will Stomp Your Feet after they Dim All the Lights as Bad Girls will give you Unconditional Love singing songs you already heard On the Radio, and to be sure, it won’t be the Last Dance.

These favorites and lots more associated with the “Queen of Disco” Donna Summer come to life under the disco ball of Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre with the touring production of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical as part of its Broadway Series.

The Hippodrome had presented several exceptional jukebox musicals in the recent past including MammaMia!, Jersey Boys, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Rock of Ages, and The Bodyguard.  Summer is no exception with its incredible song catalogue, outstanding performers, and brilliant lighting design and effects that enhance the production.

The musical features a book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff and music and lyrics by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, Paul Jabara, and others. It is based on the life of Summer who was originally from Boston and began in a gospel choir before becoming arguably the most popular diva during the disco era of the seventies and early eighties. A whopping 42 of Donna Summer’s singles made it to the Billboard Hot 100 list with 14 finding its place in their Top 10. And in the period from 1975 to 1984, Summer had a Top 10 hit in each year.

Although Summer: The Donna Summer Musical received two Tony Award and three Drama League Award nominations in 2018, it had a brief stint on Broadway in which it closed after 289 performances. The show began its tour in 2019.  As evident by the warm reaction by Hippodrome audience, there continues to be a longing for disco music especially by those who were around then. The late Donna Summer along with the Bee Gees embodied that sound as much as any from the genre. 

"...incredible song catalogue, outstanding performers, and brilliant lighting design and effects..."

To be clear, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is not a concert though 23 of her songs are included in a tight 100-minute production under the meticulous direction of Lauren L. Sobon and the excellent five-piece band conducted by Erika R. Gamez. 

Summer’s hits are presented through a musical biography representing three stages of her life: Duckling Donna in her pre-teens, Disco Donna in her late teens and early 20’s, and climaxing with Diva Donna in her 50’s when she was on top of the proverbial disco ball. But the songs performed are not in chronological order of their release but rather tied to a particular event in Summer’s life.

Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines, Summer’s life’s story was a rollercoaster of highs and lows even with her incredible professional success.  Through dramatic dialogue and clever quips, we meet the folks who were part of that rollercoaster.

From her parents to producers, to studio execs, musicians, agents, lawyers, lovers, children and her husband, we get to know Donna Summer as the person behind the mic and what she endured through her journey that ended in 2012 at the age of 64 from lung cancer. Brittny Smith, who plays Diva Donna to perfection, characterizes Summer’s life aptly by confessing, “Sometimes I feel like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Other times I just feel like Judy Garland.”

Ms. Smith, armed with a glorious voice, also provides some narration and commentary as the story moves from one phase of Summer’s life to another. She is particularly strong in the memorable “I Feel Love” and the production numbers “Stamp Your Feet” and “MacArthur Park” as well as in several other group songs.

Also superb in her vocals is Charis Gullage as Disco Donna.  As the “Donna” during the height of her career, Ms. Gullage performs in the majority of the songs. Her voice is so good that she can cut an album without any worry. “Love to Love You Baby,” “Heaven Knows,” “Dim All the Lights” and “Hot Stuff” are examples where Ms. Gullage shines.

Amahri Edwards-Jones as young Duckling Donna ably solos in “On My Honor” and participates in several group numbers.

The 3 Donnas: Charis Gullage, Brittny Smith and Amahri Edwards-Jones
All three combine effectively for the dramatic “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” performed following a domestic violence incident experienced by Summer.

Other members of the cast include Robert Ayala, Emilee Theno, David Tanciar, Christopher Lewis, Aubrey Young (performs in “Dim All the Lights”), Francisco Risso, Porter Lee Anderson III, Meridien Terrell, Ciara Jones, Lamont Whitaker, Mia Davidson, Sy Chounchaisit, Layla Brent-Tomkins, and Lily Kren. As Summer’s husband Bruce Sudano, John Guaragna, performs well in “Heaven Knows” and “I Love You.” The talented Ensemble backs up the leads splendidly.

Adding vitality to the hue-rich production is the superb lighting designed by Russell A. Thompson, the fabulous costumes designed by Paul Tazewell and the wig and hair design by Brandon T. Miller. Also augmenting the production visuals is the neat projection screen designed by Chris McCleary containing myriad colorful images and graphics forming the backdrop to the set.

Folks who remember the disco era certainly will enjoy the music presented in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. For my part, as I listened to the wonderful performers bringing back those memories of the disco era, I tried to recall where I was when I first heard the song played on the radio or where I danced to the beats. I’m sure I was not alone.

This is a top-notch production that should not be missed even if you are too young to have worn bell bottoms, a groovy jumpsuit, go-go boots or had danced to the vibes from Donna Summer’s music.

Running time. One hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical plays through February 20 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or visit here.

Photos: Denise Trupe