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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

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 fiancĂ©, 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.

UPDATE: The Columbia Democratic Club held a straw poll on May 21 of the 45 Central Committee candidates.  Felix was the top male vote-getter garnering over two-thirds of the vote and came in 2nd overall.

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.


Photos by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade