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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Love is Love: Marking 10 Years of Marriage Equality in Maryland

Beginning thirty minutes after midnight on January 1, 2013, seven same-sex couples were wed at Baltimore’s City Hall. The historic event represented the first time such couples were legally permitted to marry in the state of Maryland.

Then Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had been a fierce advocate for marriage equality during the referendum battle when 52.4% Marylanders voted “For” Question 6, opened the doors of City Hall to the nuptials.

“New Year's Day will have a new meaning for the hundreds - if not thousands - of couples who will finally have the right to marry the person they love,” said Rawlings-Blake in a statement prior to the event. “It is a remarkable achievement for Maryland, and we are excited to open City Hall to host some of the first wedding ceremonies in our great state. Newly married couples will stand before their friends and family to profess their love and commitment to each other. This is what we worked for, and I am looking forward to taking part in this historic and jubilant day.”

Many of the couples from all corners of the state who were eager to wed at the first opportunity had been in long-term relationships that have spanned ten, twenty, thirty years or more.  They had to endure society’s disapproval that was manifested at times by their government, in their families, neighborhoods, and in their workplaces while expressing a degree of commitment to each other that was no less equal or less valuable than that of legally married heterosexual couples.

Thus, when midnight approached on New Year’s Eve, members of couples—adorned in sharp suits or stunning gowns with colorful corsages and flashing smiles that could light up a small town—were ready to declare their love and commitment to their spouses-to-be as cheers and applause rang out. 

Those participating at the City Hall event were among the first same-sex couples in Maryland to wed.  A whole lot more did so the same that day and in the coming weeks, months and years.

The first couple on the list and the one that Rawlings-Blake officiated was Jim Scales and Bill Tasker.  Sadly, Jim Scales passed away on December 28, 2022, just a few days shy of the 10th anniversary after a long illness.

As I reported in the Washington Blade back then:

Jim Scales, a 40-year employee of Baltimore City and has been an office manager serving all mayors since William Donald Schaefer, and his partner Bill Tasker were the first to get married in City Hall at 12:30 a.m. on January 1. The couple who resides in Essex have been together for 35 years.  “We didn’t want to rush into this,” Scales said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.  They waited and waited until marriage for same-sex couples became legal in their home state. 

Tasker also showed off his sense of humor just prior to the ceremony.  “The difference between the early part of their relationship and now is that earlier we used to complete each other’s sentences.  Now we correct them.”

The idea of opening up City Hall originated by attorney [now a judge] Mark Scurti.  “I watched while Washington State and Maine celebrated marriage equality by holding weddings at city halls and courts immediately after the law went into effect and wondered what was being done in Maryland,” Scurti told the Blade.  “I inquired to a few friends of mine who work as Clerks in various county courts to find out if they were opening up at midnight; all replied no.”

Scurti reached out to a friend of his who was Mayor Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff to make the connection and inquire about the possibility.  After a few conversations with her current deputy chief of staff, they asked the mayor, and she was overjoyed with the opportunity to not only open up City Hall, but to participate in this historic event. 

Mayor Rawlings-Blake officiating the marriage ceremony
of Jim Scales and Bill Tasker

“Being a part of making marriage equality legal in Maryland since 1996 has been my motivation and drive to see that this historic date be celebrated through marriages immediately after the law goes into effect,” Scurti said.  

When marriage equality passed the referendum hurdle, Jim Scales asked the mayor to marry them.  There was no hesitation.

“I’m honored to marry Bill and Jim” the mayor said following the brief ceremony that also included a reading of a proclamation with Scurti at her side proclaiming January 1, 2013 “Marriage Equality Day. “They’re a great couple.  It’s an emotional night, incredibly meaningful.  I’m so proud of Maryland that they chose marriage equality over hate.”

The other six couples who tied the knot at City Hall were: Brigitte Ronnett and Lisa Walther; Danielle Williams and Darcea Anthony; Jamie Kraft and Sarah Vickery; Tom Rabe and Robert Coffman; Ryan Wilson and Shehan Welihindha; and William L. Countryman, Jr. and Roy Allen Neal.

Similar ceremonies took place around the state with some occurring one minute after midnight.  Some took place in such locales as Annapolis, Tilghman Island, Howard County and Cumberland.   Havre de Grace City Councilman Joseph C. Smith married his fiancée Don Starr at the city’s Concord Point Lighthouse, complete with fireworks.

Though Jim Scales is no longer with his spouse Bill Tasker to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their legal marriage, the couple experienced the love and warmth that the many years of being together brought and enjoyed the benefits that legal marriage afforded them as they battled Jim’s illness over a long period of time.   

Winning the battle for marriage equality was the result of great effort and perseverance on the part of a multitude of individuals, elected officials and organizations. 

During these ten years, thousands of  same-sex couples in Maryland are finally receiving the same rights, recognition, benefits and responsibilities as other married couples, and that is worth celebrating.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Cabaret for December Holidays Sparkles at Olney

'The Most Wonderful Time of the Year' makes its world premiere.

When we use the expressions, “I’ll be home for the holidays” or “I’ll see you after the holidays,” we are pretty much thinking in general terms when referring to December. Well, according to the folks at the Olney Theatre Center, which is currently mounting an enjoyable musical revue, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, there are nearly a thousand religious, national and just plain fun holidays during December.

From left: Patricia Hurley, Kaiyla Gross, Nick Lehan and Jay Frisby

Of course, Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa are best known and celebrated worldwide, but there are others, such as National Cookie Cutter Day (December 1), National Mutt Day (December 2), and my favorite National Re-gifting Day (December 15), with December being Write a Friend Month and the more sobering World AIDS/HIV Awareness Month.

But in The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, which is making its world premiere, four talented performers focus on Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa, and for good measure they throw in Festivus, a fictional holiday that had been born from a Seinfeld episode.

Sharing the Olney campus with the groundbreaking Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Paul Morella’s brilliant one-man show A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas, this 75-minute cabaret at the 1938 Original Theatre amplifies the holiday spirit at Olney through song and comedy. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year brings out those aspects of the holidays that are common to all. Gatherings of family and friends, the presents, the movies, the food, the prayers, the singing and dancing, and the resulting memories demonstrate that people can and should celebrate all the holidays.

Under the direction of Kevin McAllister, who created this work, and the vocal arrangements and orchestration of Christopher Youstra with his 5-piece orchestra, the 4 talented performers in the revue—all who had previously starred on the Olney stage—display their versatility with solid comic timing and excellent vocals. Patricia Hurley (Elf, Mary Poppins) Kaiyla Gross (Miss You Like Hell), Nick Lehan (Pippin), and Jay Frisby (The Music Man), have the charisma and talent to make this holiday cabaret a joyful experience.

Through musical numbers and dialogue,  each one in the quartet takes a turn in guiding us through the holidays with the rest of the cast joining in. Some songs are solos while others are group numbers.

Patricia Hurley effectively leads the Christmas segment with some of her personal memories, with the group singing an assortment of popular songs including, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “The Christmas Song,” “Snow,” a humorous version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and “(There’s No Place Like) Home For the Holidays.” During this section amusing clips from a few old Christmas movies are projected on to a screen upstage.

In a shorter segment, Jay Frisby explains the origin of Festivus and what it means. Festivus as depicted on Seinfeld occurs on December 23 and includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the “airing of grievances” and “feats of strength” and the labeling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles.” Using his superb tenor voice, Mr. Frisby takes the lead in the song “Festivus (For the Rest of Us).” And then the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” is performed proving any song is a Festivus song.

"From the outset, this revue brings joy and fun..."

The foursome then embarks on identifying some of “the worst Christmas songs ever.” “Last Christmas,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Jingle Bell Rock” made the infamous cut. Personally, I like some of those songs, but what do I know?

Using a Kwanzaa Kinara, a candelabra, Kaiyla Gross, who also choreographed the show, does a splendid job of guiding the audience through the background of Kwanzaa and its meaning. She explains that this December holiday is for people of all religions and backgrounds.

Ms. Gross and the others perform “Kwanzaa-Umoja-Uhuru (Swahili) (First Fruits of the Harvest-Unity-Freedom),” “All Good Gifts” and “Stand By Me.”

Energetic and at times campy Nick Lehan presents the story behind Chanukah though he was raised Catholic but grew up in a Jewish community. In this segment, “Light One Candle” is performed followed by arguably the showstopper “Bohemian Chanukah,” a hilarious adaptation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Finally, in what is called the Epilogue, the group performs favorite standards, “Winter Wonderland,” “Let it Snow” and wraps it up with “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

From the outset, this revue brings joy and fun and allows the audience to reflect on what the spirit of the holiday season holds for each. Said program creator Kevin McAllister, “I truly believe that celebrating what makes communities unique is the perfect way to connect individuals from different backgrounds.”

These talented performers bring their own special skills, styles, personalities and lived experiences to the stage and enjoy themselves as much as the audience did. 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is cheerful entertainment during this holiday season that blends a mixture of laughter, warmth, nostalgia and reflection, and perhaps most importantly, coming together. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.   

Running time. One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year runs through December 31 at the 1938 Original Theatre at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832.

Regular Performances are Fridays - Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on December 28. Thursday at 1:30 p.m. on December 22. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on December 22 and 28. Friday at 1:30 p.m. on December 30. There are no performances on Saturday, December 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 25.

Tickets are available from $30 - 60 and can be purchased here or 301-924-3400. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, military and students.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Edgy ‘Jagged Little Pill’ Electrifies the Hippodrome

We may all have ideas as to what defines a perfect family. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. What would be the criteria? But we can probably agree that the Healy family depicted in Jagged Little Pill currently playing at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a national tour is far from a perfect family.

In an expertly staged and performed production under the direction of Diane Paulus, Jagged Little Pill peels back layers of vulnerabilities and flaws we all possess as humans and maps out the journey to correct and heal from the messy mistakes we all make.  

The edgy jukebox musical with music by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard, lyrics by Morissette, and book by Diablo Cody, with additional music by Michael Farrell and Guy Sigsworth, is not biographical, as in the case of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, which were recent touring offerings at the Hippodrome. Instead, it contains a fictional storyline enhanced by Morissette’s confessional and emotive lyrics and was adapted to the stage from Morissette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, one of the top 20 best selling albums of all time.

Much of Morrissett’s well-known songs are included in the production. “Hand in My Pocket,” “Ironic,” “Head Over Feet,” “Uninvited,” “Thank You,” ‘You Learn” and the lead single “You Oughta Know” are among those performed.

Admittedly, I was never a fan of alternative rock music so I wasn’t dialed into Morissette’s body of work that brought her seven Grammy Awards. Unlike other jukebox musicals where I was familiar with and loved the music, I was stepping into the unknown.  As a result, I was quite pleased with the songs with several being emotionally charged and overflowing with passion. They were adroitly slotted in the story, leading to a moving theatrical experience.

With the extraordinary set designed by Riccardo Hernández, the brilliant Lighting Design by Justin Townsend, the grunge-like costumes by Emily Rebholz, Tom Kitt’s potent orchestration, and the stellar performances by the overwhelmingly young and energetic cast, you get a HAIR meets RENT vibe with the atmospherics and the types of issues explored.

Jagged Little Pill, which was nominated for a record fifteen Tony Awards in 2020 and winning two including Best Book of a Musical, aims a spotlight on such sensitive matters as drug addiction, rape, racism, sexuality, privilege and teenage angst.  The Healy family and the other characters in the cast provide the vehicle to navigate the pain these issues bring upon them.

Set in a Connecticut suburb, Mary Jane “MJ” Healy (played exceptionally by Heidi Blickenstaff in reprising her original Broadway role) is the central character. As the mother of two teenagers, and a controlling one at that, MJ attempts to be the force to keep the family on track so as to not sully the family’s (meaning her) reputation. She is recovering from an auto accident and is on prescription drugs to cope with the pain. When the prescriptions run out, she resorts to alternative means of acquiring the opiates to satisfy her addiction. MJ had also suffered another traumatic experience that is revealed later in the show.

Jade McLeod as Jo (l.) and Lauren Chanel as Frankie

This addiction is unknown to her husband Steve (played by Chris Hoch). An attorney who spends way too much time at work to provide for the family, Steve has noticed the widening gulf between him and MJ and is at a loss to understand why the intimacy has all but vanished. He turns to porn as a means to satisfy his needs, and they both seek help from a marriage counselor.

Adopted daughter Frankie (played by Lauren Chanel) has her own set of problems. She is a Black teenager in a mainly white world at home, at school and in her neighborhood. Frankie is trying to find her voice, identity and sexuality.

She’s had an interest in her long-time friend and gender non-conforming Jo (played by Jade McLeod) but also found an attraction to a boy Phoenix (Rishi Golani) and had a sexual encounter with him. Jo literally walks into the bedroom where this occurred and told Frankie’s parents.

Virtually throughout the show Frankie is clad in tight, short shorts mainly because her parents disapprove of her attire and this is probably a manifestation of rebellion.

For his part, son and older brother Nick (Dillon Klena) is burdened by the pressure of being the only member of the clan who has a chance of normalcy so more is expected of him. Being accepted in Harvard is great but he, too, has a difficult challenge. He witnessed a rape of a student named Bella (Allison Sheppard) by his friend Andrew (Jason Goldston) but never intervened.

Through powerful dialogue and song, the problems of this modern-day family are worked through. Although the subject matter is often dark and intense, there are enough comical moments tossed in to balance the emotions. Simply put, Jagged Little Pill is a dark comedy.

Aesthetically, the production is superb. Everything on the stage seems to be in perpetual motion. It is difficult to recall a show with so much movement of scenery, set pieces and projections—all executed flawlessly and smoothly—adding a high-tempo pace to the show. Throw in the stunning lighting and you have an eye-pleasing spectacle.

The basic set includes a geometric, angular frame resembling an outline of a house with set pieces moving in from upstage and across. Moveable large panels are used that are on an angle giving the entire set a “jagged” look, which is undoubtedly the intention. The orchestra is seated on top of a scaffold upstage.

As Mary Jane, Heidi Blickenstaff excels on all fronts. Her acting is skilled as she convincingly plays the distraught, desperate wife and mother trying to overcome her own weaknesses.  Her later overdose gives her an additional opportunity for Ms. Blickenstaff to burnish her acting skills.  The actress demonstrates her spectacular vocals in such numbers as “Smiling” and ‘Uninvited” as well as several group numbers.

Chris Hoch does a fine job as Steve. His ability to touchingly convey the frustration from a relationship slipping away is spot-on. He sings well in a few group numbers including “All I Really Want,” “So Unsexy,” and “Mary Jane” displaying a strong baritone voice.

Playing the part of Frankie is Lauren Chanel. She effectively conveys the anger and rebellious nature of this 16-year-old dealing with being an African American with her environment almost entirely consisting of white people.

Frankie is also bisexual. When she came out to her parents, they were stunned by the revelation. An argument ensued about her having sex with a boy and she ran away to New York, albeit temporarily. 

Frankie’s relationship with Jo is complicated by Jo’s desire to intimately be with her and the resulting jealousy of Phoenix that threatens their friendship.

Ms. Chanel’s vocals shine in “Ironic,” a duet with Rishi Golani as Phoenix and in “Unprodigal  Daughter.”

Handsome Dillon Klina plays Frankie’s older brother Nick. His acting is proficient especially when Nick confronts MJ regarding the rape he witnessed. She does not want him to report it because it would follow him forever and ruin his reputation. He deftly snaps back and told her it was her reputation she was trying to protect.

MJ tells Nick that he is the only thing she did right, and he reflects on that pressure with his solo “Perfect.”   

"Aesthetically, the production is superb."

One of the bright lights of this production is Jade McLeod, who superbly plays the gender non-conforming Jo.  Raised by a religious mother who tells them that they does not wear sufficiently feminine clothing and life is too hard as it is, Jo is confident and secure in their identity. They truly want an intimate relationship with Frankie but the latter’s bisexuality provides a barrier.

Jade McLeod’s vocals soar in “Hand in My Pocket,” a solo “Your House,” and the production’s show stopping number and best seller from the album “You Oughta Know.” The audience exploded with cheers at the conclusion of that song, which expresses Jo’s anger and passion.

As Bella, a withdrawn and hurt student, Allison Sheppard does a splendid job as the rape victim. She movingly expresses the frustration of not being believed and when MJ discloses that she had also been raped, she found no solace as MJ could not state when the pain would end. This was one of the most emotional scenes in the show.

Ms. Sheppard commands a mighty voice and  excels in “Predator” and “No.”

The remainder of the cast is excellent, notably Rishi Golan as Frankie’s boyfriend Phoenix and Jason Goldston as Andrew, a privileged student who committed the rape.

The youthful Ensemble is outstanding with their high-energy dancing that is choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaqui and wonderful vocals in performing in most of the numbers.

The song “Thank U” is yet another show stopper in which the cast and Ensemble perform.

In short, Little Jagged Pill is theatre at its best. It contains all the elements that make a musical so entertaining. Powerful messages on serious issues conveyed by Alanis Morissette’s stirring music and lyrics and performed by a talented cast give it an edgy feel and puts this show in the “don’t miss” category.

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

Jagged Little Pill runs through December 18 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 BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: MurphyMade

Friday, December 02, 2022

The Republicans’ Nazi Problem

By now, most of us have read or heard about the infamous pre-Thanksgiving dinner former president Donald Trump held with anti-Semite Kanye West (now named Ye) and also self-described anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and white nationalist scumbag Nick Fuentes. Following rather bad press from the dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Trump claimed (as he always does) that he didn’t know who Fuentes was at that time. Trump also denied knowing the identity of his sexual assault accusers, his pal Jeffrey Epstein, former KKK leader David Duke and a host of others who make him look bad in the public eye.

But he knows him now. Trump will never condemn somebody who praises him. This is part of his psychopathic narcissism. No matter what a person believes in or what he does, as long as he or she flatters Trump, nothing else matters.

Trump knew that Ye has been the author of a slew of anti-Semitic tropes and yet still agreed to sit down and break bread with this lunatic. This week, Ye tweeted an image of a swastika embedded inside the Star of David to burnish even further his anti-Semitic bona fides.

That earned him a mere 12-hour suspension from Twitter’s new chief Elon Musk, which is tantamount to a 2-minute hooking penalty. And for good measure, on the Alex Jones podcast or whatever the hell that platform is, Ye doubled down and praised Hitler for doing good things.

While outcries from Republican leaders and elected officials have mostly expressed opposition to anti-Semitism, few have lambasted Trump directly. To be clear, some have criticized his judgment for holding such a dinner confab. By judgment, they mean allowing media types to witness this event, which would embarrass and harm the party.

Chris Christie, a potential challenger against Trump in 2024 and a weathervane when it comes to all things Trump, was one of the early commenters.

“We have to stop the whispered concerns and veiled statements, and we have to stand up for the principles and the beliefs that our country and party were founded on. There is no place for antisemitism or white supremacists in the Republican Party and no place for anyone who gives people like Nick Fuentes the time of day. Donald Trump’s recent actions and history of poor judgment make him untenable as a candidate for our party.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed those sentiments days later but declined to point a finger at Trump by name.

He’s not alone. While the media continues to berate Trump for dining with Nazi sympathizers, few

Jew-hating and Trump-loving Nick Fuentes
Republicans have directly criticized Trump by name and none, as far as I know, disavowed him completely. Potential House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hasn’t figured out what to say. Boy, is he going to have a rough ride come January.

Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida seen by many as the heir apparent to Trump, has avoided the fracas so far. And that is deliberate.

Dan Eberhart, a long time GOP donor and Trump donor told Rolling Stone, “My understanding is that the DeSantis team doesn’t see upside in kicking off the fight with Trump this early, even if it may be inevitable. Wading into the Fuentes fiasco just isn’t worth it for them. The media will harpoon Trump without Team DeSantis lifting a finger.”

Such courage! My feeling is that if DeSantis can’t stand up to the twice-impeached, three-time loser, soon-to-be-indicted, disgraced ex-president, how will he stand up to Putin or Kim Jung-Un?

The answer is simple. Republicans still fear Trump but more broadly, his bigoted white supremacist base. They are under the illusion that they will win elections by keeping this shrinking group of racists and/or Nazi sympathizers in tow.

It’s not going to happen. Trump will or should be forever linked to hobnobbing with Nazis and Hitler admirers. Of course, this wasn't his first foray with Nazis. How can we forget "there are very fine people on both sides" line following the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville?

That hundreds of thousands of American servicemen lost their lives in the fight against Hitler and Nazism and preserve our freedoms will be etched in the minds of decent and genuinely patriotic Americans. 

Trump’s behavior and the Republicans’ tepid, cowardly response crosses a line that will or should permanently destroy the party of Trump.