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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Rainbow Road is Rather Winding

The road is long.

With a many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where.
Who knows 


These lyrics from the pop song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell and made famous by The Hollies, Neil Diamond and others metaphorically describe the events in LGBTQ Baltimore during the 20 years that Baltimore OUTloud has been existence. The twists and turns are seemingly endless. Along this road, which is alternately rough and smooth, are triumphs, defeats, jubilation, tragedies, courage and determination.

The birth of OUTloud itself was an unlikely development with its first publication occurring in May 2003.  It came about when the editor of Gay Life, the communication arm of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB), sought more independence in its content, and along with other investors launched a new company, Pride Media, Ltd., that published a newspaper, Baltimore OUTloud. A bunch of writers and staff who had been volunteering at Gay Life headed over to the nascent periodical.

The GLCCB and OUTloud had an uneasy co-existence at first. Some would characterize the situation as contentious. Over the years, however, there was a rapprochement, and both Gay Life and OUTloud co-existed peacefully for the betterment of the community.

In 2016, the road took another turn and a deal was struck between OUTloud and the GLCCB whereby Pride Media, Ltd. bought out Gay Life and in effect, merged providing space in OUTloud to publicize GLCCB events, such as Pride, and its programs.

The fact that these entities reached such a significant and collegial agreement after the early frosty relations marks one of the major turns in Baltimore’s rainbow road.

Politically, that rainbow road was fraught with speed bumps and potholes along the journey. Yet, it took us to some important destinations but by no means final. Marriage equality is a prime example.

When OUTloud first hit the streets on May 16, 2003, the legal recognition of same-sex couples was merely a pipe dream. The only article in the first issue that remotely touched on the subject was a lawsuit filed in federal court to strike down a Nebraska constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex relationship recognition.  Very few envisioned the legalization of same-sex marriage, not with all the conservative and religious opposition getting in the way.

As the years passed, momentum for achieving what was once considered impossible gained steam. With the work by key LGBTQ organizations, hundreds of dedicated individuals, elected officials and a society that was growing more amenable to fairness and equality, that pipe dream became a reality. Marylanders voted to support marriage equality, and the U.S. Supreme Court in effect made it legal in every state. And whoever thought that the Mayor of Baltimore, the Governor of Maryland and the President of the United States would all advocate for marriage equality?

Baltimore OUTloud was there every step of the way covering the setbacks and successes, which are intrinsic to any civil rights movement. A little less than 10 years after its first publication, OUTloud was present at Baltimore’s City Hall to chronicle the first same-sex weddings in Maryland. And that was followed up with a state law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity that survived heated and nonfactual rhetoric from opponents.

So the road seemed to have unbended with the surface appearing to be smooth. But another turn has been encountered: a sharp turn, which is making the journey more perilous.

The far right has seized upon queer-affirming books in school libraries, drag shows, pronoun usage, transgender athletes and a revived emphasis on parental control in education as a way to justify attacking the LGBTQ+ community. They have falsely accused LGBTQ+ people of “grooming” children and wrongly conflating drag queens with transgender individuals.

These ideas, which have been politically successful in many conservative areas, are threatening the LGBTQ+ communities and the gains we achieved, thus putting all of us at risk. In fact, hundreds of bills are before state legislatures (some already passed) that largely target transgender youth especially gender affirming care.

From the dim prospects of marriage quality to the celebratory same-sex weddings, to attacks on trans kids, to asserting drag shows more of a threat to children’s safety than guns, along with the condemnations of Pride events, the turn in the road is so sharp, it borders on being a u-turn.

Another turn occurred since publication day, which also could not have been predicted. Twenty years
ago, the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore, dubbed as the “gayborhood” because of the plethora of LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly bars, clubs, shops and restaurants concentrated in a small area, was a bustling place. On a given Saturday night, people were dining inside and outside the City Café. Lines of patrons were seen waiting for admission into the Club Hippo. Across the street, Grand Central was packed where you could hardly move. Leon’s, The Drinkery and Jay’s on Read attracted their own devotees.

Almost suddenly in 2015 when the Hippo actually closed its doors, the gayborhood began its descent. The ending of the 43 year-old mainstay of Mount Vernon—the largest dance club in the state that attracted visitors from all over the U.S. and beyond—signaled a turn that became irreversible. Grand Central, the next largest club in the area, was put on sale. While it tried to hang on as a viable alternative to the Hippo, a combination of factors led to its demise, not the least of it was the Covid pandemic. Jay’s on Read closed ostensibly for financial reasons. The effects of Covid claimed the City Café and the Mount Vernon Stable, which were popular eateries in the area. Flavor, the only lesbian bar in Mount Vernon, was also forced to close its doors.

Prior to these losses, the community center, which is now called the Pride Center of Maryland, had moved a mile or so northbound to be closer to a population that would benefit more from its programs. Not only did the Center leave the gayborhood but the annual Pride parades and block parties—a staple of the area every June—left with it.

Earlier, Lambda Rising, a well-known LGBTQ+ bookstore chain, went out of business succumbing to competition from online book retailers.

While other establishments have sprung up to serve the community, the identity of the gayborhood is not the same with all of these missing pieces gone. It just seems like a long time between May 2003 and now with so much happening, both good and bad.

But what remains constant despite the twisting rainbow road over 20 years is the fact that Baltimore OUTloud remains the only LGBTQ publication in Maryland.  It has weathered a precipitous decline in interest in print periodicals, the passing of its co-owner, the effects of the pandemic as well as financial challenges that all newspapers and magazines are facing.

Other publications have folded, among them and surprisingly, the City Paper. But here we are 20 years later: Baltimore OUTloud is still standing and poised to continue its coverage along that winding rainbow road that leads us to who knows where.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

‘SIX’ Reigns Supreme at the Hippodrome

Merely three days removed from the coronation of King Charles III, the Hippodrome raises the curtain on Six, a musical’s take on the six wives of Henry VIII, which is in the midst of a national tour.  I cannot say for sure if the events occurring during the marriage(s?) of Charles III will result in a musical five hundred years from now, but I can’t rule it out. And with his genetics, he could still be around to authorize it.

The production at the Hippodrome is electric—literally and figuratively—featuring six top-notch female performers as Henry’s wives and queens and an array of spectacular effects. Six is a blend of razzle, dazzle, sizzle, energy, humor, sparkling costumes, attitude, and an abundance of fierceness not seen in most musicals.

Six is a British musical comedy in which the original Broadway production earned nine Tony Award nominations in 2020 capturing two. “Six: Live On Opening Night Broadway” debuted as Number 1 on the Billboard cast album charts and surpassed 6 million streams in its first month.

Under the direction of Jamie Armitage and Lucy Moss, the latter of whom co-wrote the book, music and lyrics with Toby Marlow, Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast.  Though the accuracy of the historical depiction has been questioned, the wives and their fates are true.

 “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.”

In a sort of a kvetch fest, Henry VIII’s six Tudor queens hold a modern pop concert to relate their gloomy stories of victimhood involving the king. They share the abuse they experienced under Henry: the misogyny, the infidelity and the brutality. The lead singer will have been determined in a contest by who suffered the most while being Henry’s wife.

To be sure, each wife had her miseries—some even lost their heads—but through song and witty dialogue they are hell bent on ridiculing the others in the pronouncements of their hardships. After all, it is a competition.

Ultimately, they decide to scuttle the notion that their legacy is so tied to one man and instead agree to re-write their own stories that celebrate womanhood, modern-day girl power and a poke in the eye of “patriarchal structure” for good measure. They do not want to be known as simply one of Henry’s wives.

All of the performers demonstrate exceptional mezzo-soprano vocals, comedic timing and dance moves that are choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Each queen has her own unique story to tell and each is linked to a musical genre and a contemporary pop star or a combination of several as Marlow and Moss created composites of these stars as inspiration or “Queenspiration” for the characters.

Catherine of Aragon (played by Gerianne Pérez) is Henry’s first and longest wed wife. Despite her being loyal, Henry divorced her as he chased what turned out to be his second wife, Anne Bolyeyn. Ms. Pérez is a commanding figure who would be a combination of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Jennifer Hudson in her solo “No Way.”

Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast. 

For her part, Anne Boleyn (Zan Berube) tried to deal with Henry’s infidelity by making him jealous by flirting with others. That strategy backfired as she lost her head as a result.  She nails the comic relief aspect of the show as she constantly reminds the other wives that nothing could be worse than having her head chopped off. Ms. Berube brings Miley Cyrus. Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne to mind with her rendition of “Don’t Lose Your Head.”

Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour (Amina Faye), claims she was most loved by Henry but under the condition she bears a male child. She died after giving birth to Prince Edward. Ms. Faye’s astoundingly moving torch song “Heart of Stone” channels Adele’s “Hello.”

Terica Marie plays Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. She brings Nicki Minaj and Rihanna into the fold with “Get Down,” a danceable rap song about her post-divorce life.

Wife number five is Katherine Howard (Aline Mayagoitia), a self-confident though abused young woman by those in power over her who also wound up headless. She is excellent in the upbeat “All You Wanna Do” that would make Ariana Grande and Britney Spears proud.

The sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr (Sydney Parra), had multiple marriages of her own with Henry being the third of four. Parr was remembered for “surviving.” She pushes most of the feminist themes throughout and her wonderful rendition of “I Don’t Need Your Love” is inspired by Alicia Keys Emeli Sandé.

The rollicking finale “Six” performed by The Queens is a celebration of each other and themselves and puts the exclamation point on a terrific show.

Three cheers to the technical crews from the tour and the Hippodrome Theatre for transforming the elegant stage to a powerhouse concert venue. Tim Deiling’s lighting design is beyond fantastic as is Paul Gatehouse’s sound design.  Emma Bailey’s set is simple enough with nine illuminated cathedral-like arches as the basic scenery. Thus, when combined with the brilliant lighting effects, the stage becomes a stadium concert spectacle. The boisterous cheering from the audience clearly adds to that ambience.

The orchestra under the music direction of Lena Gabrielle was every bit a concert band mounted on a platform upstage providing exceptional backup to the vocalists. The rich score includes some soul, hip-hop and house music that carries the witty and descriptive lyrics. Even a heart-wrenching torch song is part of the catalogue.

Imaginative colorful, glittering costumes designed by Gabriella Slade bring additional sparkle to the production.  They feature gleaming, sexy metallic attire with boots and crowns as each of the queens are attired in a distinctive color and style that give off a Spice Girls vibe.

Six packs all the elements of scintillating theatre in its performances, music and technical prowess into a tight, fast-paced, highly entertaining 80 minutes. Its message of independence, pride and feminism and support for one another resonates.

I don’t know if Charles III ever saw Six but if he had, I’m sure he will be mindful of his legacy and not follow the path of Henry VIII. It won’t be pretty.

Running Time. One hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

Six runs through May 14 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: Joan Marcus