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'School of Rock -The Musical:' Fun for the Entire Family

January 20, 2019

School of Rock -The Musical, book by Julien Fellowes with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater is now at the National Theatre and it is a fun night for the entire family.

The story is simple. Dewey played to perfection by the very talented Merritt David Janes is a wannabee rock star. He is broke and gets tossed out of the band he started and wants to win the Battle of the Bands a rock music competition. At the moment he is living with and mooching off his best friend Ned (Layne Roate) and Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Madison Micucci). Ned is also a wannabee rocker who has given it up to become a teacher and when a school calls to offer him a substitute job Dewey is the one who answers the phone and figures it’s a way to make some money and tells them he is Ned and agrees to take the job. So Dewey goes to the Horace Green, a private very chi-chi elementary school where parents spend $50,000 a year to send their spoiled kids and introduces himself as Ned to the Principal, Rosalie, played by the incredibly talented Lexie Dorsett Sharp. The rest of the story is about how Dewey gets the kids to be his rock band so they can enter the Battle of the Bands.

Mystic Inscho (Photo by: Evan Zimmerman-MurphyMade) Mystic Inscho

But the story is not what you are going to this show to see. What you are going to see and what will blow you away are the kids with their amazing talent. When the show opens there is taped announcement from Andrew Lloyd Weber who says, “If you are wondering if the kids in the show will be playing their own instruments the answer is YES!” It’s a good thing he says it because if he hadn’t you wouldn’t believe it. They are all so talented. Dewey works with his class and each student gets a designated role in the band including;  costume designer, back-up singer, bass guitarist, keyboard player, drummer, lead singer, and a band manager. Summer (Sami Bray) who Dewey gives the job of band manager to as she wants to be teacher’s pet and at first isn’t into the music quickly makes it clear to the audience she has great acting chops. 

There are so many other incredibly talented kids in the show I can’t mention them all but some who just stand out along with Sami are Cameron Trueblood an incredible drummer, Mystic Inscho a lead guitarist extraordinaire,  Grier Burke whose beautiful voice is perfect as the lead singer, and Theo Mitchell-Penner who is just amazing on keyboard. Remember all the kids appear to range in age from eight to twelve. What would be fun is to follow some of their careers, the ones who want to stay in the business, and see where they are ten years from now. Surely many of these kids are the stars of the future.

 Merritt David Janes, Lexie Dorsett Sharp (Photo by: Matt Murphy) Merritt David Janes, Lexie Dorsett Sharp

The play is directed by Laurence Connor who directed Les Misérables on Broadway and in the UK and choreographed by Joann M. Hunter. The music director, and this is all about the kids and the music, is the talented Martyn Axe.

So for a fun night in the theater great for all ages I would recommend getting a ticket to School of Rock -The Musical while it’s at the National through January 27th. 

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Human Rights Campaign Celebrates the New Congress

January 7, 2019

January 3, 2019 was a historic day. Nancy Pelosi regained the Speakership of the House of Representatives and more than 100 women took the oath of office in the House and twenty-three in the Senate. Progress is being made but there is still a long way to go. 

Within the new class being sworn in were members of the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, a Native American and the youngest African American woman ever elected. This is the most diverse Congress we have ever had and we must hope along with new representation will come some new ideas and the ability to move the nation forward. 

Mark Takano (D-CA) Chad Griffin, President, HRC (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Mark Takano (D-CA) Chad Griffin, President, HRC

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) invited members of Congress and their own supporters to a party to celebrate all the work they did to make this happen. HRC is the largest advocacy group for the LGBTQ+ community in the nation and while not everyone agrees with all they do or how they do it no one should question the success they had this past year. They do make a positive difference. 

While not all the new members of Congress attended many because of the scheduled late votes and others who were just exhausted from the excitement of the day, there was a good representation of the Congress there. Those attending included Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN); Members of the House Mark Takano (D-CA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) Donna Shalala (D-FL), and David Cicillline (D-RI). 

Among other elected officials seen in the crowd were Brian Sims state representative from Pennsylvania and Secretary of State – elect Katie Hobbs from Arizona. Chad Griffin outgoing President of HRC introduced the members of Congress who spoke for about two-minutes each, which might be a record for their shortest speeches. Mark Takano proudly reminded everyone he will shortly be referred to as Chairman Takano, as he will become Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, only the third openly gay Chair the first being Gerry Studds and the second being Barney Frank.

Surely celebrations like this show how far we have come in what is really a very short time. It was great to hear the Speaker of the House say from her podium the Equality Act is a priority for her. In today’s world of instant gratification it seems like it will have been a really long time in coming if it passes considering the first bill was introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-NY) in 1974, a member of Congress I had the honor of working for. But to understand the timeframes of moving equality forward and gaining progress we only have to look to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) first introduced in the 1920s which is still not ratified. 

It was a pleasure to chat for a few moments with Chad Griffin who will be moving on once HRC hires a new President. He is staying to make sure there will be a smooth transition and he can be justifiably proud of what HRC has accomplished during his tenure. They have grown exponentially and have set up offices around the nation. They have come through the most successful year ever when it comes to having a winning ratio of the candidates they supported. He leaves a great legacy to the person who follows him to build on. He said he chose to leave now to give his successor the chance to start what will be an exciting and important run-up to the 2020 elections. Chad will be missed but as he himself said no one is indispensable and there are many people out there who will be able to lead HRC and our community to new heights. 

Amy Nelson, June Crenshaw (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Amy Nelson, June Crenshaw

The real heroes in many ways at the celebration were the supporters of HRC who gave money and endless volunteer hours so the newly elected LGBTQ+ members of Congress and those members of the community who won other races across the nation could succeed. As Hillary Clinton wrote, “It takes a village”, and the village of the LGBTQ+ community is strong and vocal. We don’t always agree with each other, we fight with each other as every family does, but we do share one goal; full equality both politically and economically for all. I saw many of the staunchest supporters of HRC and fighters for our community there including Amy Nelson and June Crenshaw, Christofer Horta now working as an LA for Donna Shalala, Steve Clemons Washington Editor for the Atlantic, Lt. Brett Parsons of the DCMPD, and Aaron Tax of SAGE among so many others. They represent the true heroes of our community’s success. 

One only hopes there will be many more such celebrations in the future. This column first appeared in the Washington Blade.

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'The Panties, The Partner and the Profit'

December 23, 2018

The Panties, The Partner and the Profit is the latest collaboration between playwright David Ives and director Michael Kahn at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). It is the fifth and Michael, who is retiring from STC at the end of July, says it’s the final collaboration between him and David. Who knows maybe there could be a sixth if the incoming artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre, Simon Godwin, invites Michael back as a treat for Washington DC theater goers and gives David Ives a chance to redeem himself. 

Michael Kahn and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Michael Kahn and Tony Roach

I only say redeem himself because this play doesn’t seem quite as polished as their previous collaborations like the The Liar and Metromaniacs. Despite that there are plenty of laughs in the first two plays and the audience clearly enjoyed them but after the third play I left the theater feeling frustrated with the ending.   

In this play Ives takes on the works of German satirist Carl Sternheim and his series of plays on the Maske family. They were written as satires of the German middle class, tracing an arc from the Wilhelmine era up to the dawn of World War One. Ives takes these old plays and updates them and in his version, The Panties is set in Boston on July 4, 1950, The Partner is set in New York in 1987, during a pivotal time for Wall Street, and The Profit takes place in Malibu, tomorrow, and as Kahn has said, whatever that means.

Each of the three short plays, done without intermission, tells an individual story in farcical style but they are clearly woven together. But the point Ives seems to want to make at the end of the third play somehow gets lost. It’s as if he hasn’t quite figured out how to get his point across and has instead given the actors lines that seem to have them lecturing the audience. The last play has all six actors on stage together and it’s as if he struggled to find enough for each of them to say. I felt he could have cut fifteen minutes from the production and it would have gained something.  

Julia Coffey and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Julia Coffey and Tony Roach

But this production is more than worth a night in the theater because whatever shortcomings the play may have the talent of each of the actors is showcased brilliantly. They are uniformly superb. Michael Kahn, as he does with all the actors he directs, brings out the best in each of them. They each assume multiple roles in the plays and make each character they inhabit eminently watchable. It is impossible to single out one as the best. Kimberly Gilbert is great as Louise Mask at all ages, making her STC debut. Carson Elrod is incredible as Joseph Mask and he has been at STC before in The Comedy of Errors and The Heir Apparent.  Kevin Isola is wonderful as Benjamin Mandelshtam, and Julia Coffee shines as Sybil Rittenhouse; we saw her at STC in The Merchant of Venice and Pericles. Turna Mete is memorable as Milly Hamilton and finally Tony Roach is great in all his roles believably aging as William Hamilton and showing off his awesome physique as Jack Revere; he has appeared in seven productions at STC including two Ives plays, The Liar and Metromaniacs.

The wonderful sets are the work of Alexander Dodge and are on a turntable so the action can move from one play to the next seamlessly and the costumes are great and designed by Frank Lebovitz. The Panties, The Partner and The Profit is at the Shakespeare Theatre until January 6th. 

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