Community Palette

'If/Then' at the National Theater

November 20, 2013

I went to see If/Then at the National Theater and did understand I was going to see a pre-Broadway try-out of a new musical. I left thinking spending $110 for the privilege seemed a little much. These pre-Broadway runs were something nearly all productions did when they would tour Boston then maybe D.C. or some other venues before heading to the Great White Way. But budgets have made that nearly impossible these days and the investments are so great that there is often the fear that the production will close to bad reviews even before it gets to Broadway.

I think the producers of If/Then made the right decision bringing the show to D.C. first. It clearly needs some work but there is a basic structure and cast that can make it a hit. I think they can comfortably cut 15 or 20 minutes from the show. But there are great positives. Idina Menzel as Elizabeth, Beth or Liz (depending on which story line is happening at the time) is a brilliant singer. I remember her best as Maureen in Rent and she has lost none of her luster. She can still belt out a song with the best of them. Near the end of the last act her solo, Starting Over, (think that is the name of the song as one of the problems with this show is there is no one standout song that you hum on the way out of the theater) is a tour-de-force. Actually I thought the show should have ended after she sang that number. LaChanze   who most will remember for her Tony award winning performance in The Color Purple is great both as an actress and singer. Anthony Rapp as Lucas and James Snyder as Josh do themselves proud. Every time Rapp was onstage singing I did keep thinking of him with affection as the character he played in Rent.

The concept of the different story lines is good. The idea of people thinking about what their life would have been IF they had only made different choices in their careers or personal life THEN the world would look so different is universal. We all do that. The problem here is that they move so fast and somehow it takes a few minutes to adjust to the new story line and the show has moved on a little by the time you do. I think they could tighten this up with a little different lighting and movement. The set is generally wonderful. There is scaffolding galore reminiscent of the Next to Normal set and also of Rent and they have original ways of using it. But the use of reflecting glass that shows the set from above during some scenes just doesn’t have an apparent purpose. Then there is the dancing and while trying to focus on some of the individual dancers who seem great there is some dancing going on as background to songs that seems both not relevant and in some cases not even very good.

Again, I think there is a show here that will attract audiences. There is the universal theme and enough humor to entertain. One of the lines that got the most laughs was when Josh’s political leanings are referred to as neither Democratic nor Republican but rather he is an Independent. Someone then says that’s like being bi and suggests that he should just get over it and pick a side.

All in all the singing is great and the four lead actors are worth spending time with in the theater.

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The First Mayoral Event of the Season is History

November 14, 2013

Petitions to place your name on the April 1, 2014 primary ballot for Mayor were available to be picked up on Friday, November 8th and it took only five days for the DC Bar to hold the first mayoral debate of the season. There could easily be 100 more if past elections are any indication so if you missed this one there is still plenty of time to hear the candidates. There was a sell-out crowd at the Arent Fox auditorium and they needed an overflow room to accommodate everyone. A very nice snack and dessert buffet and drinks were provided after the debate.

Six candidates participated and most of the candidates looked familiar. The moderator and three media questioners were also familiar having done this often before. It may actually be appropriate for some of the debates to have citizen moderators and different questioners. Maybe someone from the blogosphere or even community leaders. That could change the tone of the questions. The familiar candidates were Councilmembers’ Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Orange and Tommy Wells. The new faces were Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets and Reta Jo Lewis, attorney, diplomat and businesswoman.

The elephant in the room was the unanswered question: will Vincent Gray toss his hat into the ring for a second term? It appeared that Wells thought so as he spent time attacking the Mayor even though he wasn’t there and came off appearing a little nasty based on the comments of the people sitting around me. The two who seemed most comfortable with their answers were Evans and Orange but then they have both gone through this before and lost. It seemed that Lewis was very nervous and Shallal hadn’t really prepared but then he only decided to run the day before. Bowser joined all the candidates in rolling off a string of platitudes in response to all the questions asked but she did speak of the ethics bill she stewarded through her committee. Evans spoke of legislation he is proud of including the Housing Trust fund. He reminded people that he has been on the Council for 22 years and whether that is a positive in the voters eyes remains to be seen. Wells spoke of his background as a social worker and his time on the school board before education reform. They all agreed that education, jobs and affordable housing were crucial issues to deal with in the next administration. But at this time none of them had concrete initiatives on what they would do differently about those issues than what is being done now. At one point Wells blamed the Gray administration for not being able to purchase the new streetcars on time and then added that the trains weren’t purchased on time either seeming to forget that Metro is not under the Mayor’s office and the Mayor can’t be held responsible for not ordering the trains.

They were asked if they would keep Chancellor Kaya Henderson and in answering the question they all talked about education initiatives and forgot to mention Henderson. Only Evans remembered at the end and said he would keep her. Evans was the only one to mention the ARTS and committed to continue his efforts to make DC the number one Arts city in the nation. Wells was the only one on the panel to tout his support for ending the pay-to-play politics in the District but did neglect to mention that the Mayor and his Attorney General submitted a bill to do just that which has languished in the Council for more than a year. Orange suggested it is time to end outside employment for all Councilmembers and touted his support of raising the minimum wage. Wells talked about the bill he has introduced to raise the minimum wage and all the candidates agreed they were for raising the minimum wage in the District.

All in all it wasn’t a stellar performance by any of the candidates but then you couldn’t tell that by the emails that came out from their campaigns touting a big ‘win’ for their candidate. I think it is still early and the candidates will all get better at honing their answers to questions in 30-60 second sound bites as the debates continue.

I think the eventual winner will be the candidate who can tell voters what he/she thinks needs to be done and then how they intend to do it. How they will pay for the new initiatives they want to implement and what the impact that will be on all the voters of the District.

The reality is that the City is doing really well and yet we still have a whole set of problems that need to be dealt with. The next Mayor, whoever that is, is very lucky and will enter office with a balanced budget, triple A bond ratings and $1.5 billion dollars in a reserve fund. So the question on voters’ minds has to be where do we go from here?

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It’s Not Too Late to Give: AIDS Walk 2013

October 31, 2013

Start of the walk (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Start of the walk

AIDS Walk 2013 was a big success! More than 10,000 of people came together to raise more than $675,000 so far for HIV care at Whitman-Walker Health and 13 other organizations! Missed the Walk? You can still donate until Dec. 31! Walk the Walk until the end of the year!

This year’s AIDS Walk began at Freedom Plaza with a 5k run which kicked of just before the walk. Even thought it was a huge success there is never enough money to cover all the needs of those in the District with HIV/AIDS. The numbers are still staggering though we are making progress. The grand marshals for this year’s walk were Bob Williams and Mitchell Gold who have been so generous to many causes in the District and the program was mc’d by channel 4 co-anchor Eun Yang. Kicking off the walk as they have for so many years were Mayor Vincent Gray and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Standing with them behind the banner was the Executive Director of Whitman Walker Health Don Blanchon. It is Don who turned Whitman Walker around after years of running in the red to become a healthy and thriving organization that will be around for years to come to serve those in our community with HIV/AIDS and other healthcare needs.

Tom Sherwood and his ladies (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Tom Sherwood and his ladies

The Mayor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS has been working diligently to fight the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the District since Mayor Vincent Gray established it by executive order in March of 2011. But still 2.7 percent of the population of the District is living with HIV. This number is overwhelming when one considers that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines a general epidemic as 1 percent of the population.

Eleanor Holmes Norton (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Eleanor Holmes Norton

Last March the Mayor announced some accomplishments of the Commission in its first two years. They include having finalized the District’s HIV/AIDS Implementation Plan which consolidated outreach strategies into a single coordinated framework. The plan outlines the District’s vision for preventing new HIV infections, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes, reducing health disparities and achieving a more coordinated response in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The plan includes utilizing patient-centered medical homes to improve linkage to care, retention in treatment and viral suppression rates among people living with HIV. The effort aims to keep people in consistent, effective treatment through added social services support to their primary medical treatment plan. The commission has also developed productive partnerships with unions in a campaign to encourage the city’s workforce to get tested for HIV. Collaborations with local universities have been enhanced, assisting the District with HIV surveillance and program evaluation.

AIDSWalk walkers (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) AIDSWalk walkers

But the need for organizations like Whitman Walker Health continues to grow as not only new cases of HIV present but as people with HIV/AIDS are living longer and need continued care.

AIDS Walk is the single biggest fundraiser of the year for Whitman Walker and for many of the other organizations in the District that participate.  Please consider a donation to AIDS Walk today.

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