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Going ‘Greene’

Broadway star joins Gay Men’s Chorus for annual holiday extravaganza

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Red and Greene GMCW

Gay Men's Chorus of Washington presents "Red & Greene" (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It’s that time of the year again and the Gay Men’s Chorus is ringing in the holidays and the opening of its 2011-2012 season with its annual holiday concert. This year’s version is being dubbed “Red & Greene” and features special guest Ellen Greene, Broadway’s original Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors.”

“There’s nothing like a Jew who loves Christmas, by the way,” Greene says. “I’ve been known to have three Christmas trees … one for children in the front, one for the middle room where the piano was and then one in the back.”

Greene will be joined by pianist Christian Klikovits and Grammy Award-winning cellist Stephen Erdody. The three were in town last weekend for a dinner with the Chorus’s board, managing director David Jobin and a couple rehearsals with artistic director Jeff Buhrman and the whole chorus.

“David Jobin is such a spectacular producer,” Greene says. “We’ve been treated so well, everybody’s been lovely to us … this is my Christmas present.”

The show will include the full chorus singing holiday standards, including “Angels We Have Heard on High” and smaller ensembles having fun dancing and singing in full costumes.

“Christmas represents to me, theater, people, artists, and I mean artists acrossthe board … if you think, if you dream, if you create, you’re an artist … so Christmas represented … coming together as a family,” Greene says. “Anything that involves music and coming together feels holy and special and magical.”

Greene plans two dedications during the engagement — “Winter Song” for those who’ve died, and “Universal Child” for same-sex marriage rights and anti-bullying.

“My show is so depressing, that the reason I have to talk in between is I can make everyone laugh so I can sing another song,” she says.

This isn’t Greene’s first time singing with a chorus. Growing up, her whole family sang, earning them the nickname, “the singing Greenes” and she always had a big solo on holidays.

“I was singing with the cantor … and I got a 104 fever because I had tremendous stage fright … I don’t know why I picked this career,” Greene says. “My father … he says, ‘Let her sing.’ As soon as I sang, my temperature went down.”

Greene started her career as a nightclub singer in New York at Reno Sweeney, which is where she got all her shows. Her first starring role was in the Broadway bomb, “Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don’t You Ever Forget It)” in 1973.

“Dead? Hollywood? Dead? My whole life I’ve dreamed I’d finally get there. You mean I finally get there, it’s dead? Take away my dreams, you take away my mind,” she recited from the play that closed before it even opened.

Buhrman says the Chorus members are thrilled to have Greene join them.“We had the opportunity to rehearse with her last weekend and she’s just a wonderfully talented performer,” he says.

Greene and the Chorus will each perform their own selections but will also collaborate on three songs Klikovits arranged specifically for the occasion. About 225 men will be in the Chorus, a record for the group. There will be no second-half skit as in previous years, but there will be several theatrical elements including a pageant of showboys, dancing nuns and more.

Buhrman says Greene was on the Chorus’s “wish list” of celebrity guests. “We contacted her management team and made it happen,” he says.

It’s been a big year of collaboration for the Chorus. For its 30th anniversary concert earlier this year, another Broadway vet joined them — Jennifer Holliday.

Greene was performing in Central Park during the 1977 New York City blackout.

“I was on stage, about to sing my big number … and it went absolutely dark in the park … all of a sudden, I just started to sing … and the pianist started followingme. And I said, ‘If you just do what you always do, walk straight, you will not fall off the platform,” Greene says.

They finished the show with car headlights lighting the stage.

Greene is also active politically, working with various groups including GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) and more.

While working on the show “Pushing Daisies,” Bruce Cohen asked Greene to go to New Hampshire to campaign for Hillary Clinton with the “Lucky Charms.”

“She couldn’t be busier … she actually found my address and wrote me a letter,” Greene says. “I made [Klikovits] open the letter because I was shaking.”

Coming up, Greene is thinking of releasing a holiday album, rereleasing “In Her Eyes,” an album she made with Klikovits, and possibly a never-before-released album.

The Chorus will be giving four performances starting at 8 p.m. on Dec. 16. There will be two performances on Dec. 17 at 3 and 8 p.m. and a final performance on Dec. 18 at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $50 and can be purchased online at gmcw.org.

“I’m very excited to see all the dancing and singing and silliness … I know they’re going to take care of the fun part,” Greene says. “I’m excited to meet 225 men, I mean, it’s me and all those men, what’s bad about those odds?”

‘RED & GREENE’
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington With special guest Ellen Greene
Lisner Auditorium 730 21st Street, NW
Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. Dec. 17 at 3 and 8 p.m. Dec. 18 at 3 p.m.
$20-$50 gmcw.org

New book shares Chorus history

The holiday concert isn’t the only news about the Gay Men’s Chorus. Paula Bresnan Gibson has written a book, “Voices from a Chorus,” all about the group and its history.

The book is told through the perspective of a woman who served on the Chorus’s board of directors. It includes many interviews, including one with the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson, a longtime supporter of the Chorus and recipient of its highest award.

The interviews show how men have overcome challenges such as dealing with their sexual orientation, their families, friends, living with HIV/AIDS and more just by participating in the Chorus.

Gibson is scheduled to make appearances at American University on Feb. 10, Proud Bookstore in Rehoboth Beach on Feb. 11 and Day of the Book Festival in Kensington on April 22.

The book is available for purchase online at voicesfromachorus.com and in local bookstores, Politics & Prose, Kramerbooks, Trohv Home & Gift and Kensington Row Bookshop.

The Blade wrote an extensive story of the Chorus’s history upon its 30th anniversary in June. It’s here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

PHOTOS: Miss Glamour Girl

Maryland drag pageant held at McAvoy’s

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Miss Shantay is crowned Miss Glamour Girl 2023 at McAvoy's in Parkville, Md. on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Miss Glamour Girl 2023 Pageant was held at McAvoy’s in Parkville, Md. on Sunday, Oct. 1. Miss Shantay was crowned the winner and qualified to compete in the Miss Gay Maryland Pageant in November.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender

You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think

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‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
$29/304 pages

The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.

Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?

For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.

Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.

How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”

Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.

“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”

So why the debate about competition across gender lines?

First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.

What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”

Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.

Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.

As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.

But will this book make a difference?

Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Theater

An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón

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Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography) 

‘Evita’
Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.
$35–$134
Shakespearetheatre.org

When Eva Perón died of cancer at 33 in 1952, the people’s reaction was so intense that Argentina literally ran out of cut flowers. Mourners were forced to fly in stems from neighboring countries, explains out actor Caesar Samayoa. 

For Samayoa, playing President Perón to Shireen Pimental’s First Lady Eva in director Sammi Cannold’s exciting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a dream fulfilled. 

As a Guatemalan-American kid, he had a foot in two worlds. Samayoa lived and went to school in suburban Emerson, N.J. But he spent evenings working at his parents’ botanica in Spanish Harlem. 

During the drives back and forth in the family station wagon, he remembers listening to “Evita” on his cassette player: “It’s the first cast album I remember really hearing and understanding. I longed to be in the show.”

As an undergrad, he transferred from Bucknell University where he studied Japanese international relations to a drama major at Ithica College. His first professional gig was in 1997 playing Juliet in Joe Calarco’s off-Broadway “Shakespeare’s R&J.” Lots of Broadway work followed including “Sister Act,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” and most significantly, Samayoa says, “Come From Away,” a musical telling of the true story of airline passengers stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. He played Kevin J. (one half of a gay couple) and Ali, a Muslim chef.  

He adds “Evita” has proved a powerful experience too: “We’re portraying a populist power couple that changed the trajectory of a country in a way most Americans can’t fully understand. And doing it in Washington surrounded by government and politics is extra exciting.” 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you tap into a real-life character like Perón?

CAESAR SAMAYOA: Fortunately, Sammi [Connald] and I work similarly. With real persons and situations, I immerse myself into history, almost to a ridiculous extent. 

First day in the rehearsal room, we were inundated with artifacts. Sammi has been to Argentina several times and interviewed heavily with people involved in Eva and Peron’s lives. Throughout the process we’d sit and talk about the real history that happened. We went down the rabbit hole.

Sammi’s interviews included time with Eva’s nurse who was at her bedside when she died. We watched videos of those interviews. They’ve been an integral part of our production. 

BLADE: Were you surprised by anything you learned?

SAMAYOA: Usually, Eva and Perón’s relationship is portrayed as purely transactional.  They wrote love letters and I had access to those. At their country home, they’d be in pajamas and walk on the beach; that part of their life was playful and informal. They were a political couple but they were deeply in love too. I latched on to that. 

BLADE: And anything about the man specifically? 

SAMAYOA:  Perón’s charisma was brought to the forefront. In shows I’ve done, some big names have attended. Obama. Clinton. Justin Trudeau came to “Come From Away.” Within seconds, the charisma makes you give into that person. I’ve tried to use that.  

BLADE: And the part? 

SAMAYOA: Perón is said to be underwritten. But I love his power and the songs he sings [“The Art of the Possible,” “She is a Diamond,” etc.]. I’m fully a baritone and to find that kind of role in a modern musical is nearly impossible. And in this rock opera, I can use it to the full extent and feel great about it.

BLADE: “Evita” is a co-production with A.R.T. Has it changed since premiering in Boston? 

SAMAYOA: Yes, it has. In fact, 48 hours before opening night in Washington, we made some changes and they’ve really landed. Without giving too much away, we gave it more gravity in reality of time as well as Eva’s sickness and the rapid deterioration. It’s given our second act a huge kind of engine that it didn’t have. 

BLADE: You’re married to talent agent Christopher Freer and you’re very open. Was it always that way for you?

SAMAYOA: When I started acting professionally, it was a very different industry. We were encouraged to stay in the closet or it will cast only in a certain part. There was truth in that. There still is some truth in that, but I refuse to go down that road. I can’t reach what I need to reach unless I’m my most honest self. I can’t do it any other way.

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