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A melodic farewell

Locals lament closure of Dupont Circle record shop



Suzy and Jack Menase, owners of Melody Record Shop. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With the rising popularity of downloading music from places like iTunes and online stores like Amazon, more and more record stores are closing, surrendering to the convenience of not having to leave the house to get both new and old albums.

Melody Records, an institution in Dupont Circle since the late ‘70s, is just another casualty in that unfortunate trend. Local gays are lamenting its impending closure. It was always popular with Blade readers — it won several “Best of Gay D.C.” awards in the early ‘00s, which still hang in the store above the new releases.

“Melody Records was one of my first discoveries when I moved to D.C. more than 11 years ago,” Michael Collins, a gay D.C. resident, says. “I stopped there about once a week, sometimes more often than that, and I seldom left empty handed.”

The owners, Suzy and Jack Menase, opened the store in 1977 before moving to Dupont two years later after having to vacate their previous location on E Street when developers wanted to redevelop the area.

“We just found Dupont Circle to be a busy area and thought it would be a good location for us,” Suzy Menase says.

They’ve been in the business so long, they’ve always tried to stay on top of things, and seen all the trends come and go, then come again.

“It’s been like a full circle. We started with vinyl and now we’re ending with vinyl,” Suzy says. “It’s neat to see young kids coming in … they’re not excited about CDs but they’re excited about vinyl.”

“I think the sound quality that they heard made it very attractive,” Jack Menase says.

The store has always held a wide selection of genres, including large sections of seemingly less popular genres such as opera, new age and more.

“The opera queens would squeal while the uber cool disco boys looked for the German imports of what would later be called ‘industrial’ in the specialty bins,” says Stephen Yasko, general manager of WTMD 89.7 in Baltimore.

The Menases have always worked to make sure they have a full selection with a little bit of something for everyone.

“If we don’t have it in stock, we order it for them,” Jack Menase says.

“With CDs, if you can’t sell something, you can return it,” Suzy says. “It’s not one person deciding what we carry.”

The Menases announced they were closing through a letter on their website, saying, “technology, the internet and the economy has taken its toll.”

“In the past two or three years, sales have been declining … we saw it coming, but we were just trying to hold on,” Suzy says. “We have such a strong, loyal customer base, we wanted to stay as long as possible.”

They both remember a time when there was an abundance of record stores in the D.C. area that all survived until the early 90s.

“One by one, everybody closed down,” Jack says.

Being in Dupont, the store automatically became a favorite spot for gay customers.

“Where else could you run across a copy of Ethel Merman’s disco album from the ’70s?” Collins says.

Also, Lambda Rising — a gay bookstore and staple of Dupont Circle — used to be next door.

“We were very sorry to see them go,” Jack says.

“Whoever came to them, whoever came to us went to them,” Suzy says. “They were great neighbors to have.”

Some music lovers continued to purchase CDs — at least in some genres — even into the digital music era.

“I loved Melody,” says Kevin Lees, a gay Washington resident. “I still typically buy classical and sometimes jazz in physical CD format for the copious liner notes and anytime I was looking for something in particular, I would always look at Melody first as my contribution to local stores in the face of Amazon. I’m surprised it lasted so long and that it outlasted Lambda Rising but sadly, the record store is clearly destined to be a thing of the past.”

There are a few members of the staff who have been working at the store for years, including a few who have been around for more than 10 years.

There are a lot of people who have been going to the store for years and some are even on a first-name basis with the Menases.

“They know my whole family and I know theirs,” Suzy says. “It’s not customers, they’re family.”

“I was heartbroken when I saw the going-out-of-business sign on the window,” Collins says. “What a regrettable loss for Dupont Circle and for all Washington music lovers.”

The shop is at 1623 Connecticut Ave., N.W. No firm closing date has been set. For now, it’s open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.



PHOTOS: Miss Glamour Girl

Maryland drag pageant held at McAvoy’s



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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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



‘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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An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón



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

Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.

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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