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Escapism on skates

Signature’s ‘Xanadu’ is well-executed camp fun



Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA
Through July 1

Charlie Brady, center, as Sonny in Signature’s ‘Xanadu.’ (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy Signature)

The “Xanadu” chracter Muse Calliope is onto something when she says the roller derby in the show is like “children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people.”

On stage now at Arlington’s Signature Theatre, this trashy movie-turned-Tony-winning Broadway adaptation is near-perfect theatrical escapism.

It’s based on the 1980 turkey that derailed the budding movie career of singer Olivia Newton-John and that featured the last movie appearance of the legendary dancer Gene Kelly as the tycoon who has chosen commerce over art. The basic plot remains the same.

Clio (Erin Weaver) is the leader of the Muses, the Greek demigoddesses who bring artistic inspiration to mortals. Disguised an Australian woman named Kira (a comic nod to  Newton-John’s indelible cinematic performance), she descends to earth to bolster the confidence of Sonny (Charlie Brady), a sidewalk artist who dreams of opening a roller disco. She also encounters Danny, a real estate mogul who rejected Kira’s inspiration. Danny still owns the theater he built under her influence, and he and Sonny become business partners. Needless to say, despite a few curses, several broken rules, and some heartbreak and confusion, Sonny and Kira/Clio fall in love and skate off to their happy ending.

Writer Douglas Carter Beane (“The Little Dog Laughed” and “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar”) nimbly fleshes out the movie plot with campy pop culture references and a delicious new subplot featuring the nasty machinations of Clio’s jealous sisters, the muses Melpomene and Calliope. He also expands the movie soundtrack with other period pop tunes by Jeff Lynne (ELO) and John Farrar. As you might expect, the openly gay Beane brings a light touch to the clichéd plot, but he also brings some unexpected emotional depth to the story. Although the evening moves along briskly (90 minutes without an intermission), there are some slow spots (most notably the flashbacks between the ageless Clio and the young Danny) and Beane’s adaptation never fully embraces the movie’s sappy-yet-moving theme that the elusive Xanadu is the pursuit of love and art.

Under the assured hand of director and choreographer Matthew Gardiner, Signature Theatre’s openly gay associate artistic director, the creative team stitches together a frothy and effective show that is truly “an Acme of all the arts” (to use Sonny’s description of his roller disco dreams). Gardiner’s witty and energetic choreography cannily combines a send-up of disco moves for the mortals with a spoof of Martha Graham routines for the Muses and Greek gods.

He gets solid support from his designers, especially the lighting by Chris Lee (with the mandatory mirror balls) and the costumes by Kathleen Geldard (with lovely flowing Grecian robes, the requisite sequins and de rigueur leg warmers that play a surprisingly important role in the plot). They mine the comedy for all it’s worth, hit all of the right notes of the 1980s pop score (kudos to Music Director Gabriel Mangiante and his four-piece band) and put together lovely stage pictures.

Gardiner also gets strong performances from his likeable leads and a versatile ensemble that appear in a variety of roles from Centaurs to Muses to an endless array of back-up singers. Brady and Weaver play the comedy just right, with the proper balance of naiveté and campy self-awareness. Both are strong and attractive singers and dancers who bring unquenchable enthusiasm to the bubbly material.

The show shines most brightly, however, when Nora V. Payton takes center stage as Melpomene, the evil Muse of tragedy. She gets the best material in the script and she delivers with zest and finesse. Payton (who inspired audiences as Motormouth Maybelle in “Hairspray” and will no doubt thrill audiences as Effie in next season’s “Dreamgirls”) lights up the stage with her wicked sense of style, an incredible vocal presence and her gleeful delivery of verbal and physical zingers. She is given great comic and vocal support from her evil henchwoman Calliope (played by Sherri L. Edelen who also shines in a giddy cameo as a Francophile Aphrodite, goddess of love). Their duet of the rock classic “Evil Woman” is a highlight of the evening.

The skating, under the guidance of Gregory Vander Ploeg, is impressively staged and includes the tender duets between Kira and Sonny, Kira’s hilarious descent down on a staircase wearing only one skate, and the rollicking finale which brings the entire cast to the new roller disco.



PHOTOS: DCGFFL 25th Anniversary Party

Gay flag football league marks milestone at Penn Social



The D.C. Gay Flag Football league held a party celebrating their 25th season at Penn Social on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) held a 25th season anniversary party at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. Proceeds from the event benefited the LGBTQ youth services organization SMYAL as well as the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more



(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher



Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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