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Triple triumph at Arena

Gay actor Rodriguez returns to D.C. for ‘My Fair Lady’

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Nicholas Rodriguez, My Fair Lady, theater, gay news, Washington Blade
Nicholas Rodriguez, My Fair Lady, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Nicholas Rodriguez as Freddy Eynsford-Hill in Arena Stage’s production of ‘My Fair Lady.’ (Photo by Richard Anderson; courtesy Arena)

For New York-based actor Nicholas Rodriguez, Washington has become like a second home. After playing in three productions in so many years at Arena Stage, Rodriguez, who is gay, says he experiences D.C. as more than a place to grow professionally. It’s also somewhere he forges new friendships and simply enjoys the city.

“I’m always happy to come back to D.C.,” says the strapping Latino actor who began his collaboration with Arena Stage in 2010 when he was cast as Fabrizio, the lovesick young Italian in Adam Geuttel’s dreamy musical “The Light in the Piazza.” The following season he wowed local audiences as cowboy Curly in Arena’s stellar production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” for which he won a Helen Hayes Award.

And now Rodriguez is back in town playing Freddy Eynsford-Hill in Arena’s take on Lerner and Loewe’s’ “My Fair Lady.” Set in Edwardian London, young dandy Freddy falls hard for Cockney flower girl turned lady, Eliza Doolittle (Manna Nichols); but sadly it’s an unrequited love. Eliza has her romantic sights set on self-absorbed phoneticist Professor Henry Higgins (Benedict Campbell), who on a bet vows to teach Eliza how to speak, walk and act like an aristocrat.

When Rodriguez was initially approached by Arena to do “My Fair Lady,” his manager advised him to consider carefully. He pointed out that Freddy is a much smaller role than what his client is typically offered. But Rodriguez knew instantly that he wanted the part. “I thought it might be my only chance to do this show. When else will I be cast to play a British gentleman? It was never something that I saw myself playing, but I love a good challenge.”

Since Rodriguez believed he wasn’t a slam dunk as Freddy type wise, he was extra keen to honor all facets of the character including Freddy’s posh accent, so he set to work with two dialect coaches. The gorgeous-voiced tenor was also eager to do justice to his character’s iconic song “On the Street Where You Live.”

“It’s a song that I’ve been singing on some level or another since I was 15, but never in the show,” says Rodriguez, a native Texan who holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in vocal performance from the University of Texas at Austin. “Now is the first time I’m actually singing it with a British dialect and genuinely acting part. Beautiful songs can fall flat, so there’s no room for autopilot. It has to be acted and all the song’s questions must be answered.”

The other draw that repeatedly brings Rodrigues back to D.C., he says, is the ongoing prospect of working with Molly Smith, Arena’s artistic director who has staged the three Arena musicals in which Rodriguez has appeared.

“She doesn’t tell actors what to do, but rather teaches us to find our own way,” he says. “Under Molly, Arena possesses both artistic integrity and equally important — resources. All of us leave here better artists.”

Rodriguez considers Arena’s non-traditionally cast production of “Oklahoma!” the highlight of his career to date. For him, playing Curly was a magical experience. “It was an emotionally charged time at Arena. Not just opening a show but it was also the christening of the new Mead Center for American Theater. A mediocre show was not an option.” He remains close with much of the multi-racial cast, especially talented D.C. favorite Eleasha Gamble who played Curly’s girlfriend Laurey.

Early in his career, Rodriguez garnered fame playing the third corner of a hot and heavy gay love triangle on ABC’s daytime drama “One Life to Live,” but he mostly works in theater. In addition to originating the role of Tarzan on Broadway, he has appeared off-Broadway and toured in numerous national tours of musicals and sung in concerts internationally. He also serves as artistic director of Broadway Dreams Foundation, a New York-based non-profit national performing arts education program that brings the very best in musical theater training to all parts of the country. (mybroadwaydreams.com)

Will there be more Arena productions in his future? Probably. But next up, Rodriguez returns to New York where he lives with his partner of almost 10 years. In January, he’s slated to be part of a Joni Mitchell tribute at Manhattan’s 54 Below.

“I’m always looking ahead,” Rodriguez says. “I’m always excited to encounter the next lesson that’s coming my way.”

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Out & About

DC Center to host Alzheimer’s awareness event

‘Seniors & Cognition’ talk to explore warning signs, healthy brain practices

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The DC LGBTQ+ Community Center, the DC Department on Aging and Community Living, and the Alzheimer’s Association are joining forces to host “Seniors & Cognition with the Alzheimer’s Association” on Thursday, July 25 at 2 p.m. on Zoom. 

Guest speakers will walk the audience through understanding Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, their warning signs, healthy brain practices, and more. The lecture series will consist of three 1.5-hour sessions, with the others set to take place in August and September. 

To register, visit the DC Center’s website

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Sports

Brittney Griner and wife celebrate birth of their son

Cherelle Griner gave birth to healthy baby boy earlier this month

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Brittney Griner (Screen capture via Instagram)

It’s a boy for Brittney and Cherelle Griner. The Phoenix Mercury center revealed the news in interviews with CBS Sports and NBC News. 

“Every minute I feel like he’s popping into my head, said Griner. “Literally everything revolves around him. And I love it.”

The couple officially welcomed the baby boy on July 8. He weighs 7 pounds, 8 ounces.

“That’s my man. He is amazing,” Griner told CBS Sports. “They said as soon as you see them, everything that you thought mattered just goes out the window. That’s literally what happened.” 

Griner, 33, corrected the CBS News correspondent who said, “You’re about to be a mom!” She told her Cherelle, 33, had already delivered the baby and that she preferred to be called,“Pops.” 

Griner told NBC News correspondent Liz Kreutz they chose to name their newborn son, “Bash.” 

The WNBA star said she is Bash’s biggest fan and is constantly taking photos of him. “My whole phone has turned into him now,” Griner told CBS Sports.

The baby comes as Griner gets set to play in Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game and then head to Paris with Team USA to compete for their 8th straight gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games. 

“It kind of sucks because I have to leave, but at the same time, he will understand,” said Griner. 

Her time in Paris will mark the first time since the basketball star was released from a Russian gulag, where she was held on drug charges for nearly 10 months in 2022.

“BG is locked in and ready to go,” Griner told NBC News on Friday. “I’m happy, I’m in a great place. I’m representing my country, the country that fought for me to come back. I’m gonna represent it well.”

Griner also spoke with NBC News about her hopes the U.S. can win the freedom of imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian maximum security prison on Friday. 

“We have to get him back,” she said. 

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Calendar

Calendar: July 19-25

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, July 19

“Center Aging Friday Tea Time” will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ+ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of choice. For more details, email [email protected].

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Community Happy Hour” at 7 p.m. at Puro Gusto. This event is ideal for making new friends, professional networking, idea-sharing, and community building. This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Saturday, July 20

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Community Brunch” at 11 a.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. This fun weekly event brings the DMV area LGBTQ+ community, including allies, together for delicious food and conversation. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

“LGBTQ People of Color Support Group” will be at 1 p.m. on Zoom. This peer support group is an outlet for LGBTQ People of Color to come together and talk about anything affecting them in a space that strives to be safe and judgment free. For more details, visit thedccenter.org/poc or facebook.com/centerpoc.

Sunday, July 21

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Dinner” at 6:30 p.m. at Federico Ristorante Italiano Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. Guests are encouraged to come enjoy an evening of Italian-style dining and conversation with other LGBTQ+ folk. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Funday Social and Games” at 3 p.m. at Moxy. This event is ideal for making meaningful new connections and informal community building, or just to unwind and enjoy the group happy hour. There will be Monopoly, chess, checkers, Jenga and many other games. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

AfroCode DC will be at 4 p.m. at Decades DC. This event will be an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite.

Monday, July 22

Center Aging: Monday Coffee & Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of their choice. For more details, email [email protected].

“Queer Book Club” will be at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. The club meets on the fourth Monday of the month to discuss queer books by queer authors. This month’s read is yet to be announced. For more details, email [email protected].

Tuesday, July 23

Pride on the Patio Events will host “LGBTQ Social Mixer” at 5:30 p.m. at Showroom. Dress is casual, fancy, or comfortable. Guests are encouraged to bring their most authentic self to chat, laugh, and get a little crazy. Admission is free and more details are on Eventbrite.

Coming Out Discussion Group will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a peer-facilitated discussion group and a safe space to share experiences about coming out and discuss topics as it relates to doing so. For more details, visit the group’s Facebook page.

“Genderqueer DC” will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a support group for people who identify outside of the gender binary, whether you’re bigender, agender, genderfluid, or just know that you’re not 100% cis. For more details, email [email protected].

Wednesday, July 24

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit thedccenter.org/careers.

“Asexual and Aromantic Group” will meet at 7 p.m. on Zoom and in person at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. This is a space where people who are questioning this aspect of their identity or those who identify as asexual and/or aromantic can come together, share stories and experiences, and discuss various topics. For more details, email [email protected].

Thursday, July 25

Virtual Yoga with Charles M. will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a free weekly class focusing on yoga, breath work, and meditation. For more details, visit the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s website.

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