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New Harvey Milk-inspired piece bows at Strathmore

Chenoweth joins Lippa in weekend performances

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I am Harvey Milk, gay news, Washington Blade
I am Harvey Milk, gay news, Washington Blade, Andrew Lippa

Kristin Chenoweth and Andrew Lippa combine forces this weekend in twin tales of iconoclasm. (Photo by Matthew Murphy; courtesy Bucklesweet Media)

‘I  Am Anne Hutchinson/I Am Harvey Milk’

 

Saturday, April 23 at 8 p.m.

 

Sunday, April 24 at 4 p.m.

 

Music Center at Strathmore

 

5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Md.

 

$39-149

 

strathmore.org/iam

 

Andrew Lippa feels like the luckiest man in the world.

It’s all Lippa all the time this weekend at the Strathmore as the world premiere of his “concept” opera “I Am Anne Hutchinson/I Am Harvey Milk” is held. He wrote the music and book and will star in the piece alongside Kristin Chenoweth.

It’s a lavish production. Noah Himmelstein will direct more than 200 performers including Colin Wheeler, the National Philharmonic and the Alexandria Harmonizers to dramatize the lives of “two reluctant prophets who stood up for equality and changed the world.”

“It’s not enough to write all the words and all the music, I also have to play the leading role,” he says. “The delight I have that I get to play in the sandbox in this way, to be in it and of it, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”

The genesis of the play — at least half of it — dates back to 2011 when Lippa was asked by the music director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (Tim Seelig) to write a five-minute piece about his thoughts and observations about Harvey Milk.

“There was a co-commission with six other choruses and they were planning on doing a whole concert in 2013,” Lippa says. “I told them I wanted to write a 60-minute piece, not just five minutes, and after much discussion, they came back and asked me to write the whole thing.”

Of course, the noted librettist had quite the resume at the time. He wrote the Tony-nominated music and lyrics for the Broadway musical “The Addams Family,” wrote the music and lyrics for the acclaimed “Big Fish,” and won the 2000 Drama Desk Award for best music for “The Wild Party.”

He also wrote original music for the 1999 revival of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” (including “My New Philosophy” for Tony Award-winner Chenoweth), which led to friendship.

Part choral work, part theater piece, “I Am Harvey Milk” weaves the story of Harvey Milk’s life, from boyhood to his rise as the first openly gay man to hold public office in California to his assassination.

“I fashioned the whole thing and we performed it for three concerts in June of 2013,” Lippa says. “What was remarkable about the timing is that June 26 was our first performance and it was the day that the Supreme Court struck down Proposition 8 and that night we premiered Harvey Milk two blocks away from where Harvey and (San Francisco Mayor) George Moscone had been gunned down.”

Although he can’t pinpoint the exact time he learned about Milk, Lippa guesses he was in college. He says it’s important that others discover his story.

“One of the things I feel as a middle-aged gay man, as opposed to being a young gay man, is that at 51, it’s my responsibility to further the story of one our gay heroes,” he says. “As I got older, I had a very strong awareness of Harvey Milk and his story was very important to me.”

Lippa played Harvey Milk in that production, which included 300 singers, three principals and a 27-piece orchestra in front of 1,600 screaming San Franciscans for three nights in a row.

“I thought once it was done, that would be it, but it didn’t go that way,” he says. “I kept getting requests to do it, and producers in New York called, and we did it at Lincoln Center in 2014 with me and Kristin and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.”

The one request Lippa constantly faced was from people asking if there was a way to make the one-hour piece a full-length production, a notion he wrestled with.

“I constructed it in such a way that it was the right length and right pieces and it just didn’t want to get any longer. To me, this was just an hour-long work,” he says.

But then, Lippa came across the story of 17th-century Puritan activist Anne Hutchinson and inspiration hit.

“I realized that here was this other person in American history who I could connect to Harvey Milk in a very unexpected way,” he says. “She wasn’t talking about gay rights or any rights frankly. She just wanted the right to peacefully assemble in her home and teach other women stories from the Bible.”

Hutchinson was accused of heresy and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Lippa saw the obvious link with Milk.

“I can’t happen without my parents, my gay life can’t happen without my gay heroes, my music can’t happen without Stephen Sondheim and Gershwin and Beethoven and Bach, and Harvey Milk wasn’t possible without Anne Hutchinson,” Lippa says. “Even though 350 years divide them, she was the first woman to stand up in 1637 and say, ‘No, it has to be different.’ She was punished for it terribly, as was Harvey Milk. There’s the link.”

Lippa went about writing her story and thus “I Am Anne Hutchinson/I Am Harvey Milk” — which is one production, not two separate entities — was born.

He had Chenoweth in mind as he wrote.

“As soon as I discovered Anne’s story, I called her and told her about it and she said (in his best Chenoweth impression), ‘I’d do anything you write for me,’” Lippa says. “We have had a great creative back and forth going on 20 years now and she’s not only performing it, but I actually wrote it for her to do.”

Chenoweth told the Blade in a January interview she connects with Hutchinson whom she was “basically persecuted for being a thinking Christian woman.”

“In some ways, I can relate,” Chenoweth said. “Andrew has been a huge part of my history and I’ve been somewhat of a muse for him. What can I say? I fall in love with his music every time he plays, so I’m honored he’s written yet another thing for me.”

The show will be fully staged, with costumes, projections and plenty of actors and dancers, but because it’s in the music hall, there are no sets.

“It’s epic storytelling but not a concert version. It’s the first time we have ever done it, and Strathmore has been incredible working with us letting us do what we want to do,” Lippa says. “We will have 200 people on stage and we will find out if that is the size it should be. We may take it to opera houses or if not, scale it down and go to theaters. This piece will tell us what it is.”

The performances will benefit both Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the National Women’s History Museum.

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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