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Arts & Entertainment

Feature-length treatments of ‘Looking,’ ‘AbFab’ are fluffy summer entertainment

Cast reunions of hit gay shows work in longer format

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The cast of ‘Looking: the Movie’ are, from left, Jonathan Groff as Patrick, Murray Bartlett as Dom and Frankie J. Alvarez as Agustin. (Photo courtesy HBO)

The cast of ‘Looking: the Movie’ are, from left, Jonathan Groff as Patrick, Murray Bartlett as Dom and Frankie J. Alvarez as Agustin. (Photo courtesy HBO)

This weekend, two television shows with large and passionate LGBT fan bases make the leap from 30-minute episodes to feature-length movies. In both cases, fans of the series will be thrilled to see their favorites again, but newcomers will still be able to follow along and join in the laughs and the tears.

With some clever writing, “Looking: the Movie” introduces (or reintroduces) the characters with great warmth and efficiency. Thirty-year old video game designer Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is returning to San Francisco after a nine-month hiatus. Through some chatter with the cab driver, dinner with his bffs Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett) and a quick tryst with the cute Jimmy (Michael Rosen), Patrick and his friends quickly bring everyone up to speed.

They are soon joined by series regulars Doris and Malik (Lauren Weedman and Bashir Salahuddin), Richie and Brady (Raúl Castillo and Chris Perfetti) and Eddie (Daniel Franzese) for a moving wedding (no spoilers here); a wild reception fueled by drugs, alcohol and angry recriminations; and, of course, a sentimental finale at an all-night diner. There are no big surprises, but there are no major disappointments either, just a welcome sense of closure as the characters heal old wounds and move forward into the photogenic sunrise.

Working with series creator and writer Michael Lannan, show runner/writer/director Andrew Haigh (best known for the films “Weekend” and “45 Years”) seems far more comfortable working in a feature-length format. Where the individual episodes of the series often felt clunky and uneven, the movie feels more assured. The pacing is comfortable, the exposition and dialogue feel natural and unforced (even if sometimes a little clichéd), the acting is solid and the cinematography is lovely, a heart-felt Valentine to the environs of San Francisco.

The weakest element of the television movie will remind detractors of the weakest moments of the series: toxic relationships and repetitive discussions of them. Patrick’s uninteresting, unpleasant and unrealistic sexual relationship with is boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) clogged up the series and now weighs down the movie. Just as the HR department should have shut down the liaison between supervisor and subordinate, Haigh should have written off Kevin in a few lines. The time would have been better spent elsewhere.

The strongest element of the television movie will remind fans of the most exciting moments of the series: its bold presentation of gay male intimacy and sexuality. On his first night back in the city, Patrick goes home with the charming Jimmy (Rosen is a real find). They have sex (Patrick has finally gotten over some of his hang-ups in the bedroom) and afterwards talk into the night over reheated Chinese food. It’s a lovely sequence, full of sizzling eroticism and deep connection, both in and out of the bedroom.

On the other hand, the ladies of “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” need little introduction. They’re archetypal clowns, with roots back to Aristophanes and Shakespeare. Jennifer Saunders (screenwriter and star) quickly reestablishes the characters and their new scenario. Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) is still a fashion editor with rather undefined responsibilities. She’s the same as ever: tall, blond, acerbic and short on cash.

Edina Monsoon (Saunders) faces tougher circumstances. Her PR firm is floundering, and she can barely wrangle her eccentric menagerie. The regulars are back: Julia Sawalha as Edina’s straight-laced daughter Saffy, June Whitfield as her sharp-tongued Mother, and Jane Horrocks as her delightfully ditzy assistant Bubble. This time there’s also Saffy’s daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and Edina’s hairdresser Christopher (Chris Colfer).

To revive her flagging fortunes, Edina decides to enlist Kate Moss as a client. Unfortunately, she accidentally pushes the supermodel into the Thames. To escape the paparazzi and the police, and to find rich husbands, Patsy and Edina flee to the Riviera for more champagne-fueled hijinks.

But, the plot is really just a framework for sight gags and celebrity cameos, and the movie provides lots of both. Saunders and Lumley are both gifted comedic actors; their physical comedy is as sharp as their delivery of zingers and dizzy rants. Celebrity sightings, for those who are playing Ab Fab bingo, include both Dame Edna Everage and Barry Humphries, Mo Gaffney, Rebel Wilson, Graham Norton, Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Stella McCartney, Perez Hilton, Jean-Paul Gaultier and the very funny Jerry Hall.

There’s even dozens of delightful drag queens who help Saffy track down her missing mother and daughter. If the energy ever drops, and it does from time to time, don’t worry, sweetie darling. There’s another outrageous outfit or another name to drop around the corner.

Both “Looking” and “Absolutely Fabulous” make the move from series to showcase with considerable skill and style. Fans will find plenty to enjoy; haters will find plenty to hate; and, newcomers will quickly catch on. Depending on your mood, both “Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie” and “Looking: the Movie” are a find way to spend a summer evening.

“Looking: The Movie” premieres on July 23 on HBO. “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” opens everywhere on July 22.

Absolutely Fabulous, gay news, Washington Blade

Joanna Lumley, on left, as Patsy, and Jennifer Saunders as Eddy star in ‘Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie.’ (Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight)

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Theater

‘Hadestown’ comes to the Kennedy Center

Levi Kreis discusses return to live theater

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Levi Kreis is an out actor who plays Hermes in the national tour of ‘Hadestown’ soon opening at the Kennedy Center. (Photo courtesy of Levi Kreis)

Hadestown
Through Oct. 31
The Kennedy Center
$45.00 – $175.00
Kennedy-center.org
For Covid-19 safety regulations go to Kennedy-center.org/visit/covid-safety/

Early in September at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre, out singer/actor Levi Kreis was in the audience for the long-awaited Broadway reopening of “Hadestown,” Anaïs Mitchell’s rousing musical reimagining of the Orpheus myth in which the legendary Greek hero descends into the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice. 

After almost 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Tony Award-winning folk opera was back and the house was full. In a recent phone interview, Kreis describes the evening as “love-filled, and electrifying and emotional after such a difficult time.” Now, Kreis is onstage in the national tour of “Hadestown,” currently launching at the Kennedy Center. As Hermes, the shape-shifting god of oratory, Kreis is both narrator and chaperone to the story’s young lovers. 

A Tennessee native, Kreis, 39, has triumphantly survived turbulent times including a harrowingly prolonged coming out experience that included six years of conversion therapy, education disruptions, and music contract losses. He officially came out through his acclaimed album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. And four years later, he splendidly won a Tony Award for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

Throughout much of the pandemic, Kreis leaned into his own music and found ways to reconnect with his largely gay fan base. But he’s happy to now be touring, noting that all the “Hadestown” cast have been hungering to perform before a real live audience.

When not on the road, he’s based in New York City with his husband, classical-crossover recording artist Jason Antone. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Hermes is the same role for which André De Shields—the brilliant African American actor, also gay, and some decades your elder won a Tony and has resumed playing on Broadway, right?

LEVI KREIS: That’s right. It’s really a testament to the creative team. Rather than laying us over what Broadway created. They’re creating a tour that’s uniquely different; still true to the beauty of the story but with a different flavor. 

BLADE: What attracted you to the part?

KREIS: First, I fell in love with the show. My own musical sensibilities understand the origins of where this music comes from. It’s very bluesy and gospel. Southern and rootsy. And that’s everything I’ve created in my career as a singer/songwriter.

BLADE: With your life experience, do you feel called to mentor?

KREIS: The biggest effort I’ve given to this narrative is being a pioneer of the out-music movement starting in 2005 which was a moment when gay artists were not signed to major labels. I want through eight major labels—when they found out I was gay things always went south. 

It’s been amazing to be a voice in LGBTQ media when no one was speaking about these things. It’s popular now, but back when it mattered it was a lot harder to start my career as an openly gay artist and speak about these issues rather than keep quiet, cash in, and only then come out. 

BLADE: Where did that nerve come from?

KREIS: Less about nerve and more about being beaten down. How many things have to happen before you give up and decide to be honest?  

BLADE: For many theatergoers, “Hadestown” will be their return to live theater. Other than it being visionary and remarkably entertaining, why would you recommend it? 

KREIS: We need encouragement right now. But we also need art that facilitates a lot of important conversation about what’s happening in the world. This has both elements.  

“Hadestown” is not a piece of art that you easily forget. You’re going to walk out of the theater with a story that sticks with you. You’ll realized that your own voice matters. There’s a part in the show, Orpheus’ song, when the gods encourage him to get the balance of the world back again by telling him that his voice matters. 

BLADE: Is it timely?

KREIS: Art is here to change the world. And this piece of art hits the nail right on the head. I’m a purist when it comes to art and song. There’s a reason why we do it. people are listening now in a way they haven’t listened before. To miss that is to miss the role of society, I think. 

BLADE: And going forward? 

KREIS: It’s going to be interesting. We could double down on super commercialized theater or we may decide to really go the other direction and reclaim innovation. That remains to be seen. 

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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Arts & Entertainment

NSYNC star Lance Bass & husband Michael Turchin welcome twins

Singer, husband, and popular West Hollywood nightclub owner, now adds the job of ‘Dad’ to his resume

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Lance Bass and Michael Turchin via Instagram

WEST HOLLYWOOD – Former boy-band NSYNC star and co-owner of the popular LGBTQ+ nightspot Rocco’s, Lance Bass, announced that he and husband Michael Turchin are the proud parents of twins, Violet Betty and Alexander James.

In his announcement on Instagram, Bass wrote; ‘The baby dragons have arrived!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ I can not express how much love I feel right now. Thank you for all the kind wishes. It meant a lot. Now, how do you change a diaper??! Ahhhhhhhh!”

The babies were carried via surrogate, the singer noted saying that Alexander, born one minute before his sister on Wednesday, weighed 4 lbs., 14 oz. Violet weighed 4 lbs., 11 oz. Bass said in his Instagram post.

His husband also announced the news on his Instagram account. “Introducing the newest members of the Turchin-Bass household: Violet Betty and Alexander James!!!! They’re pure perfection and yes that includes the dozens of poops we’ve already dealt with. Our hearts our full!!! Thank you everyone for the well wishes 🥰🥰🥰”

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