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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

Queers win big at 77th annual Tony Awards

‘Merrily We Roll Along’ among winners

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(Photo courtesy of the Tony Awards' Facebook page)

It was a banner night for queer theater artists at the 77th annual Tony Awards, honoring the best in Broadway theater at the Lincoln Center in New York on Sunday. Some of the biggest honors of the night went to the revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along” and the dance-musical based on Sufjan Stephens’ album “Illinoise.

“Merrily We Roll Along,” which follows three friends as their lives change over the course of 20 years, told in reverse chronological order, picked up the awards for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Orchestrations. 

Out actor Jonathan Groff picked up his first Tony Award for his leading role as Franklin Shepard in the show, while his costar Daniel Radcliffe earned his first Tony Award for featured performance as Charley Kringas. 

Groff gave a heartfelt and teary acceptance speech about how he used to watch the Tony Awards as a child in Lancaster County, Pa.

“Thank you for letting me dress up like Mary Poppins when I was three,” he said to his parents in the audience. “Even if they didn’t understand me, my family knew the life-saving power of fanning the flame of a young person’s passions without judgment.”

Groff also thanked the everyone in the production of “Spring Awakening,” where he made his Broadway debut in 2006, for inspiring him to come out at the age of 23.

“To actually be able to be a part of making theatre in this city, and just as much to be able to watch the work of this incredible community has been the greatest pleasure of my life,” he said. 

This was Groff’s third Tony nomination, having been previously nominated for his leading role in “Spring Awakening” and for his featured performance as King George III in “Hamilton.” 

Radcliffe, who is best known for starring in the “Harry Potter” series of movies, has long been an ally of the LGBTQ community, and has recently been known to spar with “Harry Potter” creator JK Rowling over her extreme opposition to trans rights on social media and in interviews. It was Radcliffe’s first Tony nomination and win.

Lesbian icon Sarah Paulson won her first Tony Award for her starring role in the play “Appropriate,” about a family coming to terms with the legacy of their slave-owning ancestors as they attempt to sell their late father’s estate. It was her first nomination and win.

In her acceptance speech, she thanked her partner Holland Taylor “for loving me.” Along with Paulson’s Emmy win for “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” she is halfway to EGOT status.

The Sufjan Stephens dance-musical “Illinoise,” based on his album of the same name, took home the award for Best Choreography for choreographer Justin Peck. It was his second win.

During the ceremony, the cast of “Illinoise” performed “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!”, a moving dance number about a queer romance.

A big winner of the night was the adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel “The Outsiders,” which dominated the musical categories, earning Best Director, Sound Design, Lighting Design, and Best Musical, which earned LGBTQ ally Angelina Jolie her first Tony Award.

Also a big winner was “Stereophonic,” which dominated the play categories, winning the awards for Best Play, Featured Actor, Director, Sound Design, and Scenic Design.

“Suffs,” a musical about the fight for women’s suffrage in the U.S., which acknowledges the lesbian relationship that suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt had in song called “If We Were Married,” took home awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score, both for creator Shaina Taub. 

Had “Suffs” also won for Best Musical, producers Hilary Clinton and Malala Yousafzai would have won their first Tony Awards. 

Other winners include Maleah Joi Moon for her lead role and Kecia Lewis for her featured role in the Alicia Keys musical “Hell’s Kitchen,” Jeremy Strong for his lead role in An Enemy of the People, and Kara Young for her featured role in “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch.”

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Theater

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ an irreverent romp at Woolly Mammoth

Solo performance by John Jarboe offers much to consume

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John Jarboe in ‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’
Though June 23
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., N.W.
$60-$82
Woollymammoth.net

With “Rose: You Are Who You Eat,” a solo performance by John Jarboe (she/her), now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, there’s a lot to uncover and consume.  

For much of the show, you might think the appealing Jarboe is playing dress up in a pair of tighty-whities and sparkly go-go boots, but it’s something else and she’s ready to go there. 

Jarboe is a cannibal. Not in the usual sense. She learned from a well-meaning aunt that while still in the womb, she ate her twin, and that’s what made Jarboe the way she is (a reference to gender queerness).

Despite the aunt’s awkward delivery of family dish, the prenatal news struck a chord with Jarboe: the vanishing twin who would have been named Rose, became increasingly connected to her own identity. Along with the inevitable jokes about eating her sister’s spaghetti thin hair and tasty eyeballs, there’s meaty matter unfolding onstage. 

Not entirely unexpected, Jarboe also harbors mommy issues. Mom, here referred to as “Mother” for the sake of anonymity, is a buttoned-down tax accountant who the more perturbed she becomes the wider her forced smile grows. And while Jarboe needs to have that long overdue talk with Mother, something always seems to get in the way; invariably it’s tax season.

Assisted by some primary source props (a baby book, notes, a string of pearls filched from Mother’s jewelry box), Jarboe further digs into gender expression and identity. Her performance career began in her child bedroom closet with a flashlight and makeshift costume, an obsession to which her parents initially subscribed, later not as much. 

Among the 75-minute-long show’s highlights are five or so songs, rock numbers and redolent ballads composed by Jarboe, Emily Bate, Daniel de Jesús, Pax Ressler and Be Steadwell. 

It’s definitely a solo show conceived and delightfully performed by Jarboe; however, she’s supported by a terrific four-person band (costumed in what appeared from Row D to be rosebush inspired jumpsuits) including Mel Regn, Yifan Huang, Daniel de Jesús, and music director Emily Bate. Bate is a singer, composer and performer who runs a queer and trans community chorus in Philadelphia called Trust Your Moves, an experiment in collective singing designed around liberation and co-creation.

As Jarboe moves into her 30s, she celebrates and incorporates her lost twin as part of herself with a new intensity. She writes letters, yearning for even the most tepid reply. Her obsession with Mother remains a thing too.

Dressed in a sylphlike rosy red gown (by costume designer Rebecca Kanach) Jarboe uses call-and-response (with the audience standing in for Mother) in search of some resolution. It’s beautifully done. 

With various kinds of backing coming from CulturalDC, the Washington Blade, Capital Pride, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and other New York-based groups, there’s nothing itinerant cabaret looking about “Rose.” Directed by MK Tuomanen, it’s an elevated, visually engaging production. 

For instance, set and video designer Christopher Ash’s projections shown on both a serviceable scrim and later a wondrously huge toile curtain, beautifully feature photos from an ostensibly idyllic Midwestern childhood. We see a young Jarboe not only enjoying hockey, fishing, and hunting, but also pulling off a strikingly girly, cheesecake pose.  

At the top of the show, there’s live video of Jarboe’s outsized mouth devouring wings fished from a bucket of fried chicken. Hints of cannibalism? 

“Rose: You Are Who You Eat” is an irreverent romp, deeply personal yet relatable. It’s an evening of poignantly performed moments, off the cuff laughs, and some awkward/sexy audience interaction. 

As a performer, Jarboe lays herself bare, exposing strengths (rich melodious voice, presence, ingenuity) and weaknesses (garrulity and more than a few un-landed jokes) in equal turns. 

Hers is a world that invites audiences to just let go and go with it. Jarboe’s intrepid journey melds the familiar and the startling. In short, it’s a trip worth taking. 

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Photos

PHOTOS: Capital Pride Festival and Concert

Keke Palmer, Billy Porter among entertainers

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Billy Porter performs at the 2024 Capital Pride Festival on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 Capital Pride Festival and Concert was held along Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest D.C. on Sunday, June 9. Performers included Sapphira Cristál, Keke Palmer, Ava Max, Billy Porter and Exposé.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key and Emily Hanna)

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