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Arts & Entertainment

TV ready to unleash array of LGBT themes, characters

Prominent critics on their most-anticipated new shows

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gay-friendly television shows, gay news, Washington Blade

Several new gay-friendly television shows are on the way.

At the recent television critics press tour, there were many new gay-friendly television shows intriguing critics. The Los Angeles Blade’s Susan Hornik talked with LGBT journalists about their take on the new shows.

Trish Bendix, managing editor at INTO

Most excited about “VIDA,” from queer Latinx playwright-turned-TV writer Tanya Saracho. Not only does the show have an all Latinx writers room and Latinx actors, but the plotline and several major characters are LGBTQ. Rarely do we see Latinx leads on TV, and this is a Starz show which means it will be gritty, sexy and boundary-pushing.
Also, Alan Cumming-starrer “Instinct” will also be of interest, though I’m concerned with CBS’s not-so-great track record on LGBTQ inclusion. Still, having an out bisexual man playing a gay lead on a primetime network show is pretty exciting.

Jim Colucci, author of the 2016 New York Times best-seller ‘Golden Girls Forever’

The depictions of LGBT characters are more plentiful and more well-rounded than the days of “The Golden Girls,” which was a LGBT favorite at that time. Back then, the occasional guest character would be gay or lesbian or there would be a gay-themed joke — and certainly there was a gay sensibility about any show that starred a Broadway legend like Bea Arthur.

FX’s’ “Pose” is a recreation of the late ’80s Harlem drag ball era from the prolific gay TV mogul, Ryan Murphy. Trans portrayals are still in short supply on TV, but “Pose” brings us a wide variety of queer characters and it’s both fun and fearless. 

Even on network TV, the most mainstream you can get in America’s entertainment universe, gay characters are now not just being accepted, but are featured as lead characters. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing more of NBC’s “Champions,” about the philandering owner of a Brooklyn gym who is suddenly presented with the son — half Indian-American and all fabulously gay — he never knew he had. 

Other shows have featured gay teens before — memorably, “Glee,” again from Ryan Murphy — but I love how “Champions” capitalizes on the fabulousness of its funny and appealing teen actor, J.J. Totah. NBC’s drama “Rise,” set in the drama department of a working-class Pennsylvania high school, is worth checking out. Although in adapting their source material, the book, “Drama High” by Michael Sokolove, “Rise’s producers changed Josh Radnor’s lead character of drama teacher Lou to be straight rather than gay, the series does feature several students facing issues with being trans and coming out.

Even though I’m still wary of the change, I realize this series, set in the gayest-friendly of places a high school can offer, its drama department — has the chance to say something really interesting, meaningful and ultimately, entertaining.

John Griffiths, executive director, GALECA: the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics

“Instinct,” with Alan Cumming as network TV’s first gay character to top an hour drama, should be a kick, given the star’s unique charms (and he was more than good on “The Good Wife”). Should be a cheeky kick — he tracks serial killers, teaches at a university and writes books (Whoopi Goldberg plays his editor). He also rides a motorcycle. How butch.

Curious to see how the new Paramount Network’s reboot of the Winona Ryder/Christian Slater cult classic “Heathers” turns out. In this series version of the teen-horror comedy, one of the three titular cliquish high school meanies happens to be gay. The snark is played by out newcomer Brendan Scannell, who, judging by the witty banter he tossed at the show’s TCA panel, has a serious future in comedy. Another potential standout here: Lilli Birdsell, hilarious in clips as the super-pert white mom to a black Heather (Jasmine Mathews). 

It’s not rife with LGBTQ characters, but “American Woman” (also on Paramount, formerly Spike TV) with Alicia Silverstone has lots of allure. Silverstone was adorable in “Clueless,” sure, but also terrifically weird in the recent Colin Farrell/Nicole Kidman thriller, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

And her role here — a dutiful wife and mom who ditches her cad of a husband to belatedly join the feminist movement in the early ‘70s — is irresistible. Gay heartthrob Cheyenne Jackson (“30 Rock”) co-stars as the love interest of Silverstone’s BFF, played by Mena Suvari. The show comes with an authentic vibe and cinematic look, surprising considering it’s created by “Real Housewives” fixture, Kyle Richards (it’s based, in fact, on her mom’s own life trajectory).

Steve Gidlow, TV, MediaVillage

In an age where all that is old is new again, it’s refreshing to see the upcoming new installments of ABCs “Roseanne” tackling a sensitive issue like gender fluidity. With Darlene back at home caring for Dan and Roseanne, her parents are faced with Darlene’s young son Mark (Ames McNamara) who his experimenting with his fashion style and outward appearance — all much to grandpa Dan’s chagrin.

Even in its heyday, “Roseanne” was never a show that shied away from big social issues so it’s refreshing this reboot is tackling the issue of letting a young person explore what makes them happy head on, even though it might make those closest to them less than comfortable.

Malcolm Venable, TVGuide.com, senior editor, West Coast

“Pose” — Only Ryan Murphy could sell a network on a story that juxtaposes the New York City ‘80s ballroom scene with the uptown upper crust elite of the Reagan era, while hiring a record number of trans talent in front of and behind the camera. It looks gorgeous and the first footage we saw at TCA included scenes that looked like note-for-note recreations of moments from “Paris Is Burning,” which — no joke — made my heart flutter.

“9-1-1”— Angela Bassett’s husband coming out to her as gay (in the first episode) but the high camp that Murphy’s team, Brad Falcuck, Tim Minear and the uber fierce Alexis Martin Woodhall (seriously Google her) put together. That translates to seeing the emergency response team, which includes Peter Krause, Aisha Hinds and Kenneth Choi.

“Versace” is essential television. Lush, vivid, intensely terrifying and relevant for its messages. Great performances from Judith Light, Penelope Cruz and Edgar Ramirez but Darren Criss is life-changing. And, surprise: don’t expect much Versace. It’s about Andrew Cunanan.
“2 Dope Queens” — Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson take their podcast to the stage for a limited-episode run on HBO. They’re authentic and revelatory to their experience as black women, but as the packed multi-cultural New York City audiences show, their stories are universal covering nerd life, boy troubles and of course Beyonce. It’s hilarious and they represent hard for their LGBTQ fam.

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Out & About

Forget Santa Claus – Ginger Minj is comin’ to town

‘Drag Race’ alum’s Winter Wonderland Tour stops in D.C. Nov. 29 and 30

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Ginger Minj will perform her holiday spectacular Winter Wonderland Tour at Miracle Theatre.

Ginger Minj is a busy little elf.

From her new country album “Double Wide Diva” to sporadic stints in TV and movies to her upcoming book, “Southern Fried Sass” (which reportedly scored her a six-figure deal), the “Drag Race” diva is everywhere these days, including a venue near you. On Nov. 29 and 30, the new queen of Christmas will perform her holiday spectacular Winter Wonderland Tour at Miracle Theatre.

We recently caught up with the multitalented actress/comedian/singer to discuss her continued success, including making friends with Jennifer Aniston while filming Netflix’s “Dumplin,’” her take on the latest Dave Chappelle backlash, the best Christmas gift she’s ever received, and what exactly makes her the “nicest bitch” this side of the North Pole – but first, let’s take a sleigh ride back to the beginning.

BLADE: Tell me a bit about how you got started in drag and the genesis of Ginger Minj. 

GINGER MINJ: Like most good show-tune-loving queers, I stumbled into drag through musical theater. I auditioned for a show that required either full-frontal nudity or drag, and I figured I would fare better in a wig and heels than nothing at all. I got the role and really took to it quickly. I felt more free and honest as a performer than I ever had before, and I realized I could make a livable income doing something that I was wholly responsible for creating. 

BLADE: How has your appearance on “Drag Race” helped your career, and what are your top takeaways from your time on the show?

GM: It’s an international platform that allows us to introduce ourselves to the entire world. It got me a seat at the table with people and places that refused to even open the door for me in the past. I think there was – and maybe still is sometimes – this initial assumption that drag artists are limited in their talents, but we have been able to show the world that we are just as talented and capable as any other entertainer. I don’t wear a wig as a gimmick. I wear it as an accessory, and it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be taken as seriously as any other actor, singer, etc. “Drag Race” is doing a great job of showing the world that – and I’ll forever be grateful.

BLADE: If folks didn’t catch you on “Drag Race,” they might recognize you from the 2018 Netflix movie “Dumplin’” starring Jennifer Aniston and Dove Cameron. What was your experience like on set, and do you have any other TV/film projects in the works?

GM: “Dumplin’” was the single best experience of my life! Jennifer Aniston brought me coffee every morning, and Kathy Najimy had my trailer moved next to hers so we could listen to Beyoncé and play with makeup. That entire cast and crew treated all of us queens with unbelievable respect. It really gave me a passion for filmmaking and, yes, I’m happy to say there are a few more projects – big screen and small – coming your way soon.

BLADE: What makes you the “nicest bitch you’ll ever meet?”

GM: It’s like those good ole’ southern church ladies who will give you the shirts off their backs but read you to filth for not bringing one of your own. The only thing bigger than my mouth is my heart and the “shady” things I say should never be taken seriously. 

BLADE: As a comedian yourself, what are your thoughts on the latest Dave Chappelle/Netflix controversy?

GM: I’ve always felt like comedy and drag go hand in hand: It’s an outrageous way to start a conversation and make people confront their own feelings about anything and everything. That being said, I think there’s a way to do that without disparaging and discrediting an entire group of human beings. I think it’s shameful that someone with that great of a platform would choose to punch down. 

BLADE: Your new single “Walk Tall” is about growing up gay in the South – and it’s a very good song. Radio worthy even, but a hard sell, given its content, to a country-music audience. How do you think that changes? Will LGBTQ+ country artists ever enjoy the kind of success their straight counterparts do?

GM: I think so. To be completely honest with you, I’ve gotten much more support for that album from the country community than I have from the drag world. The message is so universal, and we were very careful to do it in an authentic, simple way. When we stop focusing on our differences and start embracing our similarities, the world can change. I just do the things that make me happy and hope it finds the people who need to hear it. 

BLADE: Christmas is just around the corner – do you prefer giving or receiving? What’s your most prized Christmas present from the past?

GM: I’m definitely a giver! I drive myself crazy for months researching and planning and looking for the perfect gifts for everyone. It’s my way of showing the people I care most about that while I may be busy, I’m listening. I hear them, I see them, and I appreciate them. The best Christmas present I ever got was a cheap plastic pair of ruby slippers from my mama when I was a kid. I still have them. That moment changed my life forever. It’s what actually inspired “Walk Tall.”

BLADE: Like Santa Claus himself, the Ginger Minj Winter Wonderland Tour 2021 is coming to town. What do you have in store for audiences this holiday season?

GM: What don’t we have in store?! There are 20 costume changes, instructional videos gone terribly wrong, singing, dancing, magic tricks, fog machines, comedy, and it even snows over the audience! This is the biggest, prettiest, most ambitious show we have ever put together.

BLADE: Looking forward to 2022, what’s in the works? What are a few of your New Year’s resolutions?

GM: So many great things — more music, some movies, some TV, a stage production of “La Cage aux Folles” in Chicago, and my book “Southern Fried Sass” will hit the shelves. It’s a great time to be the “Glamour Toad,” and I am grateful every single day. 

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Music & Concerts

Forget streaming, the holiday classics return to area stages

Bring your proof of vaccination and check out a local production this season

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A scene from a previous Gay Men's Chorus of Washington Holiday Show. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year ago, the holiday season was streamed. But now, thanks to various protocols including masks and proof of vaccination, DMV theatergoers can come together and experience – live and in-person — both beloved classics and some promising new works. Here’s a smattering of what’s out there.

At Olney Theatre, Paul Morello is thrilled to bring back “A Christmas Carol 2021” (through Dec. 26), his solo adaptation of Dickens’ ghost story. Concerning returning to a live audience, Morello says, “While this is technically a one-person show, it’s really about the connection and collaboration with an audience, being in the same room, breathing in unison. I can’t do this without an audience and for a story that thrives on redemption, mortality, isolation, the need for community and connection, and the things that matter most, the timing couldn’t be better.”

Olney also presents “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” through Jan. 2. This musical “tale as old as time” stars out actor Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero plays the Beast. olneytheatre.org

For the holidays, Synetic Theater at Crystal City is reworking “Cinderella” (Nov. 27-Dec. 26). Led by an all-female team of creators, this festive take on the classic fairytale is inspired by Afro-Latino music and dance. Directed and adapted by Maria Simpkins who also plays the title role. synetictheater.org

Last year, because of COVID-19, Ford’s Theatre presented “A Christmas Carol” as a radio broadcast, but now the fully produced play returns to the venue’s historic stage through Dec. 27. A popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years, the thoroughly enjoyable and topnotch take on the Dickens’ classic features Craig Wallace reprising the part of Scrooge, the miser who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy. fords.org

Another D.C. tradition guaranteed to put audiences in a holiday mood is the Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” playing at the Warner Theatre through Dec. 26. Set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanted score, this charming and superbly executed offering takes place in Georgetown circa 1882 and features a retinue of historic figures along with children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather. Choreography is by Septime Webre. washingtonballet.org

The Folger Consort, the superb early music ensemble in residence at the Folger, will be performing seven concerts of “A Medieval Christmas” (Dec. 10-18) at St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill. A streaming version of the concert will also be available to view on-demand. folger.edu

At Lincoln Theatre, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. presents “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 4, 11, and 12) replete with tap-dancing elves, a dancing Christmas tree, snow, and a lot more. The fun and festive program’s song list includes “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “The 12 Rockin’ Days of Christmas,” and “Boogie Woogie Frosty.” Featured performances range from the full Chorus, soloists, all GMCW ensembles, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus. gmcw.org

Arena Stage is marking the season with August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” (through Dec. 26), a drama about a small group of friends who gather following the untimely death of their friend, a blues guitarist on the edge of stardom. Directed by Tazewell Thompson, the production features an exciting cast that includes local actors Dane Figueroa Edidi and Roz White. arenastage.org

Creative Cauldron is serving up some holiday magic with “The Christmas Angel” (Dec. 9-19). Based on a little-known 1910 novel by Abbey Farwell Brown, it’s the story of a lonely and bitter spinster who returns to happiness through a box of old toys. The commissioned new holiday musical is a collaboration of longtime musical collaborators and married couple Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics and book). creativecauldron.org

In keeping with the Yuletide spirit, the National Theatre presents two feel-good national tour musicals. First, it’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (through Dec. 5), a musical take on Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.”

Next up is “Tootsie” (Dec. 7-12), the hit musical based on the 1982 gender-bending film starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a popular soap opera. The show boasts a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and a score by Tony winner David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit). thenationaldc.com

Keegan Theatre presents its annual holiday offering, “An Irish Carol” (Dec. 10-31). Set in a modern Dublin pub, the funny yet poignant original work (a nod to Dickens) tracks the changes in the life of a rich but miserable publican over the course of one Christmas Eve. keegantheatre.org

At Theater J, it’s the Kinsey Sicks’ “Oy Vey in a Manger” (Dec. 17-25). Blending drag, four-part harmony, and political humor, the “dragapella beautyshop quartet” brings its own hilariously irreverent view on the holidays. theaterj.org

And through Jan. 2, Signature Theatre continues to brighten the season with its production of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” directed by the company’s out artistic director Matthew Gardiner and featuring out actor David Merino as Angel, a preternaturally energetic drag queen and percussionist. sigtheare.org

The Music Center at Strathmore, also in Bethesda, is presenting a wide range of musical holiday offerings including “Manheim Steamroller Christmas” (Dec. 3 and 4), a multimedia holiday tradition; Sarah Brightman in “A Christmas Symphony” (Dec. 6 and 7); “A Celtic Christmas with Séan Heely Celtic Band” (Dec. 11); Washington Bach Consort’s “Bach’s Epic Christmas Oratorio” (Dec. 11); the beloved “The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas” (Dec. 16 and 17); and last but not least “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 20), Tchaikovsky’s classic reimagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”). strathmore.org

And finally, something strictly for the kids: Imagination Stage presents “Corduroy” (Dec. 11-Jan. 24). Based on the beloved children’s books by Don Freeman, it’s the heartwarming story of a girl and her perfectly imperfect Teddy Bear. Best for ages 3-9. imaginationstage.org

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Bars & Parties

Disco Funk Brunch at Crazy Aunt Helen’s

Tara Hoot and DJ Phil Reese perform

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Tara Hoot and DJ Phil Reese (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Drag queen Tara Hoot and DJ Phil Reese perform at the biweekly Disco Funk Brunch at the LGBT-owned Crazy Aunt Helen’s on Sunday. For future showtimes, go to crazyaunthelens.com. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

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