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Prolific producer Craig Zadan, an appreciation

Zadan and Neil Meron produced ‘Footloose,’ ‘Hairspray,’ the Oscars and more



Craig Zadan (left) and Neil Meron (Photo courtesy Zadan Meron Productions)

The entertainment world was shocked to learn that prolific gay producer Craig Zadan died Monday night, Aug. 20, at his home in the Hollywood Hills of complications from shoulder replacement surgery. He was 69. 

Zadan and Meron productions have earned six Oscars, 17 Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, two Peabody honors, and a Grammy, Variety reported. The team’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” for NBC on Easter Sunday is nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, as is their Lifetime TV movie “Flint,” produced with and starring Queen Latifah, about the water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich.

I met Craig and Neil in 1995 to talk about their NBC movie “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story,” about a respected Washington National Guard Colonel who was forced out under the gay military ban. The film was co-produced by Barbra Streisand and the film’s star, Glenn Close, and co-starred Judy Davis.

They were genuinely attentive, ebullient and passionate. Craig’s broad smile buoyed his description of their mission: 1. bring back musicals; 2. elevate biopics; 3. unapologetically infuse diversity into all their endeavors.

And they did, with soul. In 1997, they produced Disney’s “Cinderella” for ABC with singer/“Moesha” actress Brandy as Cinderella, co-producer Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, Bernadette Peters as the evil stepmother; Filipino actor Paolo Montalban as The Prince, Whoopi Goldberg as his mother and Victor Garber as his father. It was groundbreaking.

“Seeing a princess with box braids like mine and a fairy godmother like Whitney, who could have been my own mother or any one of my aunties, gave me and girls who looked like me a glimpse at an early age of why it is necessary to demand representation of all types of people playing all times of roles in films,” Martha Tesema recalled on Mashable in 2017.

Craig and I stayed in touch periodically via email, important during controversies such as when CBS refused to air “The Reagans” in 2003. A leak revealed a scene with President Ronald Reagan (James Brolin) turning to wife Nancy (Judy Davis)—who suggested helping people with AIDS—and replies: “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” There’s no evidence Reagan actually said that—but he might have. The TV biopic aired on Showtime.

“By being out and proud, Craig Zadan helped blaze a path for so many others in Hollywood to follow,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “He was a truly visionary leader who spoke to our hearts and souls through his prolific and profound work…[O]ur hearts go out to all who loved Craig, especially his life partner, Elwood Hopkins, and his producing partner, Neil Meron.”

“We met when Craig was doing Cinderella in the nineties and geeked out over all things musical,” friend Brad Bessey, former executive producer for Entertainment Tonight, told the Los Angeles Blade.

“Craig’s gift was that it was never about him, it was always about honoring the material, the music, the artists, the legacy, and the audience. Being the ultimate fan made him the ultimate creator.”



An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón



Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography) 

Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.

When Eva Perón died of cancer at 33 in 1952, the people’s reaction was so intense that Argentina literally ran out of cut flowers. Mourners were forced to fly in stems from neighboring countries, explains out actor Caesar Samayoa. 

For Samayoa, playing President Perón to Shireen Pimental’s First Lady Eva in director Sammi Cannold’s exciting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a dream fulfilled. 

As a Guatemalan-American kid, he had a foot in two worlds. Samayoa lived and went to school in suburban Emerson, N.J. But he spent evenings working at his parents’ botanica in Spanish Harlem. 

During the drives back and forth in the family station wagon, he remembers listening to “Evita” on his cassette player: “It’s the first cast album I remember really hearing and understanding. I longed to be in the show.”

As an undergrad, he transferred from Bucknell University where he studied Japanese international relations to a drama major at Ithica College. His first professional gig was in 1997 playing Juliet in Joe Calarco’s off-Broadway “Shakespeare’s R&J.” Lots of Broadway work followed including “Sister Act,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” and most significantly, Samayoa says, “Come From Away,” a musical telling of the true story of airline passengers stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. He played Kevin J. (one half of a gay couple) and Ali, a Muslim chef.  

He adds “Evita” has proved a powerful experience too: “We’re portraying a populist power couple that changed the trajectory of a country in a way most Americans can’t fully understand. And doing it in Washington surrounded by government and politics is extra exciting.” 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you tap into a real-life character like Perón?

CAESAR SAMAYOA: Fortunately, Sammi [Connald] and I work similarly. With real persons and situations, I immerse myself into history, almost to a ridiculous extent. 

First day in the rehearsal room, we were inundated with artifacts. Sammi has been to Argentina several times and interviewed heavily with people involved in Eva and Peron’s lives. Throughout the process we’d sit and talk about the real history that happened. We went down the rabbit hole.

Sammi’s interviews included time with Eva’s nurse who was at her bedside when she died. We watched videos of those interviews. They’ve been an integral part of our production. 

BLADE: Were you surprised by anything you learned?

SAMAYOA: Usually, Eva and Perón’s relationship is portrayed as purely transactional.  They wrote love letters and I had access to those. At their country home, they’d be in pajamas and walk on the beach; that part of their life was playful and informal. They were a political couple but they were deeply in love too. I latched on to that. 

BLADE: And anything about the man specifically? 

SAMAYOA:  Perón’s charisma was brought to the forefront. In shows I’ve done, some big names have attended. Obama. Clinton. Justin Trudeau came to “Come From Away.” Within seconds, the charisma makes you give into that person. I’ve tried to use that.  

BLADE: And the part? 

SAMAYOA: Perón is said to be underwritten. But I love his power and the songs he sings [“The Art of the Possible,” “She is a Diamond,” etc.]. I’m fully a baritone and to find that kind of role in a modern musical is nearly impossible. And in this rock opera, I can use it to the full extent and feel great about it.

BLADE: “Evita” is a co-production with A.R.T. Has it changed since premiering in Boston? 

SAMAYOA: Yes, it has. In fact, 48 hours before opening night in Washington, we made some changes and they’ve really landed. Without giving too much away, we gave it more gravity in reality of time as well as Eva’s sickness and the rapid deterioration. It’s given our second act a huge kind of engine that it didn’t have. 

BLADE: You’re married to talent agent Christopher Freer and you’re very open. Was it always that way for you?

SAMAYOA: When I started acting professionally, it was a very different industry. We were encouraged to stay in the closet or it will cast only in a certain part. There was truth in that. There still is some truth in that, but I refuse to go down that road. I can’t reach what I need to reach unless I’m my most honest self. I can’t do it any other way.

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Out & About

HRC’s National Dinner is back

LGBTQ rights organization’s annual gala features Rhimes, Waithe, Bomer



Actor Matt Bomer will be honored at the HRC National Dinner.

The Human Rights Campaign will host its annual National Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The dinner’s honorees include world-famous producers, actors and entertainers whose work spotlights the fight for civil rights and social justice, including Shonda Rhimes, Lena Waithe and Matt Bomer.

A new event, as part of the weekend, — the Equality Convention — will take place the night before the dinner on Friday, Oct. 13. The convention will showcase the power of the LGBTQ equality movement, feature influential political and cultural voices, and bring together volunteer and movement leaders from across the country to talk about the path ahead.
For more details about the weekend, visit HRC’s website.

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Out & About

MLK Library to spotlight queer Asian writer

Trung Nguyen’s ‘The Magic Fish’ explored



The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will host “A Conversation with Trung Nguyen, Novelist” on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m.

Nguyen’s book, “The Magic Fish” explores the LGBTQ experience and dives deep into Asian heritage and culture. United States Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius will attend the event and introduce Nguyen.

Admission is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

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