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Streisand gets heavy handed; Robyn delights on new albums

Despite lovely moment, new Babs album ‘Walls’ is preachy, lumbering



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Barbra Streisand’s new album ‘Walls’ is her most political in years, perhaps ever. Robyn’s ‘Honey’ takes the opposite approach. (Photos courtesy the Karpel Group)

Singers are getting more politically outspoken these days and more aware of the political implications of their influence.

Taylor Swift has been using her platform to register voters for the midterm elections. Queer artists like Janelle Monáe and Years & Years have used innovative visual albums to recast current political debates. But Barbra Streisand’s new album “Walls” is maybe the most overtly political release since the 2016 election.

Politics is nothing nothing new for Streisand. Her name was even found on one of Richard Nixon’s enemies lists, alongside other prominent celebrities. Throughout her singularly impressive career spanning six decades and boasting hits such as “Happy Days are Here Again,” “The Way We Were” and “People,” Streisand has been public with her politics.

But her new music is her most overtly political so far. She takes aim at current political problems and several of President Trump’s policies regarding climate change and immigration in particular. As she wrote in a statement about the album, “Even basic human decency appears to be melting away faster than the polar ice caps. I wanted to write and sing about some of these things … not only to convey my concerns, but also to state my belief that, if we remain vigilant to the truth, things can eventually turn around.”

The choice of “Walls” for the album title is, of course, a statement in itself. Streisand is keen to diagnose what she sees as the problem with contemporary society — namely, Trump. Yet the album feels somehow out of touch. She continually harkens back to an irrecoverable moment from America’s political past and seems stuck there.

That is not to say the music is bad. In fact, it’s a beautiful album that highlights in many places Streisand’s best virtues as a artist. She has never lost the unmistakable star quality of her voice, which continues to soar. And she is able to convey emotion with a great effect on the listener. Her mash-up of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “What A Wonderful World” (first recorded by Louis Armstrong) is a tear-jerker. It’s Streisand at her absolute best.

The same might be said of her recording of “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” which again connects the her new album to songs protesting the Vietnam War. Beginning with a light string accompaniment, the song transitions to a jazzy piano waltz, before lurching forward into a funkier Motown rhythm. It’s an excellent recording and stands up well against other popular recordings of the song by Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett.

“Better Angels” is another beautiful track. Unlike much of the material here, it offers a way forward. As she sings in the chorus, “We are not enemies/There is no good in that … We will find a way/Through all our differences.” The emotional arc of the song pulls the listener in from the beginning and like the best Broadway songs, it’s impossible not to sing along.

Other tracks on the album hardly live up to expectations, like lead single “Don’t Lie to Me,” a painful exercise in mixed metaphors that feels more like a Twitter rebuttal than a serious work. The video is worse. It has the aesthetic quality of an out-of-date campaign ad, pairing badly edited images with slogan-like text.

Needless to say, the album can be excessively preachy at times. Yet in spite of its melodramatic, heavy-handed tendencies, Streisand nonetheless manages to demonstrate her remarkable abilities as a performer. And although it’s unlikely to bring anyone new into fold, “Walls” is sure to please longtime fans.

After listening to Streisand, it’s almost a relief to turn to the world of Swedish dance-pop with Robyn. Her eighth studio album, “Honey,” is the newest iteration of her sound and it’s wonderful next step.

Since the release of her 1996 debut album “Robyn Is Here,” Robyn has been a dance-pop staple. And her three-part EP “Body Talk,” which featured the single “Dancing On My Own,” reaffirmed her place in pop and club scenes. Both “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Do It Again,” from her 2014 collaboration with the Norwegian group Röyksopp, have been No. 1 songs on the Billboard Dance Club chart.

Robyn is a master of musical silences. Her songs are not overfull, nor is every gap filled by a synth, guitar or vocal hook. “Human Being” featuring Zhala is a good example.

As an album, “Honey” is more interested in individuals rather than society as a whole. But at the same time, there’s something deeply comforting about her sound. It’s mellow and full of life, pulsating and reflective at the same time. And, of course, sexy. Very sexy.

Lead single “Missing U” begins with spiraling synth sounds which give way to a pulsing bass. One can’t help but be reminded of The Who’s introduction to “Baba O’Riley.” The songs “Between The Lines” and “Beach2k20” are the most experimental and fun on the album, featuring trance-inducing beats, alternation between spoken and sung vocals and a wide array of sound effects. Though too far left field for radio play, the songs offer an enjoyable variation between the two more traditional dance-pop tracks “Honey” and “Ever Again.”

Both Streisand’s “Walls” and Robyn’s “Honey” bring to mind the various ways artists deal with politics. Streisand speaks to a collective political crisis; Robyn turns inward. And if Streisand gives reasons to despair, Robyn reminds us to dance. Maybe that is a just as loud a political statement.

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Music & Concerts

BETTY holiday show rocks D.C.

Queer band returns home



BETTY (Photo by Gene Reed, 2021)

D.C. native band BETTY kicked off its “Holly Jollypocalypse” tour with a show at City Winery on Dec. 5. 

The trio, including ally Alyson Palmer and queer sisters Elizabeth and Amy Ziff, debuted several new songs at the show like “Snow,” “Choose You” and “Mistletoe.” 

“Half this set is brand new for you people. You know why? Because we knew we were coming home,” Palmer said at the show. 

The group also played long-loved songs by their fans, like “Xmas Ain’t Coming This Year” and “Miracles Can Happen.” After many requests from the audience, the band played one of their most famous songs —  the theme song from the show “The L Word” — as an encore number. 

Throughout the show, the group expressed their gratitude to be able to perform live again, and recognized the loss so many have experienced over the past two years due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“This really has been an unbelievably challenging time, so challenging that we can’t even really wrap our brains around the PTSD,” Palmer told the audience. “A lot of us have lost a lot. In the past two years, we’ve lost all kinds of things. We’ve lost a lot of people. And that’s a horrible, horrible thing. But hopefully those people are somehow still connected to us.”

There was a familial feel to the night — Amy brought her daughter onstage throughout the show and the band performed the song “Saylor,” which is about her daughter. 

“She’s pretty lucky to see a couple of great goddess moms,” Amy told the audience. 

The band also welcomed local queer artist Be Steadwell to perform a mashup of a an original blues tune and “Silent Night.” Steadwell will be performing her show Drummer Bois: Queer Caroling with Be Steadwell at the Black Cat this Friday. To learn more, visit 

The members of BETTY, who proudly label themselves as “rule breakers” and “equality rockers” have been touring, writing, and advocating for social change through their music since 1986. 

“We’ve been together for 35 years as independent artists, which is pretty miraculous when you consider that with a capitalist system and how hard it is to exist as independent musicians and artists,” Elizabeth said in an interview. “We’re really grateful to our audiences, in particular to our queer community, that has really supported us forever and still does.”

BETTY’s first show was at the 9:30 club, and the band was excited to return to their home, the trio said in an interview. 

“D.C. was a great place to be to come together as feminists and as queer people and as political allies,” Amy said. 

Coming back and seeing the same work done by the same people in LGBTQ and feminist spaces in the District is “wonderful,” Palmer said.

“We’ve been politically engaged for so long and socially active for so long,” Palmer said.  “We grew up playing for protests and playing for those huge Gay Pride marches and pro-choice marches. I mean, that kind of thing just stays with you forever.”

The band has been featured in shows like “Encyclopedia,” and created their own off-Broadway show “BETTY RULES.” The group also launched a podcast in 2019 where they discuss how their band came to be, LGBTQ life and current events. BETTY is slated to release a  new album in spring 2022 in honor of the band’s 36th anniversary. 

Next, the band will travel to New York City, Cincinnati, Ohio, and New Hope, Pa. for the tour. Getting back in the swing of touring has been “incredible” but a physical marathon. 

“You forget that it’s very physical kind of show … so it’s really been funny getting back into shape in that way as well.”

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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



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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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).

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.

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.

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.

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”).

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.

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Music & Concerts

BETTY returns to DC

Queer band to perform at City Winery Dec. 5



BETTY (Photo by Gene Reed, 2021)

Pop-rock band BETTY is returning to their District homeland for a holiday show at City Winery on Dec. 5.  

Fronted by Alyson Palmer and sisters Elizabeth and Amy Ziff, the band who are “rule breakers” and “equality rockers” have been touring, writing, and advocating for social change through their music since 1986. The band has been featured in shows like “The L Word” and “Encyclopedia,” and created their own off-Broadway show “BETTY RULES.”

The D.C. show will kick off a tour that will bring the band to New York City, Cincinnati, and New Hope, Pa. Elizabeth, who identifies as lesbian, said it’s been “incredible” to be in rehearsals for shows again after the pandemic put a hold on live music.  

“We’ve been together for so long. We are a family and we hang out and we’re friends and we play music together,” she said. “It’s our life.”

Amy, who is queer, said she’s excited to perform in the District where the band originally formed. 

“It’s so emotional because it’s where we grew up,” she said. “Not just musically, but it’s where we came out.”

Proof of vaccination is required at all shows. To purchase tickets, visit

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