Review: PARADISE SQUARE Is ‘Bold, Heartbreaking, And Glorious’

The cast of the new Broadway show Paradise Square
Cast of Paradise Square via Instagram – photo by Kevin Berne

Guest review by Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  Occasionally it raises a theater’s roof with the power of a musical like Paradise Square which opened last night at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theater. Continue reading “Review: PARADISE SQUARE Is ‘Bold, Heartbreaking, And Glorious’”

Trailer: Award-Winning Movie Musical ‘Still Waiting in the Wings’

Guest post by Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

You can turn off its bright lights, lock up its stage doors, and silence the “Lullaby of Broadway,” but you’ll never take away a gay man’s dreams of being a musical theatre star!

But while the rest of us wait for theatre marquees across America to light up again, we can follow Anthony on his journey in the new movie musical comedy, Still Waiting in the Wings is set for its worldwide release May 15, 2020, on DVD and all digital platforms, including Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

Still Waiting in the Wings is a light-hearted musical tale following the triumphs and trials of actors dreaming of the Great White Way, mixing sweet aspirations with bitter drama. Our stars sing and dance while living the reality of slinging hash under the florescent lights at Times Square’s famed “Café Broadway.”

There are truly no people like show people and there’s no telling what can happen when they’re pitted against each other. Sprinkled along the way are special appearances by Nick Adams, Ed Asner, Carole Cook, Lee Meriwether, Patricia Richardson, Chita Rivera, Seth Rudetsky, Sally Struthers, Bruce Vilanch, and Cindy Williams.

Jeffrey A. Johns and Chita Rivera in ‘Still Waiting in the Wings’

“Since theatres all over the country are closed right now, many of us are missing the arts in our life,” says star and co-writer Jeffrey A. Johns. “If this movie can bring the joy of musicals to people right now, I couldn’t be more thrilled. We could all use a smile and some laughter right now and hope the film can bring that to people during this difficult time.”

Still Waiting in the Wings has screened at film festivals across the world and has won several top awards. Highlights include Q Cinema: Fort Worth (“Best of the Festival”), qFlix: Philadelphia (“Rising Star Award in Acting –Jeffrey A. Johns”), Garden State Film Festival (“Best Musical Feature”), FilmOut: San Diego (“Best Ensemble” and “Best Soundtrack”), California Independent Film Festival (“Best Feature Film”), qFlix: Worcester, New England’s LGBT Film Festival (“Audience Favorite”), Cinema Diverse: Palm Springs (“Festival Favorite”), and California Independent Film Festival (“Best Actress in a Feature Film – Rena Strober”).

The movie is directed by Q. Allan Brocka and written by Jeffrey A. Johns and Arie Gonzalez. The cast includes Jeffrey A. Johns, Joe Abraham, Rena Strober, Adam Huss, Blake Peyrot, Harrison White, and Rebekah Kochan.

Still Waiting in the Wings and CD soundtrack are currently available for pre-order at www.JJSpotlightProductions.com

 

Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., is a freelance writer/playwright who has reviewed film and theatre, both on and off-Broadway, for media outlets including The Randy Report, the New York Blade, and Edge Publications. You can follow him at TheOUTfront.com.

Earth Day 2020: Uniting The World For Climate Action

(image via TheOUTfront.com)

Guest post by Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

While a picture is worth a thousand words, some images tell stories which change the course of humanity and whose values are immeasurable by any standard known to mankind. Such is the case of the photograph taken in 1968 by the crew of Apollo 8 and became globally known as “Earthrise.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains:

Today the Blue Planet marks not only the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but even during a global pandemic and social distancing, the world is coming together in one common goal, Climate Action. The vision is straightforward and simple. From the website:

“Our world needs transformational change… As an individual, you yield real power and influence as a consumer, a voter, and a member of a community that can unite for change… When your voice and your actions are united with thousands or millions of others around the world, we create a movement that is inclusive, impactful, and impossible to ignore… The time is long overdue for a global outpouring of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to create a new plan of action for our planet. Earth Day 2020 can be the catalyst that galvanizes an unparalleled global collaboration.”

How can you help S.A.V.E. our planet?

For 24 hours “Earth Day Network” will be inspiring change with streaming content bringing viewers together for performances, teach-ins, calls to action, and global conversations meant to empower people to make a better environmental future for our planet.

Earth Day Network LIVE

“We must build the largest, most diverse online mobilization in history in defense of the environment. Our world needs a united response for bold action.

On Earth Day 2020, we say enough is enough.
We say we believe in science. We say that everyone can make a difference.
We say that the protection of our planet and the wellbeing of the people who live upon it are the top priorities.
On Earth Day 2020, we say that we’re committing to vote, we’re registering to vote and we’re showing up to vote.
Human health and planetary health are inextricably linked.
Learn more about Earth Day activities, Climate Change information, and joining forces with others around the world making a difference in their future at EarthDay.org

Our Planet Our Home credit: Ernesto Yerena Montejano)

Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., is a freelance writer/playwright who has reviewed film and theatre, both on and off-Broadway, for media outlets including The Randy Report, the New York Blade, and Edge Publications. You can follow him at TheOUTfront.com.

Out Music: Spencer Day & Effie Passero ‘State Of Emergency’

L-R Effie Passero, Spencer Day (screen capture)

Guest post by Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

Ever been minding your own business, just gigging in Mexico with an American Idol finalist, and the next thing you know you’re both quarantined because of a global pandemic?  Well, that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago to out singer/songwriter and #1 Billboard chart-topper, Spencer Day.

Now we’ve all had our lives upended by the coronavirus crisis, but not many of us are stuck in a foreign country like Spencer and Effie Passero.  If we were, suffice it to say we’d probably be handling it with anxiety and panic, rather than humor and music from a rooftop.

But their new collaboration, “State of Emergency” proves even in the worst of times, it can be the best times if you’re there for each other.

“Like many of you, we are trying to make the best of the worst and keep looking on the bright side of life,” the duo commented. “Earlier this month we came down to Mexico for some concerts, and then a week later it felt like the world was falling apart.”

“This is a brand-new song we wrote after finding ourselves with the need for ‘social distancing’ down here in Mexico,” continued the artists. “We hope everyone is safe, healthy, and finding moments to smile.”

“STATE OF EMERGENCY”
Written by: Spencer Day & Effie Passero
Performed by: Spencer Day, Effie Passero, Zoe Wood, Eduardo Leon
Videographer: Daniel Marquez Ortega (The Groove House Studio)

SPENCER DAY is one of the most acclaimed young artists creating witty and sophisticated pop songs in the tradition of the classic American writers. He has been called “compelling” by Time Out New York, “prodigiously talented” by the Village Voice, and “brilliant” by the San Francisco Chronicle. The Washington Post praised his “cool jazz sensibilities” and “cleverly crafted tales.” Day has wandered amid the expansive and diverse landscape of American music, developing an artistic sensibility that borrows from numerous sources: jazz, musical theater, cabaret, soul, folk, traditional and contemporary pop. He uses intuition and improvisation as his primary tools to craft a sound that is familiar, yet fresh and innovative at the same time. Day’s album Vagabond peaked at #11 on the Billboard Album Chart and stayed on the chart for 47 weeks. The lead single, “Til You Come To Me,” peaked at #3. His recent album, Daybreak, debuted at #1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart. Spencer’s first collaboration with Postmodern Jukebox just surpassed 1.5 million views on YouTube. Broadway By Day, his upcoming album of reimagined theater songs with surprising and inventive genre-blurring arrangements, will feature special guests Jane Monheit and Dave Koz.

Follow Spencer Day on Facebook here, Twitter here, and Instagram here.

EFFIE PASSERO is a classically trained performer turned singer-songwriter. After 12 years in Opera Theatre, she discovered her passion truly lies in storytelling and sharing her own life through music. In early 2018, she was seen on ABC”s first season of “American Idol,” placing in the top 20 contestants. In late 2018, she won the Hollywood Media in Music Award for her original song, “Sarsaparilla.” Effie has been brought into session singing, working on both Leonard Cohen and Barbra Streisand’s latest albums. She is currently finishing her first EP to be will be released in the fall.

Follow Effie Passero on Facebook here, Twitter here, and Instagram here.


Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., is a freelance writer/playwright who has reviewed film and theatre, both on and off-Broadway, for media outlets including The Randy Report, the New York Blade, and Edge Publications. You can follow him at TheOUTfront.com.

World AIDS Day 2019: Attention Must Be Paid

December 1 is recognized around the globe as World AIDS Day

December 1 is recognized around the globe as World AIDS Day

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr

Every year as World AIDS Day approaches, I struggle with what to write about a subject so deeply woven into the fabric of our community, but this year the story was unfortunately clear.

Three decades after “the first-ever world health day” was declared by the World Health Organization as “an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV; show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died,” World AIDS Day is largely forgotten.

In New York City, the epicenter of the AIDS crisis, home of GMHC, BroadwayCares/EquityFightsAIDS, ACTUP, and openly HIV-positive City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the Empire State Building won’t be lit red in recognition again this year.

The last time was in 2015 when I noticed World AIDS Day wasn’t on the lighting schedule and submitted the request as a private New Yorker living with HIV/AIDS.  (Requests are usually made by a major organization/corporation.)  When I made the same request the following year, it was denied even though nothing else was scheduled. The Empire State Building hasn’t recognized World AIDS Day since.

Empire State Building

World AIDS Day isn’t important enough to get the attention of mainstream media. It even goes largely ignored by our own LGBTQ media. The argument is, HIV/AIDS is not a “serious” problem, but the facts* are:

  • 9 million people across the globe with HIV/AIDS in 2018.
  • 2 million were adults and 1.7 million were children
  • 7 million were newly infected
  • 770,000 died

And there is still no cure and no vaccine.

What they’re really saying is HIV/AIDS isn’t killing enough people anymore; it’s not the “disease of the month;” and/or it won’t get enough “clicks” for their advertisers. Here are the results of that attitude and the stories not getting told.

Current retroviral medications that are allowing people like me to live healthy full lives and PrEP – which is helping prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS – are lifesaving, but only if you have access to them.

Many people in our community, especially people of color, don’t have the same access to treatment let alone afford the medication’s $1800/month price tag.  Moreover, only 79% of people with HIV know their status.  The 21% who don’t is due in great part to a lack of access to testing.

A recent article on The Randy Report published the data from a study on the attitudes and behaviors of the youngest generations towards people with HIV and the results were horrifying.

  • 28% of HIV-negative millennials said they have avoided hugging or interacting with HIV-positive people.
  • 41% of Gen Z respondents were either somewhat informed or not at all informed about HIV, compared to 23% of millennials.

*via HIV.gov 

Even in our own community, there is a shocking lack of knowledge about HIV transmission which has fostered a campaign to educate, “Undetectable = Untransmittable.” Still, the stigma of HIV/AIDS continues, not so much out of fear as before but out of sheer ignorance.

At the other end of the spectrum are the long-term survivors of the AIDS epidemic which even fewer are talking about.  I know many with severe health issues caused by the ravages of early drug treatments like AZT which are only now catching up with them.  Coupled with growing older in a Community obsessed with youth who are oblivious to the basic facts of HIV/AIDS, it’s yet another bitter pill to swallow.

Finally, an original purpose of World AIDS Day was to commemorate those lost in the plague, and those people still deserve to be remembered especially by our Community.  The health care providers, researchers, activists, fundraisers, caregivers who fought for them (and continue to fight) expect nothing less.

If we don’t care about their lives who will?  Their stories are part of Our Story.

World AIDS Day – attention must be paid because lives depend on it.

Theatre Review: ‘The Inheritance’ The Gay Epic Housing Many Stories

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

On a white platform resting like a blank sheet of paper just above the bare stage, a diverse group of gay men gathers with pencils and paper, laptops, and tablets.  They write their stories — or try to begin. The story germinating inside the youngest to be nurtured by his mentor will grow round them blossoming into an epic reflective of a community continually grappling with its own story.  This is The Inheritance, Matthew Lopez’s two-part play which has opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Structured on, Howard’s End, Lopez reimagines E.M Forster’s masterpiece as New York City’s 21st century, “gay society.”  In the process, he trades the original’s examination of social mores, ridged conduct, and reputation for issues of intergenerational relationships, interpersonal responsibility, and community. Bridging the two is Forster himself aka “Morgan” offering a masterclass to his writing protégé and creating the story within a story framework, not unlike the stage around the central “writing platform.”  Following Forster’s roadmap, The Inheritance is a journey of revelation to find lost connections, that while occasionally veering off path, arrives with an emotional impact like few other plays in recent years.

The cast of The Inheritance (all production photos: Matthew Murphy)

Though the trend on Broadway is sadly towards the “100 minute, no intermission, in’n’out” format or spectaculars, one-ton puppets, and wizarding magic shows, The Inheritance triumphs doing the exact opposite. For six-and-half hours, over two performances, it grips an audience so tightly one can hear petals drop and does it on a virtually bare stage.  The story of lives as they lose connection to each other, their community, and themselves doesn’t need gimmicks to entertain.  It has a common humanity transcending sexuality, age, gender, or race, to profoundly engage.

The Inheritance erupts with unvarnished honesty, overwhelming insight, and a kind of brilliance that’s shaking audiences. In particular, the description of living through the AIDS crisis by one character to another who wasn’t there is so visceral, he “gets it” in no uncertain terms because those of us who were, are there again. Additionally, Lopez has a great gift for the extended monologue.  At a time, when people barely listen to each other, holding anyone’s attention with thoughtful, introspective speeches longer than 240 characters is a talent to be treasured.

Jordan Barbour, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Kyle Soller, Arturo Luís Soria and Kyle Harris in The Inheritance

So, it seems odd The Inheritance’s flaws are in conversational “everyday scenes.” It’s been reported, the play is “drawn largely from Lopez’s personal experiences.” Ironically, the familiar scenes involving the close-knit, circle of friends often feel superficial and didactic, if not unnecessary.  Even so, the action never drags due to Stephen Daldry’s flawless direction and superlative staging.

With essentially a platform, a few costume changes, and various props from a cast that almost never leaves the stage, Daldry creates the absorbing world of The Inheritance. He instinctively focuses on what theatre is fundamentally about, great storytelling, fearlessly trusting the material and a stellar cast.

Leading The Inheritance’s impeccable ensemble are Andrew Burnap as Toby Darling, John Benjamin Hickey as Henry Wilcox, Paul Hilton as Morgan/Walter Poole, Samuel H. Levine as Adam/Leo and Kyle Soller as Eric Glass all of whom are reprising the West End roles they originated. Expect to see those names again come award season as they each give outstanding and magnetic performances.  Hilton’s superbly nuanced sage and mentor; Levine’s coming of age search for belonging; Hickey’s effortless inhumanity; Burnap’s addiction to his persona; and at the center, Glass fighting for his own humanity make The Inheritance an embarrassment of performance riches.  Paul Hilton alone is not to be missed.

Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller and Andrew Burnap in The Inheritance

Most often, an inheritance has a significant monetary value and/or sometimes sentimental.  The historic house in The Inheritance may have both, but its intrinsic value is beyond either of those measures. It’s the stories passed down by and about those who came before which for generations made the house, a home. Such is the inherent value of stories to a community. They bind it together in shared solidarity and guide it by passing down wisdom and experience.  The Inheritance demonstrates the immeasurable gift our predecessors gave us; the invaluable legacy our stories are for future generations; and the power of great storytelling in the theatre.

“If we can’t have a conversation with our past, what will our future be? Who are we? And more importantly: Who will we become?” – Matthew Lopez

The Inheritance
By Matthew Lopez
PART 1: 3 hours 15 minutes, with two intermissions
PART 2: 3 hours 20 mins, with one intermission and 5 min pause
The Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, Open End Run
More information, performance schedule, and tickets click here.

Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., is a freelance writer/playwright who has reviewed film and theatre, both on and off-Broadway, for media outlets including The Randy Report, the New York Blade, and Edge Publications.

 

 

Theatre Review: Three Cheers For Harvey Fierstein’s New Play ‘Bella Bella’

Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein in his new play, Bella Bella

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

Before AOC, before Nancy Pelosi, there was Bella, Bella Abzug.

Known as “Battling Bella,” she was a graduate of Columbia Law School who became a civil rights attorney, social activist, leader of the women’s movement, member of the House of Representatives, and famously wore hats because “as a young lawyer it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee.”

Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug’s brilliant, often biting words and crusading work are the genesis of Harvey Fierstein’s enthralling, tour de force, new play Bella Bella which opened last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I.  Awaiting the fateful results of the 1976 New York Democratic Senatorial primary, Bella holds up in the bathroom of her campaign suite reflecting on her life’s work; and for 90 minutes Mr. Fierstein holds an audience captive with her hilarious, heroic, and often heartbreaking story as few other performers could.

Billed as “written and performed by Harvey Fierstein from the words and works of Bella Abzug” it’s difficult to know where Abzug stops and Fierstein begins without being her scholar.  But Bella Abzug knew how to make her point in no uncertain terms and Harvey Fierstein knows how to weave a story for maximum impact.   Together, Bella Bella is a stunningly relevant and eye-opening call to action for a country that doesn’t seem to have progressed much beyond the America outside the window of her john in 1976.

Harvey Fierstein in Bella Bella (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Bella’s opening diatribe on equality, sexist elections, and how women, who are a 2% differential in the electorate yet 1% of the House, (still only 30%) vote against themselves, is immediately passionate and gripping. Ringing so familiar, one wonders whether she’s been transported to the present or if we’ve been taken back to her, and so it is throughout Bella Bella.

Her fight for civil rights and equality fifty years ago mirrors the very challenges still facing America today.

Most widely known for her leadership of the women’s movement and the ERA, Abzug was also a pioneer of Federal Gay Rights.  Representing the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Greenwich Village, she embraced her LGBT constituency, even campaigning at the Continental Baths.  In 1974 she introduced in Congress the first Gay civil rights bill, the “Equality Act” which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.  It failed to pass but succeeded in getting Gay rights into the national conversation.

In 1970 when Bella Abzug was elected to Congress, Harvey Fierstein was in Brooklyn already writing and performing in drag.  Fifty years and four Tony Awards later he has brought them together on one stage in what can only be described as the perfect pairing of subject and performer.  With her words, he has written a smart, insightful, and impassioned portrait of a woman, a Jewish woman, who recognized the discrimination in her path; but walked it anyway because she believed in equality and had the hutzpah to fight for it.  With his command of the stage, he creates a Bella that is anything but a drag.

Harvey Fierstein in Bella Bella (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Fierstein gives a vibrant, passionate, and powerful performance with no want of makeup or an Abzug ensemble, apart from her iconic hat.  In plain black rehearsal clothes, Fierstein is at the top of his prowess as the fierce firebrand wisecracking one minute, outraged the next, inspiring throughout.

Some works are a labor of love, done for the joy, not the reward. Still, there are a few others, like Mr. Fierstein’s triumphant Bella Bella which are even more. To those lucky enough to hear what she “thinks about in the bathroom,” this is clearly his labor of passion, created and performed because it had to be done and done now, much like work of Bella Abzug herself.

Bella Bella

Written and Performed by Harvey Fierstein
From the words and works of Bella Abzug
90 minutes No intermission
Now through December 1st
Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage I
More Information and Tickets HERE https://bellabellaplay.com/

Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., is a freelance writer/playwright who has reviewed film and theatre, both on and off-Broadway, for media outlets including The Randy Report, the New York Blade, and Edge Publications