Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Musical Pleasure

Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia is running a production of the 80s musical Chess. This love story against the backdrop of the game and Cold War politics was a big hit in London but a bomb on Broadway.

lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA. The story involves a romantic triangle between two top players, and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other; all in the context of a Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which both countries wanted to win international chess tournaments for propaganda purposes. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any specific individuals, the character of the American was loosely based on chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer,[1] while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov. (see Wikipedia article for more details)If you remember the Fisher/Spassky chess match of 1972, this carries additional meaning.

This production is amazing! The three leads: Jeremy Kushnier (Signature’s The Rhythm Club and Broadway’s Footloose), Euan Morton (Broadway’s Sondheim on Sondheim and Taboo) and Jill Paice (Signature’s ACE and Broadway’s Curtains!) sing beautifully.

The Ensemble all sing well and include both thin and zoftig characters. The dancing moves takes a bit from disco and tries to make it 2010.

One big change from the Broadway production is the woman lead is more sympathetic. She was a calculating person in the earlier version, probably a good thing for a person who plays the game of chess. Here she wins over hearts. This production switched the location of her songs with the song, Anthem.  They also added a song You and I.

The Signature production changes the locaton of One Night in Bangkok to the middle of Act One from the begging of Act Two. There are several other songs that are added on to Act One that make the personalities of Freddie, The American chess grand master, and Florence much more prominent in this version of the story.

Friends thought the book silly: a simple romance, really. Others wondered if the show had enough heart. They did not find any character to support and root for in the show. I wondered how a show so 1980s that it discusses communism as a viable system and has images of Ronald Reagan start off the show, could entice people to spend a hundred dollars to buy a ticket on the Great White Way.

Go see it in DC, you’ll want to dance in your seat.


Political Advertising

How many of you have received fliers in the mail? It is primary season throughout the US and every candidate is getting their message on the tv and radio and sending fliers in the mail.

The Democratic Primary is bigger than the General Election in Washington, DC because of the overwhelming number of Democrats to Republicans and Independents here. You win the Mayoral and  Council member Democratic races and you’re extremely likely to win.

The DC Council passed a bill guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry. The Ward 5  Coucil member Harry Thomas Jr. decided to vote for the bill.

What are the fliers that this gay man in a committed relationship saying: vote for me because the heathens that are promoting gay marriage are taking over the Ward.

Please, at least do some basic research before you send your fliers over the neighborhood! A special case is the message of candidate Delano Holmes: gays and lesbians are the boogeyman for him. “Radical, gay marriage activists are flooding Ward 5 with money to defeat Delano Holmes … only because he supports the Biblical definition of marriage. My God,  what is this flood of money in Ward 5 going toward? Do we have our own television station carrying advertising, are there neighborhood print shops putting up magnificent billboards and posters? At least the influx of money would help our underemployed populace.

End of Summer

Who wondered about summer’s end as the weather turned cooler the last few days?

Another summer series ran its course last night. The DC Renaissance Hotel’s Independent Film Series showed Fish Out of Water and Black Over White last night as the last two movies for the year. The series included a wide variety of movies and different and unusual documentaries and fiction works.

The comfortable surroundings offer food and the proximity of people provided plenty of chaces to hold interesting and intriguing conversations about movies, travel, books, food and Washington, DC.

Batting for Gays

There are more provacative sportswriters out there than one would believe. Sports are also a great window into cultural and social attitudes.

Racial prejudice openly displayed itself during the early to mid-20th century in restrictions on players in major league baseball and football. In the late 20th century, it came in a more subtle rejection of a League, when baseketball television ratings dropped during the 1970s.

Attacks on gender and sexual difference usually included deriding words. Most players kept their behavior to their self, as we have seen with pro football player Dave Kopay, and Washington Redskins all-pro Jerry Smith in the 1970s and 1980s and Billy Bean among baseball players in the 1990s.  Magic Johnson faced gossip after contracting HIV- and Isiah Thomas raised eyebrows with his kissing.

While female tennis players like Martina Navatrola and Renae Stubbs,and  rugby player Gareth Thomas came out after years, most were finished playing. Ian Roberts of Australian Rules Football declared his sexuality but articles have recently asked why few have followed and Jason Akermanis was recently suspended for anti-gay comments.

I include below sportwriter Jason Whitlock’s recent piece on the travails of an openly gay umpire.


Let’s start with transparency. The analogy comparing black people’s fight for equal rights and gay people’s makes me uncomfortable.

You can’t conceal skin color in a closet or anywhere else. Denying gay people the right to marry doesn’t equate to denying black people freedom, the right to vote, equal education, etc.

Umpire Billy Van Raaphorst 

Umpire Billy Van Raaphorst.

Edmonton Journal 

But I am not a fool. Discrimination is discrimination. Debating degrees of intolerance is pointless and counter-productive.

What happened to Billy Van Raaphorst inside a tiny independent league baseball stadium on July 31 was as despicable as anything Jackie Robinson endured breaking into the majors 60 years ago.

And the story of how Billy Van Raaphorst’s childhood dream of becoming a Major League umpire turned into his nightmare companion illustrates how little progress we’ve made in the super-macho sports world as it relates to tolerance of homosexuals.

On the last day of July, for the second straight game, Van Raaphorst tossed flamboyant Edmonton Capitals manager Brent Bowers in the first inning.

Bowers argued balls and strikes from the dugout on the 30th. A close play at first base set him off on the 31st. On both days, Bowers played to the crowd, rolling up his sleeves and mocking the 6-foot-4, 220-lb Van Raaphorst with a “gun show.”

On the 31st, Bowers took things a step further, launching into an anti-gay tirade that would make Mel Gibson blush.

“You know what I heard?” Bowers screamed. “I heard you are a f—ing (expletive). The rumor from several managers and people at the league is that you are a (expletive) … So what do you do you f—ing (expletive)? Do you take it up the f—ing (expletive), you (expletive)?”

As his verbal meltdown continued, Bowers, a second-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989, bent over and grabbed his ankles.

“Is that how you like it, you f—ing (expletive)?… I know he’s a (expletive),’’ Bowers ranted. “I was told by Garry Templeton (a manager in the league) and Kevin Outcalt (commissioner of the league) that he is a f—ing (expletive).”

Van Raaphorst, a former 290-pound center at San Diego State, resisted the urge to defend himself.

“I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t hit him,’” Van Raaphorst remembered. “I felt trapped. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.”

How appropriate. Van Raaphorst, 34, spent much of his early life trapped by his sexual orientation.

The middle son of former Ohio State and San Diego Chargers kicker Dick Van Raaphorst, Billy was born into the stereotypical, All-American family. His oldest brother, Jeff, starred at quarterback for Arizona State, winning the 1987 Rose Bowl MVP. Billy’s younger brother, Mike, served as Carson Palmer’s backup at USC.

The Van Raaphorst name carried and carries significant weight in Southern California. Billy was not coming out of any closet.
As a kid, he played football and fantasized about calling balls and strikes inside big league ballparks.

He was a good enough player to crack the two-deep and start a few games at San Diego State. He shared a locker room with Kyle Turley, Ephraim Salaam, La’Roi Glover, Az Hakim and several other future pros.

Billy never quite fit in.

“We all kind of assumed there was something different about Billy,” Turley said. “Billy was a good dude, a good teammate, a stand-up guy, but he was just a different cat. There was always something a little quirky about him. He was never the macho, alpha male.”

Van Raaphorst dislocated his right knee his fourth year at San Diego State, quit the team and immediately pursued his passion for umpiring. He enrolled at the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School, the Harvard of umpiring. He graduated No. 1 in his class. He joined the minor league system and began the arduous task of earning his way to the majors.

Things sailed along smoothly until he reached double-A ball in 2001. His ranking plummeted to No. 27. The next year he dropped to No. 45 out of 47 umpires and was released from the minors.

He said his dramatic fall coincided with his decision to live as a gay man.

“I knew I was gay pretty much all my life, but I’d never acted on it until 2001,” Billy told me on Monday. “I’d suppressed it so hard trying to fit in in college football and minor league baseball. I’d never been to a gay bar until 2001. I’d never had a boyfriend.”

He visited a gay bar in early 2001. He started dating a Tulsa man later that year. He began lying to his umpiring crew about his post-game activities and whereabouts instantly.

“I can’t prove that they found out, but it’s my belief they did,” Van Raaphorst said. “I started getting a lot of questions about who I was dating.”

He crashed in double A. An umpire isn’t on the major league radar until he reaches triple A.

“It’s a significant accomplishment and speaks to his talent that he reached the double A level,” said Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball. “There are only 68 major league umpires. It’s a select group.”

Billy wanted to complain and fight his 2002 release.

“There were certain family members and friends who didn’t want all of the attention that would’ve brought,” said Van Raaphorst, who is now regarded as a top-flight collegiate umpire. “The worst two decisions of my life were to not come out (as gay) and to end my (Tulsa) relationship because I was scared.

“I don’t make decisions out of fear anymore. I try to make fearless decisions now.”

Good for Billy. Bad for Brent Bowers.
The Golden Baseball League initially suspended Bowers for two games and fined him $500. The punishment did not satisfy Billy or common sense. Umpires across the GBL rallied in support of Billy and threatened a work stoppage. The league and the Edmonton Capitals forced Bowers to resign.

“I wish I had those 10 minutes back,” Bowers said from his home in Chicago. “It was just heat of the moment. I felt like (Van Raaphorst) hurt me and hurt my team, kicking me out of the game two days in a row. It doesn’t justify it. It was totally wrong. I apologize. I would apologize to anybody. I’ve grown up so much in the past week.”

The Edmonton Capitals announced they were making all of their employees go through diversity training. They might want to make room for a former employee.

“I didn’t care that (Van Raaphorst) was gay,” explained Bowers, who has yet to apologize directly to Van Raaphorst. “My mom works with a lot of gay hairdressers and I joke around with those guys all the time. My cousin, she’s a lesbian. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as people are happy.”

Let’s end with transparency.

I’ve been the neanderthal idiot in the locker room. I’ve been the neanderthal idiot employee suspended and banished to diversity training after a 1998 taunting exchange with New England Patriots fans.

Intolerance is a disease, whether sexual, religious or racial, that we all must fight on a daily basis. The cure is for each of us to realize we’re all capable of being just as stupid as Brent Bowers.


E-mail Jason or follow him on Twitter. Media requests for Mr. Whitlock should be directed to Fox Sports PR.

DC’s Great Dance Week

Two live shows and representing on So You Think You Can Dance; can we hear it for DC dance!

Carter Barron Ampitheatre hosted Metro DC Dance on Friday. On Saturday, Culture Shock DC filled the place. East Coast Dance Community Concert 2010 featured hip hopers and troupes ranging in ages from 7 to mid-age. Groups came down from Philadelphia and New York City and over from Germany, bringing lots of percision and  and high energy along with individual breakout skills.

They will be holding the free event again next summer so be ready.

The finale of So You Think You Can Dance for 2010 crowned Lauren as the top dancer. It showed us the top dance numbers for the year and, of course, featured Ellen De Generes getting down. The show also put DC dance on the map. Luke came out and showed his tap dance chops. During the DC Hip Hop festival, my partner and I saw Luke come out of the audience to put on his show at Dance Place. Here’s how one reporter saw Luke: Then a 7-year-old kid, Luke, came out to take his place. And by god, can that kid dance. No offense to Melinda (…OK, offense to Melinda), but THAT is what I think of when I think of tap. The kid had rhythm, variation, and style to spare. She always just seemed so messy when she did tap. The other styles she was great on, but tap? I never got it. This kid was great.

Then the Manzari Brothers followed with a tap routine. The two performed in Arena Stage’s Sophisticated Ladies this spring.

Everybody’s Seeing Passing Strange

Studio Theatre has a major hit.

Their production of Stew’s autobiographical show that started at the Public Theater in NYC and played over 150 shows on Broadway is drawing huge crowds to their 4th Stage.

Originally planned as the last week of the run, the Studio turned away people for the last two nights. Most of the crowd is young and it is ethnically mixed.

We saw the NYC show and look forward to seeing how the DC world handles the story of a black rock musician growing up as he travels the world.

Is So You Think You Can Dance Declining?

Some friends are not watching the series this season. I have started to lose my interest in the show. The number of comments on blogs are down.

Is it like American Idol, where I’m seeing a noticeable decline in talent? I would say not. This year’s dancers, particularly Lauren, Robert, Adecheke are all powerful and elegant dancers.

No, SYTYCD is suffering from another of the factors that hurt American Idol: the changes in judges.

Fans have complained about the judging from the start of this season. The comments for the Final Four show are no different.  On the discussion, What’s with the judges the comments range from offering contradictory advice to a dancer to Mia being racist. Other people that I work with raised the latter as a consideration a few weeks ago when Mia found herself needing to offer a lame apology.

Mia is a bad judge to have on the show on a weekly basis. She is better to take in small doses. She has a favorites and dancers that she does not like and she can not stop herself from basing her opinions on how she feels about the dancer.

Mary Murphy was sometimes annoying with her yell but she was also much more good hearted than Mia could ever be. Mary was also better for the ratings.

I understand the producers thinking that the show needed to change in order to stay fresh. I think that they accomplished this with using all-stars as dancing partners. I hope that they reconsider bringing back a rotating judge for the panel in order to keep the juding perspectives fresh.