Tag Archives: Los Angeles

 ‘La La Land’ is something to sing about

In time for Christmas, there’s the eye-popping, heart-lifting “La La Land,” which honors and modernizes the screen musical to such joyful effect that you might find yourself pirouetting home from the multiplex.

OK, perhaps we exaggerate.

“La La Land,” created by the copiously talented writer/director Damien Chazelle and featuring the dream pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is not for everyone.

Perhaps you don’t like music, or singing, or dancing. Or romance, or love, or beautiful people falling in love. Or sunsets, or primary colors, or pastels. Or stories. Or, heck, the movies themselves.

If you don’t like any of those things, maybe stay home.

Otherwise, be prepared: By the end, something will surely have activated those tear ducts. The one complaint I overheard upon leaving the film was: “I didn’t have enough Kleenex.”

The first obvious gift of “La La Land” is its sheer originality. Let’s start with the music. Unlike in so many other films, nobody else’s hits are used here. The affecting score is by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (also getting kudos for Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

Our setting is Los Angeles, and so it begins — as it must — on a jammed freeway.

But unlike Michael Douglas in “Falling Down,” the drivers here simply brush off their frustrations, exit their cars, and break into song and dance.

This virtuoso number, “Another Day of Sun,” which was filmed on a freeway interchange with some 100 dancers toiling in sizzling temperatures, establishes Chazelle’s high-flying ambitions. It also tells us we’d darned well better be ready for people to break out into song — because that happens in musicals. And it introduces our main characters.

Sebastian (Gosling) is a struggling jazz pianist, with stubborn dreams of opening his own club. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress, working as a barista while auditioning for TV parts. They clash on the freeway. She gives him the finger.

They have a second bad meeting at a piano bar. Finally they meet a third time, at a party. Suddenly, they find themselves on a bench overlooking the Hollywood Hills at dusk. And then … they dance.

Is it Astaire and Rogers (or Charisse)? Yes and no. Stone and Gosling are charming musical performers, but way less polished and ethereal than their cinematic forbears. This human quality in their first duet makes us root for them.

And we keep on rooting. It’s hard to imagine more perfect casting here. Gosling’s Sebastian is suave and sexy but also ornery and unsure of himself; Stone’s Mia is warm and ebullient but also fretful and self-doubting. They need each other to chase their respective dreams.

But what will success mean, and can they possibly achieve it together? It’s this pillar of the story that lends it a very modern, melancholy bite.

Chazelle, 31, shows his love for cinema with references both sly and overt to classics like “Singin’ In the Rain” and Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

And then there’s the nod to “Rebel Without a Cause,” with a scene at LA’s Griffith Observatory.

There, at a place built to watch the stars, the two dancing lovers actually lift up into them.

It’s corny, sure, and gorgeous and romantic. As Sebastian says to his sister earlier in the film, “You say ‘romantic’ like it’s a bad word!” In a musical, romantic is NEVER a bad word.

Some people resist musicals because in real life, people never break out into song; they just speak their feelings. To which musical lovers say: “Exactly! And this is why we need musicals.”

Long live the musical. Bring enough Kleenex.

Man bound for West Hollywood Pride arrested with arsenal

Authorities have arrested a man in Santa Monica, California, allegedly carrying an arsenal of weapons and ammunition. Police said the man was on his way to an LGBT Pride celebration in West Hollywood.

News of the arrest came as the nation was focused on the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 50 people were killed and dozens injured before the gunman was shot dead by police.

In Santa Monica, police were alerted by a caller reporting a possible prowler.

Officers approached the man, who said he was waiting for a friend, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

The officers inspected the man’s car and found several weapons, as well as ammunition and a device that could be used as a pipe bomb.

The car showed Indiana license plates and authorities said the man said he was on his way to the Pride event. Law enforcement planned to increase security at the celebration.

Elsewhere, police were stepping up patrols in LGBT communities and LGBT communities, including Milwaukee’s and Chicago’s, were planning tributes and remembrances for the victims in Orlando.

Also, the president ordered the U.S. flag to be flown at half-mast until sunset June 16.



StageQ’s Michael Bruno brings LA panache to hometown gigs

images - pride - MichaelBruno1Madison native and current StageQ board president Michael Bruno has had quite the career. As a theatrical producer, gay porn actor, adult film awards show master of ceremonies and professional game show contestant on the West Coast, the 60-year-old’s resume has a certain je ne sais quoi.

With his return to Madison, though, he may be embarking on one of his most significant roles yet: continuing StageQ founder Thomas McClurg’s goal of providing a stable home for LGBT-themed plays within Madison’s larger theatrical community.

Much of Bruno’s life may have been spent far from Madison, but his hometown is where he first got plugged into gay culture. After coming out in high school, Bruno studied theater and drama at both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the city’s Edgewood College, becoming an out and outgoing member of Madison’s LGBT and theatrical communities.

A hint of where he’d eventually migrate came in the late ’70s. Bruno says he had a chance encounter with a teacher after performing with the Wisconsin Children’s Theatre that brought a sharp directional change to the young actor’s career.

“She was from California and told me about a wonderful children’s theater in San Diego that performed in a park,” Bruno remembers. “I always wanted to live on the West Coast, so I thought, ‘Why not apply?’”

The theater was the Old Globe Theatre, a 1935 replica of its London namesake, and the park was Balboa Park, an urban cultural park that’s also home to the San Diego Zoo. Bruno auditioned and was hired.

“It was one of those fortuitous moments,” Bruno says. “I stayed for one summer, then came back to Madison.”

He remained in Wisconsin for a few years after that, working as a bar manager, host and humorist at a variety of the city’s gay bars: The Back Door, Going My Way and the speakeasy-style The Barber’s Closet inside the Hotel Washington.

But the West Coast’s siren song eventually called him back. This time around, it was as a contestant on Body Language, a CBS daytime game show filmed in Los Angeles. The young gay contestant proved to be a hit.

“This was 1983 and I won $60,000,” Bruno says. “It was all in cash, too. No crappy prizes or porcelain Dalmatians.”

Bruno’s big win was just the beginning. He entered the game show “circuit” and over the next few years found that very good money could be made by successful contestants willing to  help producers test-drive new game show concepts. From there he went on to become assistant producer and contestant coordinator for the game shows High Rollers and Win, Lose or Draw, rubbing shoulders with producers like Wink Martindale and celebrities like Vicki Lawrence.

Bruno found other unusual avenues into L.A.’s entertainment industry. He was hired by Vivid Man, the gay production arm of San Fernando Valley pornographic filmmaker Vivid Entertainment (best known nowadays for releasing the Kim Kardashian sex tape). He may have been the only actor to keep his pants on.

“The producers were looking for a funny uncle or someone to provide comic relief in between the sex scenes,” Bruno says. “I did that for three years.” The experience led Bruno to a two-year gig as emcee of the Adult Video News Movie Awards, which were held as a benefit for AIDS research.

But it was “Tea with Bruno,” the column he wrote for a Los Angeles gay newspaper, that took him in new directions.

“The show Party came to town in 1996,” Bruno says. “That was the naked-boy revamp of The Boys in the Band and I was asked to review it.”

Bruno liked the production, but his theatrical instincts kicked in and he took jabs at the show for being staged in the wrong theater in the wrong neighborhood. The swipes earned Bruno a call from author David Dillon, who had an unexpected response.

“He thanked me for saying the things he had been trying to tell the local producers from the start,” Bruno says. “He also asked me to produce the show in San Francisco. I had taken this sidestep into game shows and pornography and missed the theater, so I said yes.”

Bruno’s production of Party was a success and he went on to form his own theatrical company. His next production was Dirty Little Showtunes, writer Tom Orr’s witty reimagining of classic show tunes with aggressively gay and sexually explicit lyrics. (“How Do You Solve Your Problem Gonorrhea” would surely give The Sound of Music’s morally upright von Trapp family pause.) The show, once again, was a hit and in addition to San Francisco, played in Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago.

But life in the fast lane had already caught up with Bruno, who was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1993. Successes and failures with various California health care providers, and health issues facing his own elderly mother back in Madison, led to his 2001 return to the Badger State.

“My mother needed hip replacement surgery and her doctors were refusing to perform the operation, saying she would never survive,” Bruno says. “My father had passed away and I needed to take care of her health and my own health, so I came home.”

Bruno thought he would stay in Madison for a year or two at most, but saw an absence of interactive dinner theater and gay theater he felt needed to be filled. He formed Whoop De Do Productions, best known for Sweet Cannoli Nuptials, a dinner show modeled after Tony & Tina’s Wedding. He also became involved in StageQ, starting as both an actor and director and moving up to board president.

For the past five years he’s also hosted “Backstage with Bruno,” a blend of live and taped video segments on Madison’s theater scene that airs weekly on CBS affiliate station WISC-TV.

“It’s a great gig and gives me the chance to mention StageQ and other community theater groups,” says Bruno, who is directing one of the Queer Shorts segments just as he has for the past five years (see sidebar).

Bruno also has served as editorial consultant for Our Lives magazine and board member for both cultural arts groups Dane Arts and the AIDS Network of Madison. Above all, he is happy to report that in spite of his HIV diagnosis 23 years ago, his health is good.

“Thanks to UW Health and University Hospital, I’m healthy, drinking my ‘cocktail,” my T-cells are up and I am doing fine,” Bruno says. “I was originally told I would only have five or six years left, but I am a lucky, long-term survivor.”

What’s more, Bruno’s mother did have her hip surgery and, at age 100, is doing just fine too.

“Every day I am grateful,” Bruno adds.


One of Bruno’s new roles with StageQ is producing the Queer Shorts series, although it’s not a job he expected to have to do.

When creator Katy Conley started Queer Shorts, an annual collection of short plays designed to give voice to LGBT writers, actors and directors, in 2005, she originally intended the series to last just 10 years. Last year’s installment marked year 10, so between that and Conley handing off that year’s installment to StageQ board member Louise Stout due to health issues, the board decided to conclude the series as planned.

Madison’s LGBT community and the show’s fans had other ideas. They raised such a ruckus that Conley permanently handed the project over to StageQ’s board, which now also serves as the company’s management.

Over the years, themes have emerged to tie together the average of 10 productions culled from as many as 200 submissions each year, Bruno says.

“This year, the plays are all about how technology affects the LGBT culture,” Bruno says. “We had some very nice submissions and we had to choose 9 from the 80 one-act plays we received.”

In addition to producing the series, Bruno will direct playwright Dan Myers’ “Case of the Gays,” one of the installments.

Queer Shorts 2.0: The Reboot takes the Drury Theater stage at the Bartell Theatre, 113 E. Mifflin St., Madison, June 10 to 18. Tickets are $15 or $20 and can be purchased at stageq.com.

Next Act Theatre reflects on Rodney King riots in the age of Ferguson

Not guilty.

Those are the words that set off the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the verdicts in the trial of four white police officers accused of using excessive force during the arrest of Rodney King, a black man beaten by the officers after a high-speed chase. Those words sparked five days of riots throughout the city, ending with more than 50 people dead, thousands injured and $1 billion in estimated damage.

And those words aren’t the only words that matter, in our understanding of what caused the riots and why the racial conflicts that still challenge our society decades persist. With Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Next Act Theatre will present the words of 37 people connected to the riots, telling their stories as a way of telling the whole story — and ensuring they and their audience can’t help but see the riots from vantage points they never considered.

Next Act’s artistic director David Cescarini, co-directing the production with Jonathan Smoots, says Anna Deavere Smith’s play is often categorized as “documentary theater.” But he considers it something different: “highly personal revelatory theater.”

Twilight consists entirely of interviews Smith conducted with parties affected by the riot — white Hollywood agents, black activists, Korean merchants, politicians, intellectuals, everyday Angelenos — and moves chronologically from a short period before the riots until their aftermath. 

“It’s not documentary drama and it’s not just monologues,” he says. “It’s storytelling. Thirty-seven people have their stories to tell.”

Twilight was a piece Cescarini had never heard of before stumbling across it in a play anthology a little more than a year ago. But only a few months removed from the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer, as well as other protests across the country over similar killings, he was struck by how relevant the piece was, more than two decades after it was written. 

There are differences, of course. Crucially, the Rodney King beating was captured, in part, on a home video made from a balcony overlooking the scene. That video was subsequently shared via telecasts across the nation, going as viral as was possible for a work of broadcast media to go in the early 1990s. 

“No one had ever seen something like that before,” Cecsarini says, adding that the general public was sure the police officers indicted would be convicted. It was when they weren’t found guilty that the rioting began, much as how, in Ferguson, riots started after the officer who killed Brown was not indicted.

‘Those issues are still there to be reckoned with. … They’re not just going to go away on their own.’

To Cecscarini, the parallelism demonstrates that we, as a nation, have not learned from earlier racial tensions, and will continue perpetuating the same injustices unless we are willing to take action. “Those issues are still there to be reckoned with. … They’re not just going to go away on their own,” he says.

When playwright Smith originally performed Twilight, she did so solo, delivering the words of each of her 37 characters. Next Act will present the play with six actors dividing the roles, an option included in Smith’s script. What will be preserved, Cecsarini says, is the gender-bending and race-bending implicit in the work, with each of the six portraying individuals who are different races and genders from themselves as well as characters who share their race and gender.

Cecsarini says playing against type has occasionally been a challenge for him and his actors, but it’s also been a rewarding way for them to discuss and understand elements of the play that their races and genders may otherwise have prevented them from grasping. He also believes it’s part of the purpose of the play — deliberately blurring the lines of gender and race to force audience members out of their comfort zones. 

It’s clear from the words Smith has captured that many of her interview subjects are verbally acknowledging their feelings about race and the riots for the first time, Cecsarini says, with conversations stuttering and dancing around points before finally reaching their destination or hitting a wall and moving on. It’s a position he says he can relate to as well, with his work on the play illuminating his own shortcomings on race, as a white man who grew up in Brookfield largely unaware of Milwaukee’s own conflicts in the 1960s over fair housing and opportunities.

“I was ignorant,” he says, “and in some respects I am still ignorant about what are the day-to-day issues, what people really go through, and what it feels like. This experience has taught me a lot, at least of what I don’t know.”

Twilight is a challenging play to face, but Cecsarini believes Next Act’s audience needs to accept that challenge. “People sometimes cannot see beyond (the) difficulty in going to a theater piece that has something to say,” he says. To him, this play should ideally be seen as an “essential community event” — one that no Milwaukeean, of any race or social class, can justify avoiding. 

“A riot is not the beginning of events, but the end of events,” Cecsarini says. And the only way to prevent one is for communities to come together, across dividing lines, and truly see the different perspectives through which we view our society and its injustices.


Next Act Theatre’s production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 runs Jan. 28 to Feb. 21 at 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $21 to $38 and can be ordered at 414-278-0765 or nextact.org.

Feline fans are the cat’s meow at CatConLA

Their cat tails wagging and whiskers twitching, feline fans, some in shirts emblazoned with “Check Meowt,” chattered about their “purrfect” pets as they waited in line for hours for a selfie with a kitty celebrity.

No one was as serious as Laura E. Mart of Los Angeles, who donned a ballgown she crafted from 300 fabric cat photos, its skirt several feet wide. She also wore a tall, furry hat, complete with a long tail she swung about.

“If I see a cat, I have to pick it up and pet it. I was afraid I was going to be a cat lady, so this is my way of having all the cats I want,” she said of the dress.

The first-ever CatConLA brought the cat craze popularized online to life in a big, costumed way June 6-7. It tapped into the Internet memes and clickable videos that have spread on social media as people share their love of cats’ antics and help create stars, including ever-downtrodden Grumpy Cat and eternally tongue-wagging Lil Bub.

More than 12,000 people dusted off old Halloween costumes or cat-patterned clothing to become the most visible part of the cat lovers’ version of ComicCon, the comic book fest that attracts flocks of costumed fans.

Famous feline Lil Bub rubbed up to cat enthusiasts Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” and Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock” as panelists entertained and vendors peddled products.

The huge turnout overwhelmed some of the 100-plus sellers. Olivia Mew — seemingly destined for cat commodities — said that by the afternoon of the first day, she had sold all 150 shirts, totes, bags and art prints she brought with her from Montreal.

The Beauty Bar ran out of cat stickers that manicurists pressed on people’s fingernails. Even the food truck fare ran low.

But the crunch didn’t faze the flocks of feline fans. Long lines at booths, autograph signings and seminars at The Reef in downtown Los Angeles just gave them a chance to meet more cat lovers.

Wearing a “Mayim is Purr-fect” T-shirt, one woman waited in line for two-and-a-half hours to be the first to get an autograph and photo of the actress.

“I am always surprised when anybody wants to take a picture with me,” Bialik said, laughing. “But I thanked her for waiting that long.”

The adoptable cats and kittens drew a steady line of more than 100 people. Best Friends Animal Society helped place 74 from several Los Angeles shelters, said Candi Crawford, manager of the no-kill rescue.

At the Lil Bub souvenir booth, blankets and towels quickly sold out. The cat became an online sensation with her big eyes and a tongue that’s always sticking out, which stems from dwarfism that left her without teeth.

At one of two sold-out meet-and-greets benefiting animal charities, owner Mike Bridavsky talked about his special relationship with Bub and their exhausting work. Then, the crowd, limited to 75 people who spent $150 each, got to pet Bub.

“The people who will pay $150 to meet Bub are some of the most wonderful people you’d ever meet,” Bridavsky said. “They are very sweet and protective of her and have this deep love for her.”

Other seminars featured syndicated “Sally Forth” cartoonist and author Francesco Marciuliano, blogger and author Angie Bailey and animator Simon Tofield, who started “Simon’s Cat,” a YouTube series about a mischievous fat cat and his owner Simon.

CatConLA, which will be back next year, raised more than $20,000 for FixNation, a nonprofit spay-and-neuter clinic for feral cats in LA, organizer Susan Michals said.

At the event, cat owners Clarissa Mosher of Carson and boyfriend Freddie Luna of El Monte tried out the selfie station set up with kitty props.

“They give unconditional love in its purest form,” Mosher said. “Cats are more picky than dogs, so if they like you, you know they mean it.’

U2 stages high-tech ‘Innocence & Experience’ show

U2’s latest live show included a call to fight AIDS, condemnation of the 1974 car bombings in Ireland, the voice of Stephen Hawking, high-tech stage gimmicks and just over two hours of music, including most of its 2014 album, “Songs of Innocence.”

The Irish quartet brought its “Innocence & Experience” tour to the Forum on May 26, the first of five nights in the Los Angeles area.

Launched earlier this month in Vancouver, Canada, the North American and European tour continues through Nov. 15. The band performs at the United Center in Chicago June 24-25, June 28-29 and July 2.

Performing together since 1976, front man Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. know how to put on a rock show. But they were lacking a little in energy and excitement for their opening LA performance, perhaps relying too heavily on the giant horizontal screens suspended above their high-tech stage.

As with U2s previous arena tours, the stage plays a starring role in the show. The massive screens worked for some numbers, such as Bono’s autobiographical “Cedarwood Road,” lending an effect that made him look like he was walking through a cartoon town. But when the foursome performed between the parallel screens during “Invisible” and “Even Better than the Real Thing,” they appeared to be playing on TV, not live on stage.

Still, they hit all their marks and sounded album-tight. They opened with the new, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” and the old, “Electric Co.,” from their 1980 debut. The set included such hits as “Vertigo,” “I Will Follow,” “Beautiful Day” and “With or Without You.”

After “Bullet the Blue Sky,” Bono held his hands above his head and said, “Don’t shoot. I’m an American.” While performing “Pride,” inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., Bono called on the spirit of the late leader.

“Dr. King, we need you in Ferguson and Baltimore now more than ever,” Bono said. “We need the spirit of nonviolence, the spirit of love.”

The singer also lauded Irish voters for saying “love is the highest law” by legalizing same-sex marriage last week.

“They’re putting the gay into Gaelic,” he quipped.

The band was at its best when the gimmicks gave way to the music. Mullen marching with a snare drum gave new power to “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and a stripped-down version of “Every Breaking Wave,” with Bono accompanied by the Edge on piano, was stirring.

A clip of Hawking’s voice played before the band returned for its encore. He talked about the necessity of becoming “global citizens” as a tout for Bono’s anti-poverty organization, One, flashed on the giant screens.

Bono also used the encore to discuss AIDS and an effort to end transmission of the disease between mother and child in the next five years. He sang a few bars of Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” to make the point before the band closed with “One.”

Madison makes Top 10 list of most LGBT-friendly cities

Madison ranked No. 10 on the Queer Index, a listing of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the United States.

The list was released by Vocativ, a “global media organization for the digital generation,” and is based on a survey of the country.

Vocative, in a news release, said the Queer Index is an analysis of dozens of quality-of-life factors from 100 U.S. cities using a technology that “mines the deep Web.”

According to the index, Los Angeles is the top city in the country for LGBT people, followed by New York, San Francisco, Des Moines, Iowa, and Chicago.

“For Pride Month, we wanted to create a useful, fun guide to LGBT life across the country,” said Scott Cohen, CEO of Vocativ. “We started off with a simple premise: What’s life really like for the queer community. From there we homed in on the community’s passions, concerns and daily realities—and then we started collecting the data. Diving into the numbers, we learned new things about known LGBT meccas. For example, New York City has the most hate groups in the country. We also found countless surprises. Who knew that Memphis has the most single lesbians per capita in the country?”

Said Mati Kochavi, founder of Vocativ, “To get a snapshot of LGBT life across the country, the traditional approach would be to collect the opinions of a few so-called experts. But big data and the deep web allow Vocativ to go infinitely broader, into a world free of spin and full of hidden truths, where stories reveal themselves. The Queer Index shows just how fast LGBT rights and public opinion about that community are changing—and not just in big metro areas, but also increasingly in smaller cities throughout the country.”

The index showed:

• The Washington, D.C., metro area has the highest percentage of out adults. At the same time, the nation’s capital has the highest number of anti-LGBT hate groups.

• The highest percentage of single lesbians is found in Memphis, Tennessee.

• Three of the top 10 U.S. cities by population do not make Vocativ’s top 35 list: Houston (No. 4), Dallas (No. 9) and Phoenix (No. 10).

• NYC is America’s capital for LGBT hookups: There are over 2,000 same-sex “casual encounters” posts on Craigslist every day, and it has the most bathhouses and “rentboys” per capita.

• Los Angeles is great for gay drinkers but not so much for lesbian drinkers: The city has 2,424 gay bars but only 168 lesbian-specific watering holes.

• Of the top 100 largest U.S. cities, Boston had the highest number of sexual-orientation hate crimes last year: 63.

• Atlanta has the highest number of LGBT-friendly businesses in the country, 685—over three times more than the next highest city.

The top-ranked cities according to the Queer Index are, in descending order:

Los Angeles, California

New York, New York

San Francisco, California

Des Moines, Iowa

Chicago, Illinois

Seattle, Washington

Albany, New York

Rochester, New York

Denver, Colorado

Madison, Wisconsin 

‘It Gets Better’ brings message of hope to Marcus Center

The simplest message often strikes the most profound chord and rings with the greatest truth. Out author and columnist Dan Savage came upon such a message in 2010 and found a way to spread the word that “it gets better” around the world.

Savage was reading a Facebook account about a bullied gay teen who committed suicide and he thought, “I wish I could have talked to that kid for five minutes and told him that it gets better.”

That was all it took for the author-activist and Terry Miller, his husband, to post the first “It Gets Better” YouTube video. Within a week, 200 more videos were posted and by the end of the second week the YouTube channel had reached its 650-video limit.

The It Gets Better Project — with a mission to stop bullying and reduce suicide among LGBT youth — was born.

The social media campaign has led to a book of essays, school programs and a stage show that arrives on March 2 at Uihlein Hall in Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The show conveys a message of hope to parents and teens through music and stage performance. The Cream City Foundation is sponsoring the joint production by Speak Theater Arts LLC and the It Gets Better Project. Before the stage show, Milwaukee area schools and community groups will host IGB programs.

In an “only-in-the 21st -century kind of way, we took what was an online project and made the Web experience into a live performance and with a face-to-face format,” says Liesel Reinhart, the show’s writer and director. “Our goal is to reduce suicide, self-harm and bullying as well as improve the lives of LGBT kids.”

Reinhart, an Illinois native whose parents now live in Union Grove, also is a longtime board member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, a group that plays major roles in the It Gets Better show. The 30-year-old chorus, with its 250 voices, helped attract early attention to the project by performing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” in a YouTube video for IGB. The tune has become an anthem of sorts for the project.

For the Uihlein Hall performance, six members of the LA chorus will perform in two numbers sung by a community chorus that includes members of the City of Festivals Men’s Chorus, Women’s Voices Milwaukee, Perfect Harmony Men’s Chorus of Madison and local church members.

The chorus singers play an important role, says Reinhart, a communication arts professor at Los Angeles’ Mount San Antonio College.

“We originally decided to use the chorus because it’s full of gay men and helps enhance the theatrical experience,” Reinhart says. “The show really is a jukebox musical with six performers and pianist.”

The narrative is wrapped around a fictional character, CJ, and the challenges he faces as a gay youth. Actors routinely break the theatrical “fourth wall” to speak to the audience.

The show is designed to be entertaining and upbeat, not an after-school special, Reinhart says.

“We sing a lot of familiar pop songs as well as some new ones, with impressive vocal arrangements by the six male singers,” she says. “There is an optimism and forward vision about the show, and there is a drag queen in it!”

Avenue Q creator Jeff Marx and Grammy Award-winner Mervyn Warren wrote the songs for the It Gets Better Project. Their most familiar song, “You Have More Friends Than You Know,” was performed on an episode of Fox TV’s Glee.

Reinhart’s theater experience evolved from her work as a debate and forensics coach. Her most notable experience with readers theater is as one of the cowriters of N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk, a combination of theater, standup comedy, hip-hop, slam poetry and real life stories that deals with racial stereotypes.

Neo-Nazis in Olympia, Wash., threatened performances of the play, and the NAACP has criticized its use of racial slurs. But the piece won the best play award from the American Readers Theater Association.

Reinhart helped shape It Gets Better’s book by incorporating the true-life experiences of cast members.  

A 2010 report from the Williams Institute in the UCLA Law School and the National Education Policy Center found that 85 percent of LGBT youth report harassment as a result of their gender or sexual identity, and one in five claims to have been physically attacked. The same study found that the suicide rate for LGBT students is three to four times higher than that of heterosexual students.

“What we’re trying to do with the show and the project is save lives,” Reinhart says. “The It Gets Better Project is not a political organization. Suicide and safety of kids is everybody’s issue.”


It Gets Better takes the stage on March 2 in Uihlein Hall at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. For more, go online to www.marcuscenter.org/show/it-gets-better.

10 U.S. mayors unite to address climate change

Mayors from 10 major cities this week unveiled a united effort to boost energy efficiency in buildings to cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1 million to 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year and lower energy bills by nearly $1 billion annually.

The cities participating in the City Energy Project are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City.

The project is an initiative from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation and gets inspiration from New York City’s sustainability efforts, as well as funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, along with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a news release, said, “New York City’s sustainability efforts are a major reason our greenhouse gas emissions are down 19 percent since 2007 and our air is cleaner than it has been in more than 50 years. They have also substantially driven down energy costs for consumers. “The City Energy Project will bring the significant economic and environmental benefits that energy efficiency has to offer to other cities — and accelerate progress by helping them learn from each other’s successes.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the project a promising opportunity. He said, “More energy efficiency means new jobs and continued economic growth, and a more sustainable City, which will lead to a further increase in the quality of life for the people of Chicago.”

Largely due to their electricity consumption, buildings are the largest single source of U.S. carbon emissions, representing 40 percent nationwide — more than either the transportation or industrial sectors. That number is even more dramatic at the city level, with more than half of carbon emissions in most U.S. cities coming from buildings — and in some cities as much as 75 percent. Much of the energy these buildings use, however, is wasted.

But there is technology and there are best practices that can make buildings vastly more efficient.

“City skylines have long been symbols of aspiration and innovation — this project takes that to a new level,” said Laurie Kerr, director of the project for the NRDC. “These mayors are showing there is the political will to put people to work to build a healthier, more prosperous future for America’s cities. In the face of a changing climate and increasingly extreme weather, they know they must act now to make their cities more resilient and sustainable.”

The project is projected to save ratepayers a combined total of nearly $1 billion annually on energy bills (at current prices).

Affordable housing for LGBT seniors opens in Philadelphia

The opening of an affordable housing complex for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors in downtown Philadelphia vindicates years of work by supporters who felt gay elders have been marginalized by youth culture.

Only two other U.S. cities have similar developments.

Experts say gay seniors are less likely than their straight peers to have the financial and family resources to age in homes of their own. Many fear discrimination at traditional elder housing facilities, leading them back into the closet after years of being open.

Philadelphia joins Los Angeles and Minneapolis in offering designated gay-friendly, affordable senior housing, collectively offering about 200 units. Two more complexes are under construction in Chicago and San Francisco.

Yet advocates say that’s nowhere near enough: Research indicates the number of gay seniors in the U.S. is expected to double to 3 million by 2030.

The housing problem may ease for future generations as legalized gay marriage allows same-sex spouses to inherit a partner’s property and benefits, said Catherine Thurston, senior program director at New York-based Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE.

Although anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, buildings can be made LGBT-friendly through marketing and location. The $19.5 million Philadelphia project sits in the affectionately nicknamed Gayborhood. When the leasing office opened last fall, hopeful tenants sat in a block-long line to drop off applications.

Those seniors belong to the generation that trailblazed gay rights, said Mark Segal, chairman of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, which led the development. Yet their activism and openness often cost them both family ties and the opportunity for traditional jobs with retirement benefits, he said.

“Why should people, who were the pioneers of the community, not live with dignity? It’s outrageous,” Segal said. “We have to take care of our own — nobody else is.”

At the Philadelphia building, monthly rents range from $192 to $786 based on income, which can’t exceed $33,000 per year. Nearly all the residents identify as LGBT.