Annapolis Film Festival brings powerful slate with ‘Chevalier,’ ‘The Grotto’ and ‘Judy Blume Forever’

Annapolis Film Festival brings powerful slate with ‘Chevalier,’ ‘The Grotto’ and ‘Judy Blume Forever’

Over 70 films will screen at Maryland Hall on Chase Street, as well as Annapolis Elementary School, Asbury United Methodist Church and a new 30-foot screen inside the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Club.


WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews the Annapolis Film Festival (Part 1)

The 11th annual Annapolis Film Festival returns to Annapolis, Maryland, this Thursday through Sunday.

Over 70 films will screen at Maryland Hall on Chase Street, as well as Annapolis Elementary School, Asbury United Methodist Church and a new 30-foot screen inside the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Club.

“This year, we have two world premieres and nine films from Sundance — that’s a record for us,” co-founder Lee Anderson told WTOP. “We just want people to come out, explore a little, be bold, try some new things, we will not disappoint. We’ve worked so hard … on getting an amazing slate. We’re so proud. We’ve kind of leveled up here.”

The festival kicks off Thursday with “Chevalier,” starring Kelvin Harrison Jr.

“It takes place in Paris in the mid-1700s before the French Revolution,” co-founder Patti White said. “It’s the true story of Chevalier Joseph Bologne, the son of Caribbean-Guadeloupean slave and her plantation owner. The father drops the kid off at a boarding school for gifted musicians in Paris and leaves him there and he grows up an incredible violinist challenging Mozart.”

Friday brings the Sundance hit “Little Richard: I Am Everything” directed by Lisa Cortes.

“He was part of that ‘Chitlin’ Circuit,’ they called it, that came through towns like Annapolis and all up and down our area in the Mid-Atlantic,” White said. “It really takes you back to the beginning of rock ‘n roll, the founding of it, the really interesting gender issues he had, his storytelling, where he came from and how he made it onto the scene.”

Friday also brings “Somewhere in Queens,” directed by Ray Romano and starring across Laurie Metcalf. “It’s a great story of an Italian family and just the power of one family and the effect that it has on all of its family members and a father who is overly interested in his son’s basketball career,” White said, to which Anderson added, “Mostly because he doesn’t want him to be a third-generation construction company employee in the family business.”

The Friday spotlight film is Joanna Gleeson’s “The Grotto.”

“It’s a wonderful film that stars Betsy Brandt, who you may recognize from ‘Breaking Bad,’ and it’s just a perfect little indie, it’s so nicely done, an unusual story with poignancy and humor all wrapped into one,” Anderson said. White added, “A woman finds herself, her fiancee has passed away, and she’s coming to terms with that and finds out some secrets, so this is her journey through that.”

Friday also includes “Judy Blume Forever,” which White calls “a really cool documentary,” adding, “Many young girls and boys who read her books know how she took you through growing up, sexuality, all of those things that were never discussed, it’s all discussed in this film. It’s all in there and she gives her reasons. We find out more about Judy Blume and how she became the author she became and why she was writing about all of these things.”

The reading theme continues Saturday with the documentary “Butterfly in the Sky.”

“We all know LeVar Burton, some know him from ‘Star Trek,’ but many know him from ‘Reading Rainbow,’” Anderson said. “This film is a nostalgic walk down memory lane of ‘Reading Rainbow’ and its impact on generations of young kids.”

Saturday also brings “What’s Love Got to Do With It” starring Emma Thompson and Lily James. “Lily James plays the next-door neighbor to a doctor, whose parents are arranging a marriage. It’s a very charming film,” White said.

Don’t miss Saturday’s sailing showcase featuring “MELGES: The Wizard of Zenda.” “This film is about America’s Cup, the races that went on, the old footage is phenomenal and I think sailors are going to love this,” White said.

Sunday features “Farewell, Mr. Haffmann.” “It’s set in World War II in Paris, France where a jewelry-store owner realizes he’s Jewish and has to get out of dodge,” White said. “He lets the guy who’s working for him take over the shop and his family moves in, but what happens is Mr. Haffmann can’t escape, so he has to be hidden.”

Sunday also brings “A Thousand and One,” the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. “It’s so compelling, it’s the story of a mother who basically kidnaps her child out of foster care,” Anderson said. White added, “It’s their journey and I think it tells you in the right kind of way the things we need to know about this.”

The closing film is “Two Tickets to Greece” starring Kristin Scott Thomas. “Two old schoolmates who have lost touch after they were 10 years old find each other again after one of them has had a very bad divorce,” Anderson said. “They go to Greece together, the problem is they’re not the same people they were when they were kids.”

No matter which screening you pick, the festival makes for a fun weekend in a historic bay town.

“This festival is the true jewel of the Chesapeake,” White said. “It’s really a gem.”

Find more information here.

WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews the Annapolis Film Festival (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Musicians fight threat of Tennessee anti-LGBTQ, drag bills

Musicians fight threat of Tennessee anti-LGBTQ, drag bills

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation this month targeting drag performances and transgender youth, many musicians living…

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation this month targeting drag performances and transgender youth, many musicians living and working in the state felt their community, their audiences and their artistic expressions were also under fire.

The trend of conservative-led legislatures introducing laws limiting LGBTQ rights or using hateful rhetoric about trans people has led the tightly knit musical community in Tennessee to use their voices and songs to raise awareness and money, as well as encourage music fans to get out and vote.

Love Rising, a concert held on Monday in Nashville, featured Grammy-winning artists like Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Maren Morris, Hayley Williams and Brittany Howard alongside drag performers and trans and queer singer-songwriters. The following night, the effort continued with a second show, We Will Always Be, featuring a showcase of LGBTQ artists in collaboration with Black Opry.

“No one is in danger from our community, from our beautiful greater rainbow coalition of those of us who identify as LGBTQ+ or a drag performer or trans or just a loving ally or just someone who enjoys music,” said Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Allison Russell, one of the organizers of Love Rising.

LGBTQ people have long been a part of the state’s lucrative musical and entertainment industries and drag performers and shows have a storied history in Nashville and beyond.

Artists like Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley have inspired — or been inspired by — drag performances for decades. Parton once told an interviewer that she entered a drag show alongside performers dressed like her — and lost. Nashville has a street named after drag queen Bianca Paige, who was an advocate for those living with HIV.

But in a state that long championed its artistic and creative communities, some musicians now feel threatened by its laws. The bill that passed this year changes the definition of adult cabaret as “harmful to minors” and says that “male or female impersonators” now fall under adult cabaret, along with topless dancers and strippers.

On Monday night backstage at the Love Rising concert, Adeem the Artist, a non-binary singer-songwriter living in East Tennessee, pointed to their flowery blouse and their plum-colored lipstick and wondered if their stage outfit would run afoul of the new law starting April 1.

“I don’t always wear dresses, but I don’t even know if this is OK,” they said. “Am I allowed to wear lipstick? What does it mean to be dressed as the wrong gender?”

Adeem explained that only a few weeks ago, they had been invited by the state to an event honoring songwriters. They politely declined.

“You don’t honor me. You’re challenging my livelihood, you’re challenging the safety of my kid,” they said.

The bill bans adult cabaret from public property or anywhere minors might be present. While the ACLU of Tennessee has said the bill does not directly prohibit drag performance and that drag is not inherently obscene, the intent still has had a chilling effect on performers. Drag artist Justine Van De Blair wondered if just walking from a venue to the parking lot where minors might see her would be cause for arrest.

“I’m able to support myself. Drag is my creative outlet,” she said. “Unfortunately it’s so vague right now, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

At Love Rising, the drag artists earned some of the biggest cheers as they rallied the audiences in between musical sets with passionate speeches arguing that the bills were a harmful overreach of government and a fear-based campaign to roll back rights. They walked through the crowds to greet and take photos with fans, blowing air kisses and waving.

The money raised at the concerts was directed to LGBTQ support organizations such as Tennessee Equality Project,Inclusion Tennessee, OUTMemphis and the Tennessee Pride Chamber. Donations were being matched by foundations created by Grammy-winner Brandi Carlile and the family of the late Nashville singer-songwriter John Prine.

Artists have found other ways to show their opposition to the record number of anti-trans bills introduced last year, as well as other legal rulings regarding bodily autonomy. Rock band Yo La Tengo came out in drag during a recent tour stop in Nashville. Aaron Lee Tasjan, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, is in the middle of working on his next record and wrote a song that reflects the “nightmare” that queer and trans people are experiencing.

“I’m seeing people in a great amount of mental and emotional distress over it,” he said.

Izzy Heltai, a pop singer-songwriter from Massachusetts, said he moved to Nashville recently because of the industry connections that were there. But he soon fell in love with the welcoming people and friends he met, which he found at odds with the state’s politics. As a trans man who transitioned when he was in his teens, he called the bans on gender-affirming care for youth life-threatening for a population already at high risk for suicide.

“There are a lot of kids that are going to die in the state because of these laws,” said Heltai, who played both benefit concerts. “It’s not theoretical anymore. It’s just that these laws are murdering people.”

But even with the benefit shows, artists said the music industry in Nashville — still dominated by white men at the executive level and on the stages — should be doing more to support marginalized artists who are facing discrimination.

Black Opry founder Holly G started her organization to give Black artists more opportunities to perform and grow their audiences because the mainstream country music industry was not willing to open those doors. Those barriers also exist for LGBTQ singers, musicians, songwriters, producers and others, she said.

“The fight for racial equality is also the fight for LGBTQ+ equality,” she said. “We have to do all of that at the same time and together.”

Backstage at the Bridgestone Arena, drag queen Cya Inhale said she initially thought that her drag community would have to stand alone, but has felt that “the entire arts community in Nashville standing up saying, ‘No, that’s not OK.’”

Besides, Inhale argued, drag and country music have often run in the same circles.

“Do you think Dolly Parton is wearing all those rhinestones because a straight guy told her to? I don’t think so,” she said.


Follow Kristin M. Hall at


This version of the story corrects the date of when the drag legislation takes effect to April 1, not July 1.

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Smash: NBC musical drama is finally coming to Broadway from producer Steven Spielberg

Smash: NBC musical drama is finally coming to Broadway from producer Steven Spielberg

Smash, NBC’s musical drama about a fictional Broadway musical, is being given the long-awaited stage treatment.

Running for two seasons from 2012 to 2013, Smash followed the team working to stage an original show about the life of Marilyn Monroe, and the ensuing rivalry between the show’s star Ivy (Megan Hilty) and ensemble member Karen (Katharine McPhee).

The show gained a cult following, with fans asking for the series to be turned into a stage show ever since.

Now, it has been announced that a Smash musical is on its way from series producers Steven Spielberg, Robert Greenblatt, Neil Meron, with the production expected to open between 2024 and 2025.

Rather than simply transposing ‘Bombshell’, the Monroe musical from Smash, to the stage, the Broadway production will be a metatheatrical interpretation of the process of staging the fictional show. However, the real stage version will “depart liberally from the series”, according to producers.

Hairspray composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman will be creating the score, which features songs from the show along with new musical numbers.

The book will be created by The Prom writer Bob Martin and Jersey Boys writer Rick Elice. Susan Stroman, best known for her work on The Producers, will direct.

Discussing the show, Spielberg said: “Smash is near and dear to my heart, and it was always my hope that a musical inspired by the show would eventually come to the stage.

Katharine McPhee (left) and Megan Hilty in ‘Smash’


“We now have an incredible creative team, and I’m looking forward to completing the Smash journey which began with my producing partners over 10 years ago.”

Producer Meron said that, since the show ended in 2013, he has been asked on a weekly basis when a Smash stage show is coming.

“We think we’ve come up with something the die-hard series fans will love but that will also be exciting for people who never saw an episode of the show,” he said. “And above all else it will be a valentine to the Broadway musical and the exhilarating rollercoaster ride of bringing one to life.”

In 2015, the cast of Smash gave a one-off performance on Broadway of the fictional Monroe musical, titled Bombshell in Concert.

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Virginia inmates escape jail and go to IHOP, where patrons report them

Virginia inmates escape jail and go to IHOP, where patrons report them

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Two inmates in a Virginia jail used primitively made tools to create a hole in the wall of their cell and escape, only to be found hours later at an IHOP restaurant nearby, a sheriff said.

Authorities discovered the two men, ages 37 and 43, missing from their cell in the Newport News jail annex during a routine head count Monday evening, according to a statement from the Newport News Sheriff’s Office.

A preliminary investigation found the men exploited a weakness in the jail’s construction design and used tools made from a toothbrush and a metal object to access rebars between the walls — and then used the rebar to further their escape, the statement said. After escaping their cell, they scaled a containment wall around the jail.

Authorities had asked for the public’s help to find the men, and they were taken into custody again early Tuesday at an IHOP in Hampton when other patrons called police.

“It reinforces what we always say, ‘See something, say something,’” Sheriff Gabe Morgan said.

The sheriff’s office said it is investigating to help prevent further escapes.

One man, who lives in Hampton, had been in custody on charges including contempt of court and probation violations.

Another, a Gloucester resident, was being held on charges including credit card fraud, forgery, grand larceny and probation violation.

Charges related to the escape are pending, the sheriff said.

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The Manhattan Transfer brings 50th anniversary farewell tour to Strathmore in North Bethesda

The Manhattan Transfer brings 50th anniversary farewell tour to Strathmore in North Bethesda

The Manhattan Transfer is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a final farewell world tour at the Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, on Friday.

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews The Manhattan Transfer at Strathmore (Part 1)

The Manhattan Transfer is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a final farewell world tour.

The 10-time Grammy winners will perform at the Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, on Friday.

“We’ll be performing with the great DIVA Jazz Orchestra, so you can expect some early big-band numbers that we haven’t really been doing live in the past 10 or 20 years, so that’s been a lot of fun,” singer Janis Siegel told WTOP. “It’s a little bit of a retrospective, though it’s hard to do 50 years’ worth in 90 minutes, but we’ll do our best.”

Founded by Tim Hauser in 1969 with Erin Dickins, Marty Nelson, Pat Rosalia and Gene Pistilli, the best-known lineup began in 1972 with Hauser, Alan Paul, Janis Siegel and Laurel Massé, who was replaced by Cheryl Bentyne.

“Tim was a cab driver and he actually picked up Laurel in the cab — and I also met him through the cab as well, funny enough,” Siegel said. “Tim, Laurel and I found ourselves together and decided to form a new iteration of The Manhattan Transfer. We wanted another man to make it two men and two women to make it even. … We found Alan swinging on a rope in Broadway in the original cast of ‘Grease.’ … He was Johnny Casino and Teen Angel.”

In the early years, the group developed a cult following around Manhattan before recording their self-titled breakthrough album in 1975 — the same year they landed their own CBS variety series on television.

“We were playing a lot of small clubs in New York City, underground clubs, late night shows, three shows a night,” Siegel said. “We performed a lot in these little cabarets that were popping up. Timing is everything. It was the time when glitter rock was starting and people were starting to dress up again after the jeans-and-t-shirt era of the introspective folk singer-songwriter. We were the perfect group for that. We dressed up in vintage clothes.”

The group won Grammy Awards for “Birdland” (1980), “Boy from New York City” (1981), “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (1981), “Until I Met You (Corner Pocket)” (1981),  “Route 66” (1982), “Why Not! (Manhattan Carnival)” (1983), “Vocalese” (1986), “Another Night in Tunisia” (1986), “Brasil” (1989) and “Sassy” (1992).

In fact, their album “Vocalese,” received a near-record 12 Grammy nominations, making it second only to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1982) as the most nominated individual album in music history.

In 1992, the group recorded “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for the soundtrack of “A League of Their Own.” That same year, they appeared on a Christmas episode of TV’s “Home Improvement” as guests on “Tool Time,” singing “Santa Claus is Coming’ to Town” as Tim Taylor used a chainsaw to free Al Borland from a makeshift chimney. After being asked, “Tim and Al? Do you assist him?,” Paul replies, “I don’t think so, Tim.”

“It was great,” Siegel said. “Tim Allen was wonderful, really. They made us feel very special.”

In 1998, The Manhattan Transfer was inducted into the prestigious Vocal Group Hall of Fame, cementing the lineup as one of the greatest four-part harmonizers to ever grace the industry.

“Alan is a pure, real entertainer,” Siegel said. “He was a role model for me to learn how to entertain because I came from just purely the music side of things in recording. Alan gives 1,000% on stage every show. … Cheryl is our super soprano. She’s also an incredible entertainer. … [Tim] had vision and he had knowledge. He knew so much about a wide array of music from doo-wop to bluegrass to bee-bop to swing, he just was a fountain of knowledge.”

Sadly, Hauser died in 2014, so Trist Curless stepped up to join the group, including at Strathmore.

“Trist was actually subbing for Tim when Tim was ill, so Trist has been with us for quite a while,” Siegel said. “Trist is an awesome musician. He really is the reason we could keep going after Tim’s passing, because that was pretty tragic and life-changing. He’s been a great, great companion in these final years of The Transfer.”

Find more information here.

WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews The Manhattan Transfer at Strathmore (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

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Springsteen, Kaling, Louis-Dreyfus among 22 honored by Biden

Springsteen, Kaling, Louis-Dreyfus among 22 honored by Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden welcomed a high-wattage collection of singers, authors, artists and humanitarians to the White House…

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden welcomed a high-wattage collection of singers, authors, artists and humanitarians to the White House on Tuesday to present them with medals — and then stole the show himself with a quip about seeking reelection.

Bruce Springsteen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling and Gladys Knight were among the 22 people and organizations being honored. When novelist Colson Whitehead’s award was announced, Biden noted that the author of “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” has already won back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes.

The president, who is expected to announce for reelection this spring, quickly picked it up

“Pretty good man,” he told Whitehead. “I’m kind of looking for a back-to-back myself,” he added, drawing a laugh from the audience.

It was a feel-good event in the East Room, as the honorees stepped forward to receive their awards one by one. Louis-Dreyfus, who channeled Biden’s resume when she starred in “Veep,” jokingly sagged under the weight when the president placed the medal for the arts around her neck. “Wow!” she exclaimed.

Springsteen, with his everyman persona, looked incongruous in a black suit. He was lauded for “his extraordinary contributions to the American songbook, and for being ‘The Boss.’” Poet and author Richard Blanco stunned in a teal tuxedo.

Knight, the “empress of soul,” gave the president a giant hug when he put the medal around her neck. Jaclyn Sallee, who received the medal on behalf of Native America Calling, a podcast and radio show, beamed with pride. So did social historian Earl Lewis, who, according to the president, chronicles African American history and “explores how diversity strengthens our nation.”

Biden joked that he opens his closet to find one honoree, designer Vera Wang, inside — her clothes, anyway — then said, “Your dresses always look beautiful on my wife.”

The medals are Biden’s first batch of awards for the arts and humanities and were delayed by the pandemic. The president surprised Sir Elton John with a National Humanities Medal during a White House musical event last September. He told the crowd how important their work was, in keeping American culture alive and reminding people of our history – even the parts we’d like to forget. The honorees work includes dance, art, design, history as well as music, writing and philanthropy.

“You do make the country better, you make it a better place,” Biden told the crowd before they departed for a White House reception.

The honorees did not perform or speak to the crowd after they received their awards. But the U.S. Marine Corps band that often plays for East Room ceremonies did orchestral numbers of Springsteen hits “Born to Run” and ”Born in the U.S.A.”

Recipients of the 2021 National Medal of Arts:

— Judith Francisca Baca, artist.

— Fred Eychaner, businessman and philanthropist.

— Jose Feliciano, singer.

Mindy Kaling, actress.

Gladys Knight, singer.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actor.

— Antonio Martorell-Cardona, painter.

— Joan Shigekawa, film producer.

— Bruce Springsteen.

Vera Wang, fashion designer.

— The Billie Holiday Theatre.

— The International Association of Blacks in Dance.

Recipients of the 2021 National Humanities Medal:

— Richard Blanco, poet and author.

— Johnnetta Betsch Cole, anthropologist.

— Walter Isaacson, writer.

— Earl Lewis, social historian.

— Henrietta Mann, academic.

— Ann Patchett, author.

— Bryan Stevenson, advocate for the poor.

— Amy Tan, author.

— Tara Westover, author.

— Colson Whitehead, author.

— Native America Calling.

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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