Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Sales Tax Holiday?

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about Virginia's first sales-tax holiday for back-to-school items. Yet it turns out that was two years ago, in August 2006.

The third such tax-free weekend starts this Friday. Holly Prestidge reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday:

Parents across the state will get some relief Friday, Saturday and next Sunday as the state waives the 5 percent sales tax on school supplies valued at $20 or less, and clothing and shoes $100 or less.

According to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend an average of $594.24 on back-to-school shopping this year, up from $563.49 last year, for electronics, clothing, shoes and school supplies.

The retail group and others believe sales-tax holiday weekends, such as the one in Virginia, will be more meaningful this year for consumers because of the slowing economy and higher gasoline prices.

"They're having to look for ways to save [because] it's almost weekly we're seeing changes" at the gas pump or in the grocery stores, said George Peyton, vice president of government relations for the Retail Merchants Association in Richmond.

Writing in today's Roanoke Times, David Harrison notes that the list of tax-free items is not as transparent as one would hope. In fact, it's downright confusing:

The Virginia Department of Taxation has adopted a relatively broad definition of school supplies. A partial list, available on the department's Web site, includes items such as binders, book bags, chalk, lunchboxes, rulers, scissors, sheet music and paper.

If you have no connection to schools but need these items anyway, you're in luck. The tax holiday still applies to you.

The picture gets a little more confusing when you start looking at clothing. Shirts, pants, dresses and sports jerseys are tax-free.

But how about purchases of suits and wedding veils? Also tax-free.

And cleats, mouth guards or shin pads for students' extracurricular athletics? Those are taxed.

It seems there has been little adjustment in the list of tax-free and fully-taxed items since that first trial run of the tax holiday back in 2006. (The list of tax-exempt school supplies can be found here; the list of tax-exempt clothing items can be found here.) As I wrote at the time:
The easiest, most logical, most consumer- and business-friendly thing to do for the tax holiday would simply have been to decree that on this particular three-day weekend, all items with a retail price of $100 or less would be tax-exempt. That would be simple to program into stores' computers, and it would be simple for the average customer -- that is, taxpayer -- to understand.

Well, nobody ever accused legislators of being consumer-friendly -- or logical.
If you don't have to buy a lot of school supplies but are looking for a chance to make a purchase without paying a tax on it -- short of driving to the outlet malls in Delaware -- you can look forward to another tax holiday later this year. Drew Houff reports in today's Winchester Star:
In October, shoppers will be able to purchase certain energy-efficient appliances priced at $2,500 or less without paying sales taxes. The items are limited to noncommercial home or personal use.
Houff also gathered these tidbits from the world's largest retailer:

E.R. Anderson, the Washington-based regional media director for Wal-Mart, said the sales tax holiday has become quite busy for the stores throughout Virginia.

She said Wal-Mart stores expect shoppers to save $800,000 on eligible items during the three-day event.

“We will be stocked up and staffed up for those days,” Anderson said. “We will have signage show what is a sales tax holiday item. We will list all of the products the commonwealth of Virginia has determined to be back-to-school.”

She said Wal-Mart also will allow consumers to purchase electronics tax-free, with the company paying the sales-tax costs. Those items include computers, computer accessories, television sets, and wireless communication devices.

“There is no dollar limit, and we will absorb all sales tax for them [on electronics],” Anderson said.

And, if this weekend's tax holiday and the appliance holiday in October are not enough, Sharon McLoone reminds us in her small business blog for the Washington Post:
The commonwealth also holds a recurring sales-tax holiday each May for hurricane and emergency preparedness equipment, and that includes a range of items like bottled water and battery-operated can openers.
How about this idea? A tax-free year. Is that too much to hope for?



Update:
Check out the gift items I have designed at my CafePress shop, called (naturally) "Gifts from RickSincere.com."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So You Want to Be a Star?

If you have dreams of singing and dancing on the Broadway stage (or manipulating a puppet on the same stage), you may have a chance to make your dream come true.

Disney has announced that it will be holding auditions in the Washington area for the hit musicals The Lion King and Mary Poppins.

All the pertinent details are in a press release, below.

Disney Theatrical Productions
HOLDS OPEN CASTING CALLS
FOR THE LION KING AND MARY POPPINS
IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
IN MID-AUGUST

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 29, 2008) Disney Theatrical Productions will be hosting open auditions, seeking possible future replacements for the Broadway and touring productions of THE LION KING and MARY POPPINS in Washington, D.C., August 15 - 18 at The Washington Ballet. These open calls are for anyone, regardless of experience, who would like the opportunity to audition and be part of these stage productions. Performers of all cultural backgrounds are encouraged to attend.

The casting search will be overseen by Jennifer Rudin (Director, Casting and Talent Development for Disney Theatrical Productions). Jennifer spent five years as head of casting for Walt Disney Animation Studios in Los Angeles and cast the following animated movies to name a few: Chicken Little, The Incredibles, Meet the Robinsons, The Wild and Brother Bear. Jennifer serves on the Board of Directors for the Casting Society of America.

* * *

These casting calls coincide with the premiere engagement of THE LION KING currently playing in Washington, D.C., at The Kennedy Center Opera House through August 24, 2008. The production includes four local performers: Andrew Frace (Ed) from Olney; Maia Moss (Ensemble) from Silver Spring; Marquis Moss (Ensemble) from Washington, D.C.; and Dion Wilson (Ensemble) from Baltimore. The run is sold out at this time, but patrons may check the Kennedy Center Box Office for last-minute availability, by calling Instant Charge at (202) 467-4600, or by visiting the Kennedy Center’s website at www.kennedy-center.org.

THE LION KING

Singers
Seeking strong, dynamic singers for all roles including the African lions Simba and Nala.

WHEN:
Friday, August 15
Sign in 9:30am
Sign in no later than 11:00am

PREPARE: Please bring sheet music of a song that shows off your voice and range in 16 bars that you will sing with piano accompaniment (eg. R&B, gospel). Bring a recent picture and resume or list of performance experience.

Children
We are seeking children ages 9-12, with a maximum height of 58”, who can sing, dance and act to play the African lion cubs Simba and Nala. No performance experience necessary

WHEN:
Saturday, August 16
Sign in 9:30am
Sign in no later than 11:00am

PREPARE: Be prepared to be taught the last verse of Just Can’t Wait to Be King. All children must be accompanied by parent/guardian, who must remain at audition site at all times.

Dancers
Seeking strong male and female dancers with a classical and modern dance background. Some male dancers require strong acro skills. You must be warmed up and ready to dance in flat jazz shoes or bare feet.

WHEN:
Monday, August 18
Female Dancers: Sign in 9:30am
Male Dancers: Sign in 1:30pm

PREPARE: You may be asked to sing. Please prepare a song that shows off your voice and range (eg. R&B, gospel). Bring the sheet music. A pianist will be provided. Bring a recent picture and resume or list of performance experience.

MARY POPPINS

Children
Disney Theatrical Productions is seeking children with a maximum height of 4’10”, who can sing, dance and act to play Jane and Michael Banks:

WHEN:
Sunday, August 17
Sign in 9:30am
Sign in no later than 11:00am

PREPARE: Please prepare a song of your choice that shows off your range. Please provide sheet music for the accompanist, and remember to bring a current picture and resume. All children must be accompanied by a parent/guardian who must remain at audition site at all times.

WHERE:
The Washington Ballet @ THEARC
1901 Mississippi Avenue SE
Washington, D.C. 20020
www.washingtonballet.org

If you are unable to attend these auditions, send a headshot and a resume ASAP to:

For THE LION KING
Binder Casting, ATTN: The Lion King
321 W 44th Street, Suite 606, New York, NY 10036

For MARY POPPINS
Tara Rubin Casting, ATTN: Mary Poppins
570 7th Avenue, Suite 401, New York, NY 10018

For more info visit www.disneyonbroadway.com or email casting@disneyonbroadway.com

ABOUT THE LION KING
Now in its second sold-out decade in New York, The Lion King is the winner of six Tony Awards® including Best Musical, eight Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, the New York Drama Critics award for Best Musical, the Evening Standard Award for the Theatrical Event of the Year, two Olivier Awards, a Theatre World Award, the Astaire Award for Outstanding Choreography, two Drama League Awards and a Grammy Award® for Best Musical Show Album.

ABOUT MARY POPPINS
MARY POPPINS, a co-production by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on November 16, 2006. The Tony Award® winning production quickly proved to be a hit with audience members and critics alike.

The MARY POPPINS North American Tour begins performances in Chicago at The Cadillac Palace Theatre on March 11, 2009. After Chicago, the tour is scheduled to play The State Theatre in Cleveland, The Fox Theatre in St. Louis, and The Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, with additional cities, venues and dates to be announced. For more information please visit www.MaryPoppinsTour.com.

The London production continues its record-setting run at London’s Prince Edward Theatre through January 2008.

Based on P.L. Travers’s cherished stories and the classic 1964 Walt Disney film, MARY POPPINS features the Academy Award-winning music and lyrics of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. The stage production has been created, in collaboration with Cameron Mackintosh, by Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who has written the book, and the Olivier Award-winning team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who have composed new songs and additional music and lyrics.

# # # #

So grab your resume and photo, put on your dancing shoes and leotard, and head over to the auditions for The Lion King and Mary Poppins ... you never get cast if you don't audition.

Monday, July 28, 2008

If It's Monday ...

On Monday and Tuesday evenings at around 10:30 p.m. (EDT), this blog begins to get a spike of visitors, nearly all searching for Hunter Parrish with one modifier or another. This corresponds to the weekly broadcast of a new episode of Weeds, the dark Showtime comedy that features Parrish as Silas Botwin, the elder son of Mary-Louise Parker's character, Nancy Botwin, a suburban drug dealer in southern California.

Parrish is so popular here, in fact, that searches for his name add up to at least 22.2 percent of all visits to this blog. (Technically, 22.2 percent of the last 4,000 visits -- a big chunk by any estimation.)

This is odd because a Google Trends analysis shows that the name Hunter Parrish -- as talented and studly as he might be -- barely registers:



This low level of interest is demonstrated in relative terms when one compares the popularity of searches for "Hunter Parrish" with a celebrity of similar age and attractiveness, actor William Moseley of the Narnia movies:



So it must be something about this blog, in particular, in which interest in Hunter Parrish converges with other topics that results in disproportionate popularity. (Among "cute guys," the next most popular searches that lead here are Josh Hutcherson and Tyler Whitney -- one a movie actor, the other a political activist. Aaron Carter used to be a rival but his popularity has dissipated.)

It seems that the number one question on the mind of those searching for Hunter Parrish is this: Is Hunter Parrish gay? The secondary concern seems to be a desire to see him either shirtless or nude.

I don't have any shirtless or nude pictures of Hunter Parrish, but I do know of a video with him whistling. It's a promotional clip from Showtime in which the network was challenging fans to whistle "Little Boxes," the song that served as the theme of Weeds during its first three seasons.


I have no doubt that seekers of Hunter Parrish will be pleased to learn of the next step in his career. He'll be starring in a Broadway musical:
The producers of Spring Awakening announce “Weeds” Star Hunter Parrish will join Broadway’s groundbreaking musical hit in the central role of Melchior, the brilliant young radical, on August 18. Featured in Vanity Fair’s cover feature “Hollywood’s New Wave-The Hottest Kids in Hollywood" spread (August issue), on newsstands July 9, Hunter can currently be seen as Silas, the rabble-rousing older son of Mary-Louise Parker on the highly acclaimed Showtime series WEEDS. The show’s 4th season premiered last month. Moviegoers can next see Parrish on the big screen in “17 Again” opposite Zac Efron and Matthew Perry. Other screen roles include “Freedom Writers” with Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey, and Barry Sonnefeld’s comedy “RV” playing the son of Jeff Daniels and Kristen Chenoweth.

I have always hoped that my passion for the theatre would eventually lead me to Broadway, says Parrish. "Spring Awakening is a truly one-of-a-kind show with its timeless story, commanding music and innovative imagery. I am elated to have the opportunity to become a part of it."
As it happens, the Jewish Daily Forward last week featured an article about Weeds that took issue with the portrayal of some of the Jewish characters in the show.

Written by Adam Wilson, whose other recent work appears in a book entitled Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex, the article begins:
Who were the first Jewish potheads? The Old Testament seems filled with early precursors: Daniel, the interpreter of colorful dreams; Ezekiel, with his visions of flying chariots; perhaps even David, whose tunes of ethereal majesty were conceivably inspired by some seriously bitter herbs. Other scholars might go back to Genesis — Adam and Eve in that ripe, green pleasure-palace, hungry enough to eat forbidden apples. And then there’s slightly more recent history: Allen Ginsberg extolled the virtues of marijuana in pulsing, desperate verse, and Leonard Michaels wrote short stories about Jews on New York City’s Lower East Side getting stoned with sweet-smiling shiksas and then devouring leftover kugel sent over by their own mothers.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Showtime’s series “Weeds,” a quasi-sitcom about an attractive, widowed suburbanite who sells marijuana in order to support her family and her addiction to iced lattes, is filled with Jews, half-Jews and attractive women married — or once married — to Jews. Over its first three seasons, “Weeds,” more than any other show, has created Jewish characters that defy stereotype. Andy Botwin, the brother-in-law/partner-in-pot-dealing of our protagonist, Nancy, is a blue-eyed, fair-haired Jewish man with toned triceps and a fierce slacker wit. His only talent is his ability to create delightfully unkosher gourmet meals. Andy’s brother — Nancy’s deceased husband, Judah, who we see in dream sequences and in home movies — is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the muscle-bound heartthrob who captured the loins of Katherine Heigl and plenty of American women in his role as Denny Duquette on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” Then there’s Dean Hodes, a Jewish lawyer more interested in getting stoned than in making money. As we learn in one episode, he is anatomically very well endowed.
Wilson expresses dismay at a recent turn in the plot and character presentation of Weeds:

These characters are exciting because they both play on and contradict our expectations about Jewish types. They are not old yiddlers munching gefilte fish, or nebbished-out neurotic nerds (like Larry David), or money-hungry misanthropes (like Larry David). Instead, the Jews on “Weeds” come from a contemporary Jewish America in which some Jews have blue eyes, some yeshiva employees are into S&M and some Semitic men have large penises.

All of which is why it is so disappointing that the show’s fourth season, which premiered in early June, has introduced a totally uninteresting Jewish character who lives up to every negative stereotype there is about Jews.

Wilson is especially perturbed by the character of Lenny, played by Albert Brooks, who is "a creep and a jerk":
What irks me about Lenny is not that he is a creep and a jerk — the world is filled with Jewish creeps and jerks, and it would be unfair to ask that all Jewish characters have redeeming qualities — but that his creepiness and his jerkiness seem directly tied to his Jewishness. (When Lenny plays Bubbe’s concentration camp numbers in the lottery, it’s hard not to see it as reiterating the stereotype that Jews exploit their tragedies for financial gain.)
Wilson will no doubt be happy to learn -- if he hasn't already -- that Lenny's character arc ended after the first four episodes of Weeds' new season. Albert Brooks has left the building.

But Hunter Parrish is still there. And for that I am grateful, since it brings new eyes here -- even if they don't find the shirtlessness they are looking for.

Update, July 31, 10:00 p.m.: The numbers keep rising. Searches for "Hunter Parrish" (including various spellings) amount to a minimum of 26.9 percent of visitors to this blog. And I don't even offer any actual nude or shirtless pictures of him!


Saturday, July 26, 2008

'I'm the Mother'

Tony Award-winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein paid tribute to the late Estelle Getty in a guest column in the New York Post yesterday. Getty died earlier this week at the age of 84; Friday would have been her 85th birthday.

Before going on to worldwide fame as the acerbic Sophia on the hit TV sitcom The Golden Girls in the 1980s, Getty was a hardworking New York actress. In fact, when she was cast in The Golden Girls, she was playing the mother of Fierstein's character, Arnold Beckoff, in Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway. Ironically, according to IBDB, this was Getty's only Broadway credit.

Why "ironic"? Let Fierstein explain:

At the height of popularity of "The Golden Girls," there was no more beloved character on television than Sophia Petrillo. Estelle Getty, who brought Sophia indelibly to life, was awestruck: "What the hell is going on? I have the highest TVQ of any woman on television?"

It was true. For several years, Estelle Getty, formerly Estelle Gettleman of Bayside, Queens, was the most bankable star on any network. She was bigger than Carol Burnett, more saleable than Mary Tyler Moore and surer to deliver viewers than Cher. Still, the day after she won the Emmy, she told me she'd trade it and her Golden Globe for a Tony.

Despite all of the glamour, glory and gold of television fame, Estelle Getty was a theater creature.
Fierstein gives Getty much of the credit for making Torch Song Trilogy such a big success (1,222 performances, Tony Award for best play, a popular film adaptation [sans Getty]). Besides creating the role on stage, Getty had persuaded Fierstein to write the character into the play in the first place.
From the first reading through seven years of productions here and on the road, the marriage of actress to role was remarkable. There was simply nothing like seeing this henna-wigged tornado in a turquoise suit arrive onstage to announce, "I'm the mother."

So great was her performance that almost every audience member identified with my character. You read that right: Estelle's Mrs. Beckoff was so identifiable that everyone claimed her as his or her mother. And if she was their mother, then they were a drag queen.

The thing about Estelle was that you could not catch her acting. She was being. If her character was supposed to be angry, Estelle got angry. If her character was brokenhearted, the actress was brokenhearted. It all felt real....

Without the mother, "Torch Song Trilogy" would never have achieved its universal popularity and might not have reached further than La Mama. But with the mother, the play was, and remains, a force not to be denied.
Unfortunately, this dynamic performance was not captured on film. In the movie, Mrs. Beckoff was played by Anne Bancroft. Fierstein notes wryly:
Estelle was dealt another blow four years later when she wasn't cast in the film version of "Torch Song." Although we never discussed it directly, I knew how much that hurt her. (Recently, I've come to know exactly how she felt - know what I mean?)
There's another irony in this story, a personal one for me.

Although Estelle Getty played Mrs. Beckoff for some 1,200 performances (perhaps more, if you include the off-Broadway run and subsequent national tours), when I saw Torch Song Trilogy in New York in February 1983, it was during the two-week period that Barbara Barrie played the role in Getty's absence.

What are the odds of that?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sweating on Capitol Hill with Richard Simmons

Washington can be celebrity crazy.

It depends on the celebrity, however. I was in a restaurant last night when Rudy Giuliani walked in, and nobody gave him a second glance.

Put fitness guru Richard Simmons on Capitol Hill, however, and you attract a crowd. Simmons testified at a hearing earlier this morning, urging Congress to support greater resources for physical education in government schools. The hearing was held in a huge room in the Rayburn Building, but it filled up quickly. An overflow room one floor up also filled to capacity -- and the people there could only watch the hearing on TV monitors.

After the hearing ended, Simmons ripped off his business suit to reveal a red tank top (with sparkles, of course) and jogged a few blocks over to the Cannon Building terrace, where he headlined a rally for physical education in the shadow of the Capitol dome. (Simmons was joined by several Members of Congress in his effort.)

It was a mob scene. Hundreds of people packed the terrace and participated in a quick round of calisthenics to the tunes of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Dancing in the Streets."

When he was finished, Simmons offered to pose for photos and sign autographs for fans. And most people there took him up on the offer. College boys were jumping over banisters to hug their idol. (Yes, really!) Congressional staff members, interns, tourists -- all wanted to shake hands, share a laugh, or grab a piece of Richard Simmons.

I've posted some of the photographs from the rally on Facebook. And here, in two parts, is a video record of one of the oddest political rallies one might ever expect to encounter on Capitol Hill.


Richard Simmons Rally on Capitol Hill - Part I
:



Richard Simmons Rally on Capitol Hill - Part II:


I know that blog readers can be similarly celebrity-obsessed to Washingtonians. Whether Richard Simmons fans will flock here in the same disproportionate numbers as fans of a shirtless Hunter Parrish is another question entirely. I guess we'll see.

Updates: The New Republic has a report on Richard Simmons' alighting on Washington, here. And Dana Milbank has an amusing take on the day's events in the Washington Post. Lavender Newswire includes video of the testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee.

Friday, July 18, 2008

'See the Pyramids Along the Nile...'

Jo Stafford has died at 90 years of age. Stafford was one of the great singers of the 20th century. Her luscious voice insinuates itself permanently in the ear of anyone who hears it. (Those of you who, like me, grew up listening to Stafford on the radio, know exactly what I mean.)

Ironically, the velvety Stafford earned her greatest accolades -- and only Grammy -- through her pseudonymous, comedic efforts as the off-key, rhythmically-challenged distaff half of the duo Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. ("Jonathan Edwards" was Stafford's husband, pianist and bandleader Paul Weston, who died in 1996.) They did send ups of popular songs the way Anna Russell approached opera. (It's no surprise that Amazon.com also links Jonathan and Darlene to parodist Florence Foster Jenkins and that 1960s oddity, Mrs. Miller, too; but they were so much better than either.)

Adam Bernstein explains their style (and appeal) in the Washington Post today:

For years, the Westons had privately developed for friends a comedy routine satirizing bad entertainers. Music executives urged them to record under their adopted persona of two clueless nightclub performers, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards.

The result was several hit records that triggered a national sensation: trying to identify the artists behind the brazenly off-key singing and piano-playing of dubious ability and taste.

Some thought they were Margaret and Harry Truman, Time magazine reported.

The liner notes to the Edwardses' debut album were deadpan: "Mr. Edwards places what he calls 'emotional honesty' first in importance. He believes that technical accuracy, slavish adherence to original harmonies and melody are secondary. Mrs. Edwards returned from private life to take part in this album, selecting her own repertoire of sophisticated songs, several of which she originally introduced in Trenton, N.J."

Terry Teachout has a wonderful tribute, which I can't better. He has links to all the major obituaries.

Jo Stafford might have sung "you belong to me," but she belongs to all of us, and to the ages.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

GayPatriot Makes the Washington Times

My friend and fellow blogger, Dan Blatt -- one of the founders of the Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia -- had his popular blog, GayPatriot, showcased in the Washington Times today.

Victor Morton's July 15 "Inside Blogotics" column includes one of Dan's posts about John McCain in a weekly wrap-up of the political blogosphere:

Fred Barnes last week advised Sen. John McCain to shore up the social-conservative base by making a bigger issue of matters related to homosexuality.

On "Fox News Sunday," the Weekly Standard pundit said, "Barack Obama is for allowing gays in the military ... Gay marriage is another one. These are both issues that I think McCain is gonna have to use."

Conservative blogger Gay Patriot West replied that "the Barnes Option" would not prevent him from voting for the Arizona Republican but would overall be "counterproductive."
Dan's full July 10 post on the topic can be found under the headline, "Fred Barnes' Bad Advice to John McCain."

Scenes from the Revolution...

Poor Dick Heller! The lead plaintiff (and namesake) of the landmark civil rights lawsuit that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, D.C. v. Heller, had the misfortune of following Ron Paul to the dais at last Saturday's Revolution March and Rally in Washington.

Heller, whose celebrity in the wake of SCOTUS's pro-Second Amendment ruling has resulted in a "Draft Heller for Congress" movement, tried his best to retain the attention of the crowd, but to no avail. Thousands of people had converged on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol to see Ron Paul, and after waiting for hours to see the Congressman, they booked it out of there when he left the scene.

The crowd was eclectic, if mostly young. It was not, from my perspective, a gathering of libertarians.

While a few libertarian themes were sounded from the podium, they were outnumbered by nationalist/xenophobic appeals to the anti-immigration crowd, weird conspiracy theories (one speaker asserted that some international agency is putting dots of various colors on our mail boxes; the color of the dot signals whether the occupant of the house will be a compliant slave or one who resists tyranny, with gradations in between), eminent domain activists who oppose tolls as user fees for road building and maintenance, and passionate anti-war protesters.

The sorts of groups one usually finds at libertarian gatherings were not in evidence. While there were a few signs waved, here and there, calling for an end to drug prohibition or touting the Second Amendment, there was no palpable presence of anti-drug or pro-gun organizations. (One of my friends told me he could detect the fragrant aroma of cannabis smoke, but I hadn't noticed it.)

One result of the panoply of speakers, whose views were (to be kind) out of the mainstream, was that when Congressman Paul took the stage, he appeared, by comparison, to be the moderate voice of reason. Whether this was the plan of the rally organizers or just a happy accident, I don't know.

In fact, Dr. Paul was on the top of his game. He appeared relaxed, wearing a blue-and-white striped golf shirt. He was full of energy and he smiled broadly at the reaction of the crowd, as well he should have done.

Why? The multitude treated him like a rock star. The crowd had been spread out widely on the lawn west of the Capitol building, but when whispers of Dr. Paul's arrival on the premises began to circulate, they surged, almost as one, to the front of the stage. Plenty of elbow room gave way to the shoulder-to-shoulder intimacy of a tightly-packed elevator.

I felt like I was at a Barack Obama rally, without the Democrats and empty rhetoric.

This was the first time I had seen Dr. Paul in person since his pathbreaking GOP presidential primary campaign began last year. I had read press reports about the way he was received at political rallies and on college campuses, but this was my introduction to it by way of direct observation.


One of the things I noticed is that the messenger is more salient than the message. The people who attended this march and rally are, first and foremost, RON PAUL SUPPORTERS. They adore the man. Other speakers echoed parts of his message during the hours preceding his appearance, but they were largely, if politely, ignored.

When Dr. Paul arrived, however, the audience was enraptured. They hung on his every word. They chanted his name. (I don't remember anyone chanting "Howard Phillips, Howard Phillips!" or "Chuck Baldwin, Chuck Baldwin!" And there was nobody left to chant "Dick Heller! Dick Heller!) They cheered. They demanded an encore, even though Congressman Paul had a plane to catch and a place to go.

So I have to wonder if anybody else -- Bob Barr, Chuck Baldwin, or any other currently active politician -- can be as an effective a messenger for Ron Paul's platform or for libertarian and constitutionalist ideas. Dr. Paul, I know, demurs. He insists that it is the message that matters, not the messenger. I hope he's right, but I fear he's wrong.

See for yourself. I took about 55 minutes of video at the rally and edited it down to about 40 minutes in five segments. (I posted these videos to YouTube just about 24 hours ago and they have already had more than a thousand hits, which is a record for any of my YouTube videos.)

What do you think? Are we seeing the apotheosis of Ron Paul's ideas, or of Ron Paul the leader? It's your call.


Scenes from the Revolution Rally - Part I
:



Scenes from the Revolution Rally - Part II:



Scenes from the Revolution Rally - Part III:



Scenes from the Revolution Rally - Part IV:



Scenes from the Revolution Rally - Part V:



Theocratic Party -- I mean, Constitution Party -- presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin introduces Ron Paul in Part III, and the rest of Dr. Paul's speech is in that segment and Parts IV and V.

Other speakers heard on the video include Howard Phillips and Michael Scheuer. The audio tidbits are not well-edited, but you might hear some interesting or intriguing thoughts. In taking the video, I was aiming for the capture of visual images. What's more, I knew my battery power was depleting rapidly in the heat, and I wanted to save my charge for Dr. Paul's climactic address. (Even so, my battery ran out a couple of minutes before Congressman Paul ended his speech; I got most of it, however.)

For other perspectives on the march and rally, check out Steven Latimer's blog (also with video) and the Virginia Conservative. (Other bloggers who were there and who wrote about this, feel free to post a link in the comments section, below.)

Other photographs from the rally can be found on Facebook, here and here.

Update: Dave Weigel has an excellent report at the Reason "Hit & Run" blog, making me wish that I had also seen (in person) the banner that read "Mises Saves." Weigel has video of Naomi Wolf, and his additional photos are here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Keegan’s ‘Man of La Mancha’ Worth a Revisit

Richard Morrison and I saw Keegan Theatre's new production of Man of La Mancha last Saturday night. It turned out there was a former UVA student in the cast, whom we knew peripherally. (We didn't stick around to give the cast accolades after the show, however; there was a long drive ahead.)

My review, prepared for The Metro Herald in Alexandria, appears below.

Keegan’s ‘Man of La Mancha’ Worth a Revisit
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Run, don’t walk, to Church Street near Dupont Circle to see Mark A. Rhea’s masterful staging of Man of La Mancha. Don’t even hesitate, because tickets to this outstanding production are sure to sell out fast.

Man of La Mancha – which was inspired by the life and writings of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote – is perhaps unique among highly successful Broadway musicals. Not only did its creative team – librettist Dale Wasserman, composer Mitch Leigh, and lyricist Joe Darion – never have another hit together, but none of them individually achieved a similar success on Broadway, alone or in collaboration with others.

In fact, if you added up all the Broadway performances of all the other shows Wasserman, Leigh, and Darion had a hand in, they would not reach even a third of the original run of Man of La Mancha (2,328 performances from November 1965 through June 1971). Such is the magic of the musical theatre, which often relies on kismet. (One has to wonder whether the show would have enjoyed such amazing success had the original lyricist, poet W.H. Auden, stuck with the project.)

Now in its 10th season, with a repertoire that largely but not entirely focuses on Irish drama, the Keegan Theatre is reprising one of the successful shows from early in its existence. Some of the cast members are the same, but even those who are new exhibit a depth of understanding of their characters.

For those unfamiliar with this much-revived musical (including four revivals on Broadway, the most recent in 2003 featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Ernie Sabella, played briefly at Washington’s Warner Theatre), it is something of a play within a play.

Cervantes (played by David Jourdan) arrives in prison at the invitation of the Inquisition. In order to delay the taking of his belongings by his fellow prisoners – cutthroats, thieves, murderers, and others – he suggests that he put on an entertainment. If his storytelling pleases the “jury” of his prisoner-peers, he gets to keep his things (and, presumably, his life, too). He proceeds to lay out the tale of Alonso Quijana, an old man who believes himself to be a noble knight known as “Don Quixote de La Mancha.” The other prisoners, as necessary, take on the other roles in the play.

In one of his most brilliant strokes, Rhea directs his supporting cast – the other prisoners, who mostly populate the periphery of the compact performance space – to start off being indifferent to Cervantes’ antics. They face away from the action, twiddle their thumbs, feign sleep, avoid engagement.

As the play continues, however, the ensemble becomes more and more – gradually, eventually – absorbed and engaged in what is unfolding center stage. By the end, they are totally consumed and inspired by Cervantes’ story and his dignified response to the indignities he faces.

Rhea and his production team must have worked tirelessly to put all the pieces together. A floor grate, for example, becomes a confessional booth; a handy design, but not an obvious choice. Lighting (designed by Dan Martin), costume (Kelly Peacock), set (George Lucas) and sound (Tony Angelini) design – all come together in a cohesive whole.

At the same time, despite its excellence, the production retains the sense that Cervantes and his companion are improvising. They need to buy time (which is in abundance in the prison) and, to do so, they entertain.

All of the principals and even the supporting players are impressive in their roles.

Michael Innocenti has pitch-perfect intonation and comic timing in the tenor role of Sancho. Innocenti can do as much with a roll of his eyes as with his voice.

As Aldonza, Carolyn Agan is expressive and – as Don Quixote proclaims – beautiful underneath her scullery-maid exterior. The song “Aldonza” is one of the best character songs in the musical theatre repertoire, and Agan delivers it with exactly the right mix of cynicism, frustration, and sadness.

Harv Lester as Padre, Jane Petkofsky as the Housekeeper, and Carolyn Myers as Antonia all deserve special recognition. Each of them gets a backstory as a prisoner that plays out in their “character” roles in the Don Quixote sequences.

Kevin Adams, who plays the “Governor” (head prisoner) and the Innkeeper, stays straight for most of the performance, but he has impish (appropriately so) fun with the song “Knight of the Woeful Countenance,” which is too often performed with mock seriousness. Nice touch.

Jourdan (as Cervantes) is at his best when reciting, rather than singing, his lines. Perhaps it was a bad night for him, but he seemed at times to be struggling to hit his notes. Still, this detracted little from his overall performance, which was otherwise spot on.

Last summer, Keegan’s musical offering was 1776, which was wonderfully done with the shortcoming of the absence of live musical accompaniment. (The actors sang to pre-recorded music.) Not so this summer: In Man of La Mancha, a full musical ensemble under the direction of Amy Conley offers strong and dramatic support to the cast on stage. With this, Keegan’s Man of La Mancha is a truly integrated musical play.

Having mentioned George Lucas’ set design already, it should be noted that the intimate performance space at Church Street Theater is true to the origins of Man of La Mancha, which was originally produced on a small thrust stage at a (now defunct) theatre known as ANTA Washington Square. (It later graduated to a series of larger Broadway houses.)

One mistake many producers of Man of La Mancha make is to ignore the fundamental intimacy of the play. (The 2003 Broadway revival was far too fancy and big, for example; the Martin Beck Theatre [now the Al Hirschfeld] where it played seats nearly 1,500 people.) This play, after all, is set in a dungeon, with all of the dankness and darkness that word connotes. Directors also forget that Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana is a weak old man, so to have him belt “The Impossible Dream” like Robert Goulet in a Las Vegas show room is disjointed, to say the least.

Mark Rhea and the Keegan company avoid these errors and make virtue out of necessity. Though the temptation might be strong to “move up” to a larger house, especially with popular productions like Man of La Mancha, they are wise to stay put in the delightful Church Street space, where there is not – cannot be – a bad seat in the audience.

Keegan’s Man of La Mancha deserves to be seen. It is inspiring, touching (bring an extra handkerchief), and bold in its execution. Catch a performance before it’s gone.

Keegan Theatre’s production of Man of La Mancha runs through August 17 at Church Street Theater, 1742 Church Street, N.W., in Washington near Dupont Circle. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:00 o’clock, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices range from $30 to $35, with discounts for groups of 10 or more. For ticket information, call the Keegan Theatre box office at 703-892-0202 (ext. 2) or send an email to boxoffice@keegantheatre.com. The Keegan Theatre web site can be found at www.keegantheatre.com.

Blogger is being fussy, so I will be posting production photos later.

Beefcake Update

Last October, I reported on a new calendar featuring Mormon men in various states of dishabille.

Called "Men on a Mission," it was designed to introduce people to the Mormon faith in a rather unconventional manner.

Now it turns out that the creator and marketer of the calendar, Chad Hardy, has been excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church, that is).

According to the Daily Telegraph in London:

The creator of a calendar featuring pictures of bare-chested Mormon missionaries has been excommunicated after a disciplinary meeting with local church leaders in Las Vegas.

Chad Hardy, 31, said he accepted the decision and had "no ill feelings" towards the council of elders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I felt like I spoke my truth," the Las Vegas-based life-long Mormon said. "Bottom line, they still felt the calendar is inappropriate and not the image that the church wants to have."

....Frank E Davie, leader of a group of Mormon congregations in the Las Vegas area, confirmed the 12-member council's decision but would not comment further.

Once excommunicated, a person can still attend services but is removed from official church rolls, prohibited from receiving the sacrament, entering church temples and performing church callings such as teaching or preaching during meetings.
An earlier report in the Las Vegas Sun noted the reasons Hardy was facing discipline from his church:
A lifetime member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Chad Hardy was summoned by letter to a Sunday meeting with a council of elders to discuss his "conduct unbecoming a member of the church."
The Sun's article suggests that Hardy achieved the sort of dialogue he was seeking to unfurl:
Blog entries on the social networking sites MySpace and Facebook show a range of reactions to Hardy's work. Some find it offensive and say it degrades the church by displaying missionaries as sex symbols, and that it contradicts church teachings about modest dress for all members.

Others praise the effort for rattling perceptions that Mormons are "stuffy." Some who identified themselves as younger Mormons said the calendar might make it easier for their non-Mormon friends to consider exploring the faith.

"It has created an interfaith dialogue," Hardy said. "People of all faiths have logged on and shared what they believe. They're talking about what's really important, not how bad it is that you took your shirt off."
Despite the excommunication, the 2009 "Men on a Mission" calendar has already been sent to the printers and will be ready for stuffing stockings this Christmas.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Support Harry's Place: A Blogburst

(I am usually, and appropriately, averse to pasting the words of others in a blog post of my own. But this case is exceptional. As you will see by reading through to the end of this posting, the text below is being copied and pasted onto blogs throughout the world, as a movement against intimidation against bloggers in general and one blogger in particular. Please feel free to do, as I have, and copy this article for use in your own blog. I first saw this on Combs Spouts Off and took the text from NeoConstant. -- Rick Sincere)


Harry’s Place, a UK blog dedicated to promoting the ideals of freedom and democracy, is being sued by Mohammed Sawalha, the President of the British Muslim Initiative, which has been linked to Hamas and the Islamic Brotherhood, both terrorist organizations. The blog reports that Mr. Sawalha, according to the BBC…

“master minded much of Hamas’ political and military strategy” and in London “is alleged to have directed funds, both for Hamas’ armed wing, and for spreading its missionary dawah”.

In their revelation of the impending lawsuit against them leveled by Mohammed Sawalha, they write:

Mr Sawalha claims that we have “chosen a malevolent interpretation of a meaningless word”. In fact, we did no more than translate a phrase which appeared in an Al Jazeera report of Mr Sawalha’s speech. When Al Jazeera changed that phrase from “Evil Jew” to “Jewish Lobby”, we reported that fact, along with the statement that it had been a typographical error.

Mr Sawalha has been the prime mover in a number of Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood associated projects. He is President of the British Muslim Initiative. He is the past President of the Muslim Association of Britain. He was the founder of IslamExpo, and is registered as the holder of the IslamExpo domain name. He is also a trustee of the Finsbury Park Mosque….

…Mr Sawalha says that the attribution of the phrase “Evil Jew” to him implies that he is “anti-semitic and hateful”. Notably, he does not take issue with our reporting of the revelation, made in a Panorama documentary in 2006, that he is a senior activist in the clerical fascist terrorist organisation, Hamas.

It looks like Harry’s Place is going up against some pretty top-notch lawyers on this one, and they’ve got guts, but as the post goes on to say:

If Mr Sawalha persists in attempting to silence us with this desperate legal suit, we will need your help.

We won’t be able to stand up to them alone.

This is why we’ve started this blogburst, to get the word out that we won’t let members of Hamas or any radical terrorist group censor us or any of our fellow bloggers.

If you’d like to add your site to the blogroll, simply email us at admin@neoconstant.com, and include your site’s URL.

Then copy and paste this entry into one of your posts. Future posts will be emailed to you. Thanks, and don’t forget to head over to Harry’s Place to show your support of their freedom of speech!

WE SUPPORT HARRY'S PLACE!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Knight of the Woeful Countenance

After the Revolution March and Rally tomorrow, I'll be heading up to Dupont Circle to see one of my favorite musical plays, Man of La Mancha (based on the picaresque novel, Don Quixote), which is being reprised by Keegan Theatre. Here's an excerpt from the news release:

Man of La Mancha Returns to Keegan Theatre!

Arlington, VA, June 6, 2008—The Keegan Theatre brings back to the stage one of its most successful productions, the musical Man of La Mancha. Based on the Cervantes classic, Man of La Mancha is one of the most enduring works of musical theatre, and one that remains in your heart and soul well after you leave the theater. Keegan’s Tenth Anniversary production will once again feature the incredible talent of Helen Hayes-nominated actor and Keegan company member David Jourdan as Don Quixote. Man of La Mancha opens on July 10, 2008, and runs through August 17, 2008, at the Church Street Theater in Washington, DC.

* * *

Where:
Church Street Theater
1742 Church Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

Performances:
July 10-August 17, 2008
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8 PM
Sunday matinees at 2 PM

Tickets:
$35- General admission
$30- Senior (60 and over) and students
Discount rate for groups (10 or more)

Box Office:
703-892-0202 x2
boxoffice@keegantheatre.com


Web Address:
www.keegantheatre.com

Is a Return to the Gold Standard Desirable?

My friend, Warren Coats, who spent a career at the International Monetary Fund before retiring in 2003 (and who taught economics at the University of Virginia before joining the IMF) has posted an interesting and informative paper that he presented Thursday at FreedomFest in Las Vegas. (Las Vegas in July...... mmmmm! Actually, I wish I was there. The program looked intriguing and intellectually stimulating.)

Warren's paper is entitled "Should the U.S. adopt a Gold Standard?" and, while presenting the pros and cons of such a policy, his ultimate answer is "no."

His full paper is well worth reading, but I will just excerpt the conclusion here:

The United States should not adopt a gold standard. Such a regime would have prevented the Federal Reserve from supplying the additional liquidity the banking system suddenly demanded this past year as part of the subprime mortgage crisis.[11] Without the injection of the additional liquidity, there would probably have been a financial sector meltdown and recession of hug proportions. Had the U.S. had a gold standard, it would not have survived such a financial crisis.

The United States should adopt inflation targeting. The Federal Reserve act should be amended to establish price stability as the primary objective of monetary policy, freeing the Fed from its statutory requirement to “to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.”[12]

Funny how Warren presented this argument just two days before the big Ron Paul Revolution March on Washington, where many gold bugs will be in attendance. I've always been an agnostic on the gold standard, but when a libertarian thinker like Warren Coats suggests that going back to the gold standard is a poor policy choice, my agnosticism gives way to atheism.

Not that that will stand in my way of attending the rally on the west side of the Capitol tomorrow. The Revolution takes place under a big tent.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jerry Herman!

Today is the 77th birthday of Broadway composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, whose first big hits were almost fifty years ago (Milk and Honey opened October 10, 1961, and Hello, Dolly! -- which was once the longest-running show on Broadway -- opened January 16, 1964).

Herman -- whose other hits include Mame and La Cage aux Folles -- is now being introduced to a whole new generation of listeners with the soundtrack of WALL-E, the Pixar animated film currently in theatres.

WALL-E includes songs from the film version of Hello, Dolly! and opens with "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." On today's Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR, WALL-E's director, Andrew Stanton, reveals that, in high school, he once played Barnaby Tucker in a production of Hello, Dolly!, and that is why that song was in his head as he was searching for an appropriate number to set the tone for the movie. It turns out (as I understand it, having not yet seen WALL-E) that Hello, Dolly! -- the film -- plays a pivotal role in the plot.

Like his contemporary, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman is that among that rare breed of musical theatre professionals who write both music and lyrics. (Almost every other hit musical of the past half-century is the product of a collaboration between a composer and a lyricist, most notably John Kander & Fred Ebb but also such teams as Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, or Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.)

I am one of those who thinks that, despite receiving accolades like multiple Tony Awards and Tony nominations, Herman does not get the critical credit he deserves in comparison to his peers. While not as complex or intellectually challenging as Sondheim's, his music is harmonically distinct, almost idiosyncratic, yet it is also accessible, in the sense that it's "hum-hum-hummable" for the average theatergoer. His lyrics are often clever, often touching, always literate, and help define character and advance the plot; what more can you want?

When I was a kid, I wore out my vinyl copy of the OCR of Hello, Dolly! (it was the first Broadway show I ever saw in a legitimate house, rather than in its motion-picture adaptation) and I used to belt "Before the Parade Passes By" while mowing the front lawn. (Try not to imagine what an 11-year-old boy sounds like as he pushes a lawn mower and channels Carol Channing.) In high school, the late T. Brennan used a recording of the title song from Mame to audition dancers for Senior Follies and the spring musical. It was easy for non-dancers to adapt to the rhythms without feeling (too) awkward.

The sad thing is that the movie adaptations of Herman's biggest hits -- Hello, Dolly! and Mame -- turned out to be such disappointments. Many people know his work only from the screen, and thus may leave the cinema with a lesser opinion of his work than he deserves.

The good thing is that virtually every day, if not every hour, there is someplace around the globe where a Jerry Herman musical is being performed. Herman's work makes it possible for small-town kids to believe, truly, that "there's a world outside of Yonkers."

While there may not be any of his shows that will be mounted by the New York City Opera, they still offer hours of pleasure to audiences at every level: high school, college and community theatre, semi-professional repertory companies, and even revivals on the Big Stem.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

'Chris and Don: A Love Story'

Those of you who are literarily or theatrically inclined may be most interested in this information, but there is plenty to chew on if politics and society are your topics.

Thanks to a segment on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I have learned of a new documentary about writer Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardy, who had a 33-year relationship that began when Bachardy was 18 and Isherwood was 49, ending only with Isherwood's death in 1986. Later, Bachardy began a 10-year relationship with a man 26 years his junior, but now is in a relationship ("for the first time in my life," he says) with a man almost precisely his own age. (Bachardy was born in 1934, the same year as my father.) The documentary film is called Chris and Don: A Love Story.

The summary of the interview on NPR's web site notes:

Bachardy speaks with Terry Gross about his career as an artist and his relationship with Isherwood, who penned the Berlin Stories, which served as the basis for the musical and film Cabaret.

Bachardy and Isherwood collaborated on a number of projects, and Bachardy's illustrations often appeared in Isherwood's work.

As an artist, Bachardy achieved recognition outside of his relationship with Isherwood, creating portraits of such celebrities and notables as Jack Nicholson, Mia Farrow and Dorothy Parker. His book Stars in My Eyes describes the subjects of his works and was a best-seller in Los Angeles.
The interview is wide-ranging, touching on what it was like to be openly gay in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s, how the age difference affected (or failed to affect) the Isherwood-Bachardy partnership, how Isherwood felt compelled to adopt Bachardy legally late in life (in the absence of legal gay marriage), and Bachardy's techniques as a portrait painter. (Gross asks a lengthy series of questions about the drawings Bachardy made of Isherwood on his deathbed, and of Isherwood's corpse on the day he died. Bachardy's answers are direct but no less emotional for that.)

There is also a discussion about same-sex marriage and a brief conversational sequence about Isherwood and Bachardy's friend, actor Anthony Perkins, who rebelled against his homosexuality and who, despite years of therapy, was never able to escape it. (For his part, Bachardy says "everything wonderful in my life is the result of my being queer.")

The Fresh Air interview with Don Bachardy -- who sounds much older than someone of 73 or 74, but perhaps his voice has had these qualities for many years -- can be found here, at the NPR web site.

I recommend listening to the whole thing. There's not a dull moment anywhere in the piece. (Theatre buffs may be surprised at how negative was Isherwood's reaction to Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in the film version of Cabaret.)

IMDB has information about the new documentary film. This is a film I definitely plan to see, and I hope I can see it on a big screen rather than on television via DVD.

The "cast list" of the documentary (directed by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi, who are unknown to me) is remarkable itself, as it includes Gloria Stuart, Michael York, Leslie Caron, Jack Larson ("Jimmy Olsen" from TV's Superman), and Liza, as well as Isherwood and Bachardy.

Fresh Air also reran an interview today, originally from 1988, with the late Thomas Disch, a gay science-fiction writer who is perhaps best known for the children's story, The Brave Little Toaster. That archival interview can be found here.

(To tell the truth, I had never heard of Thomas Disch until he died. I'm sure the science-fiction aficionados among my readers will berate me for that.)

All in all, Fresh Air had a gay hour today.

Update: I have discovered that Chris and Don: A Love Story has an official web site, which includes two video extracts from the film as well as photographs and background information about Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, and the filmmakers.

The Speaker's House Has a Blog

Those of us who live in Virginia are downright spoiled by the presence of historic homes. Just within a few-mile radius of Charlottesville, we have Monticello (home of Thomas Jefferson), Montpelier (home of James Madison), and Ash Lawn-Highland (home of James Monroe). There are also Mount Vernon (home of George Washington) and Gunston Hall (home of George Mason) in Northern Virginia, the John Marshall House and the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, John Tyler's plantation house (Sherwood Forest in Charles City County), Stratford Hall (birthplace of Robert E. Lee), and many more.

Up in Trappe, Pennsylvania (I'm sure you've never heard of it) is a home belonging to the first Speaker of the House of Representatives, Frederick Muhlenberg. Long in disrepair, the Speaker's House, as it has come to be known, has recently been rescued by a non-profit group and will soon be open to the public for tours just like our stately homes in Virginia.

I visited the Speaker's House in 2006, I photoblogged about it a while back.

Now it turns out that the historians working on the Speaker's House have started a blog of their own, which you can find here. It looks like the blog will be used to alert people to activities and events attached to the Speaker's House:

This blog will post updates on the renovation done to the House, any new artifacts or historical records discovered in connection with the House, interesting historical facts and anecdotes about the House and its inhabitants, and best of all, your story.

Don’t forget to come to our Bar-b-que and Open House Fundraiser on July 26, 2008, 11:30 AM – 7:00 PM. Check out our announcement on our Home Page!

The blog is an effort, in addition to the Speaker's House web site, to bring the Frederick Muhlenberg House (and Muhlenberg himself) to the attention of the history-hungry public.

Although Muhlenberg may seem obscure when compared to such giants as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or Alexander Hamilton, he played an important role in the founding of this country and its constitutional order: In addition to being the Speaker of the House in the First Congress, Muhlenberg was a member of the Continental Congress, a delegate to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, and the first signer of what we know as the Bill of Rights.