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He Says: Unknown Soldier Climbs Up High

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Perry Sherman, Estelle Parsons, Kerstin Anderson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The men and women in gray work at their gray tables going over papers pulled from gray boxes. They are, in the words of book and lyricist writer, Daniel Goldstein (Row; Orange Crush), “interested in figuring out how the past and the present merge, how objects trace through time, and how your history is more fluid than you think” and in that conceptualization played out before it even begins, the Unknown Soldier finds its true sense of self and soul. It’s also a compelling emotional core for the piece, particularly because of the tragedy of music and lyricist writer Michael Friedman (The Drunken City; The Fortress of Solitude) who died quite suddenly before this new musical could make its way to the stage. Losing a man of such talent so early in his life is such a calamity, but together with Goldstein, they luckily left behind a touchingly engaging tale that is both musically lovely and heartbreaking in its desperate need for redemption.

UNKNOWN SOLDIERBook and Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman Directed by Trip Cullman Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Margo Seibert, Erik Lochtefeld. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I wanna know what happened” proclaims the young Ellen, purposefully portrayed by Zoe Glick (Broadway’s Frozen) to a grandmother that she describes as “horrible“. Estelle Parsons (Public’s A Bright Room Called Day) portrays that elderly woman etched with discomfort and an unknown sadness. She was once the young and wide-eyed Lucy Lemay, beautifully portrayed by Kerstin Anderson (Broadway’s My Fair Lady) who stands so upright and smiling that we can hardly see how one would become the other. But that clear-eyed optimism and desire has long vanished from the woman’s face. Parsons breaks hearts just standing there holding tight to a newspaper clipping that has ignited the young girl’s curiosity. We feel the problematic sadness engulf the old woman, without nary a word, but it’s clear that the story ahead has a lot to do with that troubled guilty stare into the past. The granddaughter’s curiosity never fades though, and when that same young girl returns to her now dead grandmother’s home in the adult form of a very lost OB-GYN named Ellen Rabinowitz, the quest for understanding is reignited. Embodied by the vocally talented Margo Seibert (Signature’s Octet), Ellen can’t let go the need to understand after finding, once again, that 1918 newspaper clipping once. It sets her off on a journey back in time, prompting her to send an email to a pretty vague address at Cornell in hopes of finding some information that is unavailable to her. At first she is quite hopeless, but in an unlikely twist of faith, along with some questionable timelines throughout the musical, she gets a response from an easily attached Andrew Hoffman, delicately portrayed with earnestness by Erik Lochtefeld (PH’s The Light Years) who jumps on the bandwagon as she tries to discover her familial history of romanticised love and desperate attachment.

UNKNOWN SOLDIERBook and Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman Directed by Trip Cullman Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Jay McKenzie, Perry Sherman, Kerstin Anderson, James Crichton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

With director Trip Cullman (Broadway’s Choir BoyLobby Hero) and choreographer Patrick McCollum (Broadway’s The Band’s Visit) at the helm, pushing the table tops around with creative abandonment on the captivating Playwrights Horizons stage, designed with artistic free wheeling by Mark Wendland (ATC’s The Mother), with a strong assist from costume designers, Clint Ramos (Broadway’s Grand Horizons) & Jacob A. Climer (MCC’s Relevance), captivating lighting by Ben Stanton (PH’s The Pain of My Belligerence), and a centered sound design by Leon Rothenberg (Broadway’s Hillary and Clinton), the musical swings with protective force from the past to the present.  A large circular clock/moon hangs overhead teases us that in the world of romance, time is almost irrelevant (as it doesn’t quite add up a number of times throughout the tale). Somewhere inside this romantic musical of delusional attachment needs and desires,  Ellen needs to know about her grandmother’s past. And the core of that question revolves around the name of the Unknown Soldier, played with stoic solidness by a very pretty handsome Perry Sherman (Broadway’s Fun Home). He is, quite ironically, Francis Grand, named thus by his caring doctor, joyously portrayed by Thom Sesma (CSC’s The Resistible Rise…), who leads, what is the most fun and silly number of the night, a song about memory loss, that is both funny and sad, all rolled up in a vaudevillian song and dance. Does it really fit stylistically into this moody mystery that blossomed out of on a true story where a French soldier with no memory of who he is or was, was found standing alone at the Lyon train station after WWI? Probably not, but the pleasure it brings is pure, and the melodies seemingly precious to those driving this train.

UNKNOWN SOLDIERBook and Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman Directed by Trip Cullman Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Perry Sherman, Kerstin Anderson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Who that Unknown Soldier is and was to Ellen’s grandmother, for reasons that are somewhat unclear, is more important than his name. In the picture, her grandmother is sitting under a tree having a picnic with this soldier, but what direction is this newspaper story pointing to? So the quest to comprehend this photo in comparison to an often told story of who and what happened to Ellen’s grandfather, gets underway. I was never quite sure from the lyrics why this mattered so much to the complicated and emotionally distraught Ellen, other than trying to unearth the reason for her grandmother’s sad eyes, but with the help of the needy researcher, Andrew, they dig into those gray boxes, hoping to unpack the missing link that might help Ellen to get back into the game of the living.

UNKNOWN SOLDIERBook and Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman Directed by Trip Cullman Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Zoe Glick, Margo Seibert, Estelle Parsons, Kerstin Anderson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

It seems pretty clear from the beginning that the young and impressionable Lucy is fueled by a desire to believe in the stereotypical fantasy life she created based on that time in Grand Central. It never is entirely clear where her historical creation truly began, but it seems like that wildly romantic bumping into actually took place, and the deadly letter delivered by an officer was the outcome, but it’s hard to know for sure. Maybe that’s as delusional as the tale. Regardless of where and when reality steps in (we each had our idea), Lucy tries hard to deal with the shame of her irrational lusty behavior that one wild night in New York City when she meets and dives headfirst into the arms of John Anderson, a man among many who were being shipped out to a War that would bury so many of them. And finds a way to believe, at least for the time being, that Francis Grand just might be the one she lost but can’t fully say goodbye to. I wish we didn’t have to say goodbye to the recently lost musical genius, Michael Friedman, because in Unknown Soldier, we see a gentleness and sincerity, alongside a few complex questions on shame and guilt, that was only just beginning to take shape and form. More would have likely come from this talented man, and for that, I feel the heaviness. To his family and friends, I am so sorry for your loss. It truly must be heartbreaking. To the theatrical world that he was a growing part of, we feel a type of loss as well, Not as great, but a true sadness for all the music that he would have made that will never see or be heard under the bright full moon of time.

UNKNOWN SOLDIERBook and Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman Directed by Trip Cullman Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Kerstin Anderson in UNKNOWN SOLDIER at Playwrights Horizons. Book and Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein. Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman. Directed by Trip Cullman. Choreographed by Patrick McCollum. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway

Winesday The Wine Tasting Musical Opening Night

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Winesday: The Wine Tasting Musical, written by Jenne Wason (book and lyrics) and Joseph Benoit (music) and directed by Jamibeth Margolis with musical direction by Alec Bart, celebrated their opening night.

Shannen Hofheimer

Dawn Cantwell

Amanda Lea LaVergne

Debra Thais Evans

Michael Valvo

Jennifer Diamond

When these five wine-loving women get together every Wednesday night, they’re theoretically meeting for a book club or a yoga class, but really, they just want to indulge in wine and talk about their lives. It’s like Sex and the City meets the vineyard – including a friendly wine steward to guide the audience through the wine paired with each upcoming scene. Get ready for an intoxicating blend of friendship, wit, and wine that will leave your spirits lifted and your palate inspired.

Peter Breger

Christopher Devlin (Props Designer) and Grace Curley

Kimberly O’Loughlin (Sound Design)

Rob Diamond and Jennifer Diamond

Jamibeth Margolis (Director/Casting Director)

Jenne Wason (Book & Lyrics) and Jamibeth Margolis

Jenne Wason (Book & Lyrics)

Joseoh Benoit (Music) and Jenne Wason

Joseoh Benoit (Music)

The Band-Britton Matthews, Rick Snell and Alec Bart

Daniel Stanton

Michael Valvo, Daniel Stanton

Kathryn Eader (Lighting Designer) and Jenne Wason

Daniel Stanton and Merete Muenter (Associate Director/Movement Coordinator)

Performances will run through July 2024 at The Jerry Orbach Theater at The Theater Center (210 West 50 Street).

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Events

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents Ashley Griffin and Danny Gardner

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We are so pleased to announce our guests this week are Director/ performer Ashley Griffin and Broadway’s Danny Gardner Join us Wednesday May 22nd at 5pm.

Ashley Griffin

Ashley Griffin is a Broadway writer/performer most well known as the first person in history to be nominated for a major award (New York Innovative Theater Award) for both playing and directing Hamlet (for a theatrical production.) As a writer Ashley’s work has been produced/developed at New World Stages, Manhattan Theater Club, Playwrights Horizons and more. Ashley received the WellLife Network Award and a county commendation for her Off-Broadway play Trial (directed by Lori Petty and heralded as “If this show were on Broadway it would win the Pulitzer” – Stagescore) which is currently in talks for a transfer. She has written extensively for film and T.V. and is the author of two bestselling novels, Blank Paige and The Spindle. As a performer, Ashley has appeared extensively on and Off-Broadway as well as in T.V. and film. Highlights include work at The Gershwin Theater, Lincoln Center, Playwrights Horizons, MTC and The Public Theater, as well as on The Greatest Showman and “Homeland.” She holds a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and has trained at RADA, the National Theater and the Boston Conservatory. www.ashleygriffinofficial.com

Danny Gardner

Danny Gardner starred io Broadway Flying Over Sunset, A Christmas Carol and Dames At Sea. City Center Encores!: Dick Trevor in Lady, Be Good! (Subsequent Album). Radio City Music Hall: Dad / George M. Cohan in The NY Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes. His national tours include Here to Stay – The Gershwin Experience!, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and 42nd Street. Off-Broadway: Cheek To Cheek (The York Theater), Time Step (New Victory Theater), Room 17B and Everybody Gets Cake(59E59th Street Theaters). His regional theatre experience includes; Dial M For Murder (Geva Theater Center & Dallas Theatre Center), Bach At Leipzig (People’s Light and Theatre Company), Crazy For You (Signature Theatre), Singin’ in the Rain (Chicago’s Marriott Lincolnshire), Mary Poppins (Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (John W. Engeman Theater). @dannyjgnyc, www.danny-gardner.com

These two are staring in a limited three-week engagement of The Opposite of Love presented by NewYorkRep May 28 through June 15 at Royal Family Performing Arts Space (145 W. 46th Street, NYC). The Opposite of Love is an intimate story about a down on his luck hustler and a trust fund baby who form an unlikely bond when she hires him to help overcome her sexual trauma. Can this unexpected connection transcend their darker inclinations in a world where love is a commodity? Directed by Rachel Klein (The Gospel According to Heather). Opening night is Thursday May 30 at 7PM. Tickets are now on sale at EventBrite.com.

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a show filmed at the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our past episodes; First episode click here second episode click here,  third episode click here, fourth episode click here, fifth episode click here, sixth episode here, seventh episode here, eighth episode here, ninth episode here, tenth episode here, eleventh episode here, our twelfth episode here, thirteenth episode here, fourteenth here and fifteenth here.

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Broadway

The Outer Critics Circle (OCC) Awards And You Are There Part 2

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Yesterday we gave you part 1 of The Outer Critics Circle (OCC), awards ceremony held at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for The Performing Arts 111 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC).

In this part Steve Guttenberg gives the award to Outstanding Featured Performer in an Off-Broadway Play: Jay O. Sanders – Primary Trust


Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Musical:
 Andrew Durand  Dead Outlaw

Current President David Gordon introduced Andrea Martin who gave away the awards for Outstanding Direction of a Musical: Jessica Stone – Water for Elephants

A special award was given to Harry Haun longtime OCC member who served on the board as well.

Outstanding Choreography (Broadway or Off-Broadway):Justin Peck —Illinoise

And the tie for Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Play: William Jackson Harper, Primary Trust

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play: Primary Trust

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical: Dead Outlaw

Kelechi Watson presented the awards for Outstanding Featured Performer in a Broadway Musical: Kecia Lewis  Hell’s Kitchen

Outstanding Direction of a Play: Daniel Aukin – Stereophonic

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Broadway Musical: Kelli O’Hara  Days of Wine and Roses


Outstanding New Broadway Play:
 Stereophonic

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Outstanding New Broadway Musical: Suffs

Founded during the 1949-50 Broadway season by respected theater journalist John Gassner, The Outer Critics Circle is an esteemed association with members affiliated with more than ninety newspapers, magazines, broadcast stations, and online news organizations, in America and abroad. Led by its current President David Gordon, the OCC Board of Directors also includes Vice President Richard Ridge, Recording Secretary Joseph Cervelli, Corresponding Secretary Patrick Hoffman, Treasurer David Roberts, Cynthia Allen, Harry Haun, Dan Rubins, Janice Simpson and Doug Strassler. Simon Saltzman is President Emeritus & Board Member (Non-nominating) and Stanley L. Cohen serves as Financial Consultant & Board Member (Non-nominating). Lauren Yarger serves as the Outer Critics Circle Awards ceremony executive producer.

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Broadway

The Outer Critics Circle (OCC) Awards And You Are There Part 1

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The Outer Critics Circle (OCC), awards ceremony for the winners was held on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for The Performing Arts (111 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC).

Current President David Gordon and  Vice President Richard Ridge welcomed everyone. There were celebrity presenters and Tony Danza proved why he is a comedy star. The first award given out was to Outstanding Video/Projections: Peter Nigrini – The Who’s Tommy.

Danza also gave out the awards to Outstanding Orchestrations Marco Paguia – Buena Vista Social Club.

Outstanding Costume Design: Linda Cho – The Great Gatsby

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Broadway Play: Jessica Lange – Mother Play

Receiving the John Gassner Award for New American Play (preferably by a new playwright): Oh, Mary! and a tie for Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Play (tie): Cole Escola left a video message.


Next to present was Montego Glover who gave Outstanding Featured Performer in an Off-Broadway Musical (tie) Judy Kuhn – I Can Get It For You Wholesale

and to Thom Sesma – Dead Outlaw

Outstanding Book of a Musical and Outstanding Score Shaina Taub – Suffs

Outstanding Scenic Design (tie): Paul Tate dePoo III – The Great Gatsby

Outstanding Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt  The Outsiders

Outstanding Featured Performer in a Broadway Play: Kara Young – Purlie Victorious

Next up Steve Gutenberg gave awards to Outstanding Revival of a Play: Appropriate

Outstanding Sound DesignRyan Rumery – Stereophonic

Outstanding Solo Performance: Patrick Page – All the Devils are Here

Founded during the 1949-50 Broadway season by respected theater journalist John Gassner, The Outer Critics Circle is an esteemed association with members affiliated with more than ninety newspapers, magazines, broadcast stations, and online news organizations, in America and abroad. Led by its current President David Gordon, the OCC Board of Directors also includes Vice President Richard Ridge, Recording Secretary Joseph Cervelli, Corresponding Secretary Patrick Hoffman, Treasurer David Roberts, Cynthia Allen, Harry Haun, Dan Rubins, Janice Simpson and Doug Strassler. Simon Saltzman is President Emeritus & Board Member (Non-nominating) and Stanley L. Cohen serves as Financial Consultant & Board Member (Non-nominating). Lauren Yarger serves as the Outer Critics Circle Awards ceremony executive producer.

Tomorrow Part 2.

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Broadway

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Times Three

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It’s going to be some Shakespeare-heavy months ahead, especially around those famously doomed lovers named Romeo and Juliet, as I fly into the Stratford Festival (formally called the Stratford Shakespeare Festival) here in Ontario, Canada for their first big opening week of six shows. The week will start with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night followed by the musical comedy about Shakespeare, Something Rotten, and then Shakespeare’s Cymbeline on night three. The fourth night will be the opening of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler; the fifth, La Cage Aux Folles, followed by, lastly (at least for this coming week) the final opening of this particular opening week, show number six, Shakespeare’s ultimate romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. (Much more follows over the summer of Canada’s fantastic Stratford Festival.)

As directed by Sam White, the founding Artistic & Executive Director at Shakespeare in Detroit, Shakespeare’s great romance Romeo and Juliet slides in at the Festival Theatre on Saturday, June 1st, 2024, starring Jonathan Mason (Stratford’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Vanessa Sears  (CS/Obsidian/Necessary Angel’s Is God Is) as those starcrossed titular characters and lovers. As with the whole season, I’m hoping this production, and all the others, will live up to the festival’s high standards, and be just the beginning of a spectacular year of Shakespeare. And of these two young lovers.

Kit Connor and Rachel Zegler. Photo by Sam Levy.

After that jam-packed week in Stratford, Canada, it doesn’t end for this theatre junkie and his faithful companion. Jetting off soon after to London, England, we have another week of theatre planned. As scheduled, the two of us will see an onslaught of plays, including Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at Donmar, two National Theatreproductions; Hills of California and the Olivier-winning Standing at the Sky’s Edge, as well as Ian McKellen in Player Kings (Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 & 2), the Royal Court Theatre’s Bluets, and (of course) the much-talked-about production of Romeo & Juliet, directed and produced by Jamie Lloyd. It just opened this week at the Duke of York’s Theatre, running from Saturday, May 11 through Saturday, August 3, starring Tom Holland as Romeo and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet.

#RomeoJulietLDN production photography by Marc Brenner

From the photos popping up on Facebook, Lloyd’s pulsating new vision of Shakespeare’s immortal tale of wordsmiths, rhymers, lovers, and fighters is sure to be something to see. It will definitely be talked about all over the world, yet it was truly disheartening to read about all the hateful postings around the casting choice of Lloyd’s Juliet. It says, sadly, so much about our world right now, but it seems to have quieted down some (although the sting and stink must still be lingering in the air for us all), and although the reviews of this West End production came out today, I will try to stay away from them until long after. Whether the production will follow the successful path of other Lloyd hits, including the pared-down stagings of A Doll’s House that starred the incredible Jessica Chastain or the phenomenal Betrayal with Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Cox, and Zawe Ashton, remains to be seen, but I am curious if it will also find its way across the pond to Broadway.

If it does, it will have some pretty fierce competition, as another Romeo & Juliet, this one starring Heartstopper‘s Kit Connor and West Side Story‘s Rachel Zegler will begin Broadway performances on Thursday, September 26, at Circle in the Square Theatre, with an official opening night set for Thursday, October 24. The run, directed by Sam Gold, is a strictly limited, 16-week engagement, and I can not wait to get in to see it as well. All three really. And I won’t have to ask the forever question, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” I’ll just have to ask which Romeo are we looking for? And which Juliet.

See video here. 

Often called the greatest love story of all time, Romeo + Juliet has captivated audiences and artists for centuries and provided the inspiration for hundreds of films, ballets, operas, novels, including the iconic Broadway musical West Side Story.

Stratford Festival’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet officially opens on June 1 and runs until October 26 at the Festival Theatre. Tickets are available at stratfordfestival.ca

The West End’s Romeo & Juliet officially opened on May 23rd at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, and runs until Saturday, August 3. Tickets are available (although probably sold out) at https://www.thedukeofyorks.com/romeo-and-juliet

The Broadway production of Romeo + Juliet at Circle in the Square Theatre, with an official opening night set for Thursday, October 24, and running for a limited engagement of 16 weeks. Tickets will be available at https://romeoandjulietnyc.com/

For tickets and more information, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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