The Column benefit gala returns for a 9th year of star-studded fun
Last November, as the Dallas Theatre League handed out what could be its last Leon Rabin Awards ever (there are no current plans to bring them back), two of the presenters opined that awards aren’t really necessary.
"It’s not about trophies," they agreed, "it’s about art and community and performing for people."
Then they paused.
"And there’s always the Column Awards!" they happily added.
Indeed there is.
John Garcia sometime actor (he was Miss Deep South in Uptown Players’ "Pageant") and full-time editor of the online theater newsletter The Column has for nine years staged what has recently become one of the most entertaining awards galas going. He hands out three times as many plaques as the Tonys, but does so in half the running time (no acceptance speeches are permitted), with production values that approach the uncanny.
Garcia a portly, intense, passionate schmoozer has no superego when it comes to seeking out celebrities for his ceremony. Where others might think it’s ridiculous for him even to ask a star to present an award and perform before the Dallas theater community, Garcia not only asks, he gets results.
In recent years, Anthony Rapp ("Rent"), Stephanie D’Abruzzo ("Avenue Q"), Christian Campbell ("Trick"), George Wendt ("Cheers") and Richard Thomas ("The Waltons") have all showed up to hand out the coveted little acrylic honors, which are presented for equity and non-equity productions across the Metroplex.
This year is no exception. For the second year, Michael Urie who attended the theater school at Collin County Community College before hitting it big at Juilliard and on "Ugly Betty" returns to co-host there ceremony, held on March 3. Urie will be joined by Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who played flamboyant drag queen Angel in "Rent" on Broadway and in the film adaptation.
So how does Garcia get these stars?
"We just call them up and tell them who we are," he says matter-of-factly. "I think the big selling point for us is we are associated with Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS we donate so much money to them. And because of the interviews I do [for The Column], I meet a lot of them in person so they know me."
It’s not always that simple. Garcia admits he sometimes has to go through layers of agents, publicists and personal assistants before the courted celeb finally turns them down, but the fact that the Column Awards are such a fun party has helped spread the word.
"When I invited Christian Campbell, he knew Anthony Rapp who had done it the year before, and he gave us a great recommendation," Garcia says. "They in turn say something nice about us and the word gets out."
As in years past, the Columns are built around a theme, this year: "Dancing with the Columns," a spoof of the reality TV show. And Garcia promises a spectacle as usual.
"The Courtyard Theater staff is so great," he says. "They are building, as close as they can, the ballroom set complete with the video screen and lights. We plan to use a lot of light to create the ambiance of what you see on the show. And there will be our unique bits of humor as well."
This year, the gay-producing theater Uptown Players scored the most nominations (51), with their show "Tick, tick… BOOM!" netting the most nods to one show. But Garcia is most excited by the breadth of nominations.
"We invite everyone to nominate and vote, and it opens the field so much wider," he says. "I looked at the final nominees and though, oh, wow, I forgot about that performance!"
But for all the superficial hoopla, Garcia is driven because he feels strongly about raising money for AIDS prevention. But he’s not totally above being superficial.
"We’ll have a lot of cute guys if that helps get people out here!" he says.
It certainly can’t hurt.
The Courtyard Theater, 1509 H Ave., Plano. Cocktails at 6 p.m., awards at 7 p.m. $25 $50. Thecolumnonline.com.
CHEER UP, PEOPLE!
Theatrical moroseness seems to be a theme of late, as born out by Kitchen Dog Theater’s "The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek." Last season, the company’s "End Times" made the Depression Era South seem grandly tragic, but this production merely chugs along.
The structure resembles "Agnes of God," "The Runner Stumbles" and "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They," or for that matter "CSI" a procedural mystery where levels of the story are slowly revealed: Why did a 15-year-old Kentucky boy murder a girl on a train track? The eventual explanation comes as no surprise, but that doesn’t stop the author from parsing out information in dry handfuls of abstract details (a mother whose hands have turned blue, a father who compulsively breaks the dishes) that seem artsy for artsiness’ sake.
Raphael Parry’s performance doesn’t help. It’s one of those audition-y jobs where he tries to make every line, every gesture, top the one before it. He indicates with the exaggerated motions of a mime, hissing his words until he begin to look like an overgrown bobble-head.
At least Parry is trying to wake up the audience.
In the Dallas Opera’s current production of "Porgy & Bess," Act I is more than half over before a fire is lit up like it needs to be.
This folk opera about poor people who make up for a lack of material possession by allowing themselves to be driven by their passions is performed without any passion to speak of.
Many of the singers strained to be heard on opening night, including Janice Chandler-Eteme, who opens the show with a reedy version of "Summertime" that should electrify they audience but which left most just cupping a hand to one ear.
Even when the singing was finally able to keep up with Gershwin’s classic folk opera score which it did in Angela Renee Simpson’s scorching lament "My Man’s Gone Now" and in Gordon Hawkins’ powerful baritone as Porgy the staging lacks energy and sometimes common sense. Director Hope Clarke chooses peculiar moments to rotate the set, and the denizens of Catfish Row come and go in a weirdly presentational style.
Conductor Wayne Marshall is an old hand at this show, but he misses some opportunities to stress its lyric power. "I Got Plenty of Nothin’" can be a sprightly Rodgers & Hammerstein song, but its pacing here is dirge-like.
There’s a difference between heavy drama and a funereal atmosphere, and that difference is what saps these shows and the viewers of spirit.
Arnold Wayne Jones
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 29, 2008.