Every year, the queerest straight woman since Kathy Griffin turns a gay theater fundaraiser into a musical revue event. How does Andi Allen do it?
BROADWAY OUR WAY: LEGALLY DIVAS
at the Kalita Humphries Theater,
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Jan. 15â€“24. $40.
It’s daunting enough to create a show from whole cloth, coordinating a huge cast for dress rehearsals and tech run-throughs. Add to that dodging all the moving trucks and Bekins boxes that accompany a big move, and you’re into theater hell.
Welcome to the world of Andi Allen.
As Uptown Players moves out of its home base at the KD Studio Theater off I-35 and into bigger digs at the Kalita Humphries Theater, Allen is back directing and creating the company’s annual fundraising show, Broadway Our Way. And while the new stage may be a boon for Uptown, it’s a fresh challenge for Allen.
"We got it down to fine art in the old space," she says. "It’s the scariest thing and yet it’s a great experience. The complicated part for me is trying to figure out how to make every number look different without repeating myself. It was a much bigger jigsaw puzzle than I thought."
Allen is a pro when it comes to solving theatrical jigsaws, though, and this project feels more like an embarrassment of riches than a source of frustration. For her, it’s a matter of keeping the traditional intimacy of BOW — she’s been involved with it for seven years — while taking advantage of the bigger space.
"The way the KD Theater is set up, I had all these ways to bring actors in from audience. You could almost reach out and touch them. It offered a lot of audience interaction," she says. "Now we’ve got a much bigger stage than we ever had and we have height. I wanted to go up; in the past, we never could."
Broadway Our Way is the chief fundraiser for Uptown Players, financing the troupe’s operating budget. But it’s also a creative bright spot for their season. With tongue-in-cheek pop culture references, boy theater divas take on girl theater divas with gender bending songs from stage and screen. On stage, the character Tony sings "Maria" in West Side Story; in BOW, Maria may be singing "Maria." But don’t think of it as a drag show — it’s more about plumbing the emotional resonance (and humor) when songs receive same-sex treatments.
"The fun part is the gender-bending, but we actually reinvent the song," Allen explains. "Some singers come in drag, but the perspective is still a man. When a woman sings as a man, we can play it in a lesbian context. There is so much more to it because some songs don’t work when you remove context from the original. I have to create a new concept to overhaul the song to make it work."
Not bad for a straight woman, though Allen claims her big gay self comes in handy. It’s not impossible to think of Allen as a gay man trapped in a woman’s body; she says so herself.
"My best friend [and BOW choreographer] John de los Santos teases me that I do have my gay card. I have a gay man’s sense of humor so it fits easily into what I have to do for the show. When we work out our concept for the songs and I get a funny idea, it just comes out… different," she says with a laugh.
With Allen, you wouldn’t expect anything less.
THEATER ROUND UP
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY — Believe the hype: The big draw of August: Osage County may be star Estelle Parsons, but the show is so much more. With its biting dialogue and capable cast, Tracy Letts’ Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes TV’s Mama’s Family and introduces them to Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Parsons shines as drug-addicted matriarch Violet with a shrill temper, but Shannon Cochran matches her line for funny line as eldest daughter Barbara. It revs up comically in the first two acts and does an about face with its dramatic closing. The show begins to run long (three hours plus), but the high caliber talent and sharp writing make getting to the end so worthwhile.
At the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Through Jan. 24.
AMY’S VIEW — Talkathon: It may not look like it on the surface, but Amy’s View is basically a revenge play: Author David Hare looks into the world of theater and has a lot to say about critics and audiences and parts for women and making art, and most of it is quite scathing. I know this because the characters tell us these things — over and over and over.
If August: Osage County sparkles with conversation among squabbling family members, Amy’s View merely glimmers occasionally, never quite differentiating between speechifying and drama. Its glimpse at 15 years in the life of a theater family has less comic silliness than The Royal Family at T3 earlier this season, and while it gets better as it goes along, it feels constrained by its jumps in time, not freed by them. Danielle Pickard’s Amy seem to be the only one who never ages, but I felt older by the time it was over.
At Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. Through Jan. 31.
DEATH EXPRESS! — Off the tracks: At least half the fun of one of Pegasus Theatre’s Black & white plays is the technique that turns a stage production into a colorless movie, so the moments in Death Express! when Catherine DuBord’s platinum wig reflects a shimmering yellow becomes a small distraction.
Author Kurt Kleinmann’s mystery comedies about an inept detective who accidentally solves crimes are never quite as funny as you want them to be, but this actually gets better (and more madcap) in Act 2, when the double-crosses unfold with increasing inanity.
At the Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. Through Jan. 17.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 15, 2010.