Building a ‘Wall’

Posted on 21 Jul 2017 at 6:00am

WaterTower’s new artistic director chooses as her first production a rollicking history of Stonewall

HIT-THE-WALL

Joanie Schultz, WaterTower Theatre’s new artistic director, aimed for a diverse and authentic cast for her first show as a director here, the hot-button play-with-music ‘Hit the Wall.’ (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Whenever an arts organization brings in a newcomer to lead it, there’s an expectation that fresh blood equates with fresh ideas … and sometimes radical rethinking. The decision by Addison’s WaterTower Theatre to tap Chicagoan Joanie Schultz to take over for longtime artistic director Terry Martin was a leap of faith for both: Schultz had never led a theater company as AD before, and WTT was looking to expand its footprint in North Texas theater. Sometimes, the new guy — or new woman — dips a toe into the waters gingerly, but Schultz has decided to dive in.

Her first production as a director — a bowshot to signal her lively approach to making theater — was to replace the planned summer musical, Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, with something far more radical: Hit the Wall, a play about the Stonewall Riots that triggered the modern gay rights movement.

Replacing a musical by a beloved icon of American theater with a rarely-performed, politically charged retelling of liberation? It’s not as crazy as it sounds… or at least, Schultz didn’t imagine it would be so.Water tower bug

“When we knew we were going to reprogram the summer show, we went to the [usual suspects]. I was looking for something uplifting and inspiring [to replace Sondheim], something that would attract a young, excited crowd,” she says. She then remembered Hit the Wall, which she first encountered about five years ago in Chicago.

“I knew it would be a good summer show. What struck me when I saw it was the unique storytelling — a hybrid between being a rock concert and a play. It has characters, but it’s the feel for the passion, the spirit underneath it [that captured me],” Schultz says.

She also realized at the time she first saw it how little she actually knew, as a straight woman, about its subject matter.

“I remember not knowing a darned thing about Stonewall,” she admits. “I had heard the words but didn’t really know what happened. I was shocked that a major historical moment in America” was not more widely known. “Stonewall is not being taught in our history classes, though for sure it should be.” It would, she thought, be a good way to start her tenure at WTT.

But the journey has been more uphill than she expected.

“When I picked it, I hadn’t moved to Texas yet,” she says. “It was a huge hit [in Chicago],” so she anticipated an easy sell. “It’s been more challenging for my audience than I anticipated. Some people have said, ‘Haven’t we heard so much about Stonewall?’ But we have a cast full of some younger people who didn’t know much about Stonewall before embarking on this. It has caused a lot of conversation around our theater” — which, Schultz says, is ultimately the role of theater in the life of a society.

It has also plunged her headfirst into the North Texas theater community, which has turned out to be a positive experience for her.

“I had to do the casting very quickly, because I was still not [living full-time in Dallas]. We had 100 actors come out on the first day — 100 truly good actors. And it’s a complicated play in terms of casting, trying for as much authenticity as possible — not just racially, but eight out of the ten roles are queer characters,” and she wanted to reflect that diversity as well.

Joanie-Schultz

Joanie Schultz

“This is a really different kind of play to ask people to come in for — I wonder how much some of the actors code-switch to present themselves professionally and not be bitchy, and then I’m asking them for just that,” she laughs.

Assembling the design team presented its own issues. The lighting designer has been a mainstay at WTT, and working with him has shortened her learning curve in dealing with the theater’s unique space. But she took a chance in hiring as her scenic designer a third-year candidate for master of fine arts at SMU to design her first solo show.

“I wanted to give someone new a chance to bring an exciting, younger voice to the stage,” Schultz says. She also hired a trans man to write and perform the music for the show (it’s not a musical but has a rock element that is essential, she explains). Combining new voices with established artists is part of the collaborative process that Schultz enjoys in the craft of theater. And the controversies and hiccups embolden her more than they intimidate. That is, she feels, the very point of the endeavor.

“This is an exciting moment for us to do this play,” she says. “I’ve been really working with the folks here to push our version of Hit the Wall so that we really push it over the wall.”  

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 21, 2017.

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STAGE REVIEW: ‘The Bodyguard’

Posted on 20 Jul 2017 at 10:50am

I have to admit it upfront: I hated the movie version of The Bodyguard, and when I heard the original cast recording earlier this year felt underwhelmed. So I went into the stage version —  a jukebox musical now at Fair Park and then moving to Fort Worth’s Bass Hall — with jaundiced eyes. The plot is cheesy. The thriller aspect not-so-thrilling. The songs have not been assembled to actually advance the story in any meaningful way.

But I still loved it.

The Bodyguard is the stage iteration of the beach-read novel, or the summer movie blockbuster. Its aim is pure entertainment, and it hits a bullseye.

You probably know the plot: Recording star Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) is campaigning for an Oscar for him film debut, but it being stalked by a dangerous fan. Her management team hires Frank (Judson Mills) to spearhead her security detail. She resists; he insists; both are kisses (by each other). Can Frank still protect Rachel while (gulp!) in love with her?!?!

C’mon!

The film was a monster hit, owing in large part to its soundtrack of hits sung by Whitney Houston. All of those songs — as well as more from Whitney’s canon (plus Chaka Khan, Deniece Williams and a few more) — get shoehorned into this show, but because Rachel is a singer (as well as her sister), there’s usually cause to plant Cox centerstage, hand her a microphone and zip up a mermaid dress, and let her belt out a number.

And belt she does. Cox is practically the raison d’etre of The Bodyguard, tasked with the most numbers, and she’s in fine voice. She’s a terrific stage presence. But Jasmine Richardson as her wallflower sister more than holds her own musically, Mills is a dashing and humorous Frank and even the backup dancers make for likable eye-candy. I don’t believe in the phrase “guilty pleasure,” but The Bodyguard definitely defies you not to be delighted. You’ll leave the theater happier than when you went in.

Fair Park through July 30. DallasSummerMusicals.org. Bass Hall, Aug. 1–6. BassHall.com.

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STAGE REVIEWS: The first weekend of FIT off to an auspicious start

Posted on 19 Jul 2017 at 1:34pm

Editor’s note: The Festival of Independent Theatres opened this past weekend and picks up again tomorrow night with the two shows reviewed here. See Dallas Voice on Friday for full reviews of all the plays that have been presented so far.

An audience fave from FIT 2007, Matt Lyle’s silent-film-onstage The Boxer is back with its original cast of Bootstraps Comedy Theater darlings, including onstage keyboard whiz B. Wolf and percussion/strings/sound-effects master Johnny Sequenzia. Like a live-action Buster Keaton comedy, this hour of light pantomimed-to-music storytelling finds a Depression-era down-and-outer (Kim Lyle) pretending to be a man so she can fight-coach a bantamweight pugilist (Jeff Swearingen) in his face-off with a brute (Ben Bryant). Punctuated with perfectly timed physical shtick and black-and-white “training montage” bits (from a decade ago but the actors haven’t changed much, darn them), The Boxer is still a comedy knockout. Performed July 20 at 8 p.m., July 28 at 8 p.m., Aug. 3 at 8 p.m.

WingSpan Theatre Company director Susan Sargeant has a thing for Edward Albee. She just gets his plays and insists that we should, too. With Finding the Sun, a rarely-produced 1983 Albee one-act set on the beach, we’re almost convinced there’s something to love about obtuse, interwoven conversations among four troubled couples. Two of the women (Robin Clayton, Catherine DuBoard, both excellent) are married to gay men (Matthew Stepanek, Ian Mead Moore) who’d rather be with each other. An older cxouple (Ethel Stephens, Jerry Crow) are facing mortality with bitter resignation. A mother (Charlotte Akin) contends with a sexually precocious teenage son (the terrific David Helms). Back and forth they go, playing verbal beachball (sometimes with a real beachball) full of Albee’s dark wit on the topics of love and aging, illuminated in the yellow glow of the searing summer sun. Performed July 20 at 8 p.m., July 29 and July 30 at 5 p.m., Aug. 4 at 8 p.m.

— Elaine Liner

 

 

 

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WATCH: First teaser trailer for ‘The Disaster Artist’

Posted on 19 Jul 2017 at 10:20am

It’s a risky thing to make a movie about the making of the worst movie of all time, but that’s James Franco for you — he’s always pushing limits. And so he’s now directing and starring in The Disaster Artist, a making-of movie about The Room, the cult classic that has been called the greatest bad movie of all time (you might even call it a disasterpiece). Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, the… uhhh… “brains” behind The Room (star, director, producer, just-about-everything-else-er). Will it be a brilliant send-up … or a camp classic of its own? Here’s the first teaser trailer, if you wanna find out…

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Miss Gay Texas America pageant starts tonight

Posted on 18 Jul 2017 at 2:56pm

Miss Gay Texas America 2016 Sofia Anderson

It’s a direct feeder to the national Miss Gay America, which two years ago crowned Dallas’ own Asia O’Hara (and was once held for a time by Alyssa Edwards). So it goes to figure that the Miss Gay Texas America pageant is kinda a big deal. And you can see just how big a deal starting tonight at the Rose Room.

July 18 and 19 are the preliminary rounds, when you can see all the contestants (cover is $10 each night), and July 20 is the Review Show ($10), which starts at 11 p.m. Then you can turn out for the big event on July 21 starting at 9 p.m., when the Top 10 compete ($25). Reigning Miss Gay Texas America Sofia Anderson will be on hand to crown the winner.

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Sam Claflin: The gay interview

Posted on 18 Jul 2017 at 10:15am

After a breakout part in The Hunger Games as dreamy tribute Finnick Odair, and now a starring role opposite Rachel Weisz in My Cousin Rachel, the odds certainly have been in Sam Claflin’s favor. Considering his winning streak, we’re holding out hope that a Fifty Shades of Grey-style rendezvous between him and the Hemsworth brothers — his idea, mind you — could be the British actor’s next major franchise. Till that blessed day comes, check out what the affable Me Before You looker has to say about finding the right gay role, how people are responding to his recent Hollywood body-shaming criticism and French gay porn.

Dallas Voice: I love seeing a woman in power, but, man, you really get jerked around in My Cousin Rachel.  Sam Claflin: Haven’t we all been there? Haven’t we all been in love and kind of swept off, though usually warned by friends? But, of course, Philip is a bit of a loner and left to his own devices, really. Love is blind, and it makes you do crazy things.

Growing up, what was your introduction to the gay community?  I got involved in musical theater at a young age and so that was an immediate part of my life. I mean, the second you kind of step onto the stage and embrace the arts, it becomes a part of you. And the second you open yourself up to becoming an actor and performing and exploring this industry in whatever capacity — any form of art, really — there’s an openness, and it’s a really wonderful and incredibly rewarding industry to work in.

Plus, you’re British.  It does really upset me that people aren’t open-minded. People are still hung up on such a traditional old-world life, and people should be allowed to love who they want and be who they want and speak what they want and believe in what they want. I think it’s a shame that people are so narrow-minded that they believe their way is the only way. It’s sickening, in all honesty.

I don’t believe you have played a gay role, and I’m gonna let you give me one good reason why that hasn’t happened.  I actually got offered the role of a gay man in a TV series! But I didn’t think it was written well enough. I have auditioned for gay parts and not got them and desperately wanted them. It’s nothing I’m shying away from. It’s something I fully embrace. And, actually, I have done it in plays during drama school, but it just hasn’t worked yet for me. But I’d jump at the chance. I’d be happy to do anything that was sort of good enough for me to kind of get my feet stuck in, like a meaty role, or an opportunity to work with a great director no matter what the story and no matter what the character.

How aware are you of your LGBT fanbase?  In all honesty, I kind of don’t know!  What I mean is, any fans, really, I’m just — it’s always a surprise that someone from whatever country or walk of life [is a fan], and it just sort of amazes me that people travel so far and spend so much time waiting. It’s very humbling. It’s something that you can never really get used to. I think you’d be not a nice person if you got used to it. It’s a consistent shock and one that I try to embrace as best I can. I’m always so grateful that people are interested and do go out of their way to watch my movies and follow my social media. I feel very grateful and lucky and thankful.

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PHOTOS: DTF3: Jungle

Posted on 17 Jul 2017 at 8:38am

Impulse Dallas’ third annual Down to Float party, Jungle, bested rain on Saturday morning to deliver a good turnout to support HIV treatment and awareness and serve the LGBT community. Here are some scenes from the festivities.

 

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STAGE REVIEWS: ‘Hood,’ ‘The Necessities,’ ‘Finding Neverland’

Posted on 13 Jul 2017 at 8:37am

Ashley Umphress and Nick Bailey in DTC’s ‘Hood.’ Photo by Karen Almond.

The legend or Robin Hood is familiar, that the opening of Hood, the world-premiere musical now at the Wyly Theatre, is merely a recitation of its various incarnations, including a printed timeline. You aren’t meant to approach the material as a novice; the script, by playwright and librettist Douglas Carter Beane, assumes a working knowledge of the characters, the general plot, the moral of the story. What, then, is the point in rehashing it?

The point is to explore these tropes through the fresh perspective and energy of Beane (who also directed) and his cast of 12 young dynamos, who inhabit Sherwood Forest like a swarm of woodland creatures. Hood has endured for nearly a millennial because the fable reinvents itself for every generation. “He’s not my king!” grouses one Merry Man when the wicked Prince John (portrayed by a series of squinty, hoarse puppets) rising to the throne. That could have been written by Joe Scarborough last week instead of years ago as Beane was developing the show with his partner, the composer-lyricist Lewis Flinn.

The style of the show — with its single set, tight ensemble and folksy melodies — resembles the stage version of Once more than the bloated Broadway bombast of, say, Camelot. There’s even a touch of Godspell (and the recent Fiasco Theatre tour of Into the Woods) in the mix, with its conceit of homemade costumes, “found” puppets and diverse cast. Throw in some Monty Python, the campy excess of a patently gay Will Scarlett, and lovely orchestrations, and you have a rousing retelling of the legendary tale.

As a world premiere, there are hiccups (some of the lyrics are pedestrian and repetitive, for instance, and some of the stagings are awkward even for something meant to look intentionally unpolished), but the themes of feminism, and the rollicking cast (especially Nick Bailey as Robin, Ashley Park as Marian, Austin Scott as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Jacob ben Widmar at Will Scarlett), make this a terrific start to a new tradition.

Matthew Gray and Tex Patrello in ‘The Necessities.’ Photo by Karen Almond.

Another world premiere opening last week has much less fanfare, but shines just as brightly… well, darkly. Blake Hackler’s The Necessities from Second Thought is a lean four-hander about a quartet of newcomers to a small Texas town. Single mom Carly (Allison Pistorius) has carted her queer son Ward (Tex Patrello) all over tarnation, providing everything but affection and a role model. Debbie (Christie Vela) is a uneducated, unskilled worker with her own failings as a mom; Peter (Matthew Gray) is a defrocked minister trying to restart his life after a tragedy with his own child. They converge in short set-pieces, usually of just two (all four never interact simultaneously), but all trying their hardest to find a their ways in the world.

The concept of “lost souls seeking connection” is well-trod in theater, but Hackler’s astonishing new play takes you in unexpected directions without ever broadcasting its message. Instead, you see these raw, unadorned characters (Vela wears no apparent makeup, and looks convincingly defeated) at their meanest and most vulnerable. You have to piece together who they are as much as they are doing it themselves: Is Peter interested in a romance with Debbie, or trawling for sex with Ward? Is there something sexual between Debbie and Carly? Is Ward troubled mentally, or some kind of prophet of the universe? Director Joel Ferrell handles all these conflicting stories deftly, placing them in a moody, organic set (designed by Diggle) that adds an element of ritual to it all. The Necessities shows great maturity in every way; it grabs you, and demands you think about everyone as a human being in need of empathy, no matter how damaged.

‘Finding Neverland’ tries way too hard to be charming. Photo by Carol Rosegg

I can think of few things that create less a sense of wonder than those that try hysterically to create a sense of wonder. Charm can’t be taught — you either have it, or you’re a member of the Trump family. The odor of desperation wafts mightily from the stage of the Winspear as Finding Neverland sings and dances its way through the (highly fictionalized and reductionist) tale of how playwright J.M. Barrie managed to write his most enduring hit, the treacly, overrated panto Peter Pan. Turns out, before he met sad, young Peter Llewelyn-Davies, the successful Barrie had lost touch with his inner child! Writing had become hard! When he discovered a sense of play, well, naturally, he made a fortune and gave middle-aged women a leading role as a prepubescent boy they could milk for decades. Errr…. I mean, he created “art.”

Director Diane Paulus sleepwalks through the staging, which both exaggerates banal actions (the ensemble struts in flamboyant gaits as if they all learned choreography at The Ministry of Silly Walks) and turns quiet moments into listless drones of dialogue.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Peter Pan in any of its incarnations, though the 2004 film version of Neverland was entertaining enough. The film won an Oscar for its dramatic underscore; so far as I can tell, no trace of that music is present in this musical adaptation, composed by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, who seem bound and determined to make each song as generically uninvolving as a roadside panhandler. I’ve heard 30-second ad jingles with more wit and catchy melodies then this entire score. By the time I walked into the lobby for intermission, I couldn’t recall a single note. So I didn’t bother going back in. When a show makes you hope no one claps for Tinkerbell, it’s a lost cause.

Hood at the Wyly Theatre through Aug. 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org. The Necessities at Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys campus through July 29. 2TT.co. Finding Neverland at the Winspear Opera House through July 23. ATTPAC.org.

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Bruce Wood Dance Project drops the ‘project,’ plans to tour

Posted on 12 Jul 2017 at 10:15am
Zero-Hour__Olivia-Rehrman-+-Gabriel-Speiller-by-Sharen-Bradford

A moment from ‘Zero Hour,’ one of Bruce Wood’s classic dances which was presented at Moody Performance Hall last month. The company has now changed its name and plans to tour in the future. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

The last month has been a momentous one for the Bruce Wood Dance Project. It’s latest concert — which included a world premiere and two classics from the late founder of the company — was well-attended and really cemented the company’s viability in the wake of uncertainties since Wood’s sudden death three years ago. The company has also spent a good portion of the last year doing more than the summer and fall concerts, performing at dance events and performing for new audiences.

The success of these efforts, in fact, has led the company to announce this morning that it will be dropping the word “Project” from its name. Henceforth, it will be known simply as Bruce Wood Dance. (The website has long been simply BruceWoodDance.org.)

“The name change reflects our permanence and strength,” said Gayle Halperin, producer and board president.

In addition, Bruce Wood Dance has signed on with Austin-based KMP Artists, a management company that specializes in booking theatrical, music and dance presentations — not just within Texas, but nationally and internationally. The expectation is to expand the company’s visibility and reputation. “We’re excited to partner with KMP to share our invigorating, inspiring repertoire with new audiences,” said Kimi Nikaidoh, the company’s artistic director since Wood’s death. “We are here to produce and preserve the artistic legacy of Bruce Wood, and cultivate new works,” Halperin added.

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‘Moonlight’ director will adapt James Baldwin novel for the screen

Posted on 11 Jul 2017 at 8:51am

Barry Jenkins, right (with Tarell Alvin McCraney), earlier this year at the Oscars (Photo courtesy ABC)

Barry Jenkins, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay to Moonlight, which he also directed to a best picture Oscar, has chosen his next two projects, including a feature film and a miniseries.

His feature, according to Variety, will be If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of gay writer James Baldwin‘s 1974 novel. Jenkins reportedly wrote the screenplay around the same time he was working on Moonlight. It is expected to begin filming this autumn.

In addition, it was earlier announced that Jenkins will adapt Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Underground Railroad — which envisions the series of slave refuges which served as a pipeline to freedom as a literal railroad — as a miniseries for the Amazon streaming service.

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