REVIEWS: ‘Evita,’ ‘Spunk’

Posted on 18 Apr 2014 at 9:52am

caroline bowman as eva peron with CheFor many, Evita was the show that won over musical theater fans to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s side before he became the bombastic hit-monster of Cats and Sunset Boulevard. In some ways, it’s the most unlikely of musical subjects: The machiavellian machinations of the former first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, who was long-dead by the time the show opened. And yet, it’s a compelling piece of operatic theater, a kind of political tragedy where Lady Macbeth never has second thoughts.

The original production made stars out of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (Madonna made the movie version 17 years later). The version now at Fair Park Music Hall, courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, doesn’t reach those legendary heights, but it’s a reminder of how solidly entertaining and innovative Evita has always been.

It’s the day Eva (Caroline Bowman) has died, and a disgruntled Che Guevara (Josh Young) seems alone in his lack of sentiment. Was she a devil or a saint? Madonna or whore? Is it possible to be all of these things? Through flashbacks, Che narrates her calculated rise from rural nobody to radio star to wife of military hero and eventual president Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin).

This is the national tour of the recent Broadway revival that starred Ricky Martin. Ricky doesn’t she-bang in this one, but with Tony Award nominee Josh Young in the role of Che, it doesn’t matter much — he has a powerful tenor and a fierce indignation (especially evident in the fantasy number “Waltz for Eva and Che”).

He’s not the only strong performance, though — indeed, of the many productions I’ve seen of Evita this is the first where all five man roles are equally well played. Bowman’s transformation from girl-from-the-sticks to trashy actress to steely political wife to, eventually, a frail and cancer-ridden ghost, is endlessly convincing. MacLaughlin is a strong, sexy Peron, and even Christopher Johnstone, as the cheezy singer Magaldi and Krystine Alabado as Peron’s former mistress do excellent, detailed work. Michael Grandage’s direction keeps the show moving effortlessly, and despite a few missed opportunities for irony and character development, it’s a stellar show, not revived often enough.

KA2_8128Up at the Addison Theatre Centre, WaterTower Theatre has its own stellar musical on the boards. Based on three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Spunk is a jaunty little 90-minute show that has the smoky appeal of a Lenox Avenue speakeasy in the 1930s.

Liz Mikel is this show’s Che, a kind of narrator who escort us through three unrelated scenes by one of the few female voices to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance. The stories are largely unrelated both in tale and tone, but Hurston’s clear, precise style bursts through each of them. In one, a woman (Tiffany D. Hobbs) in the rural south endures the abuses of her drunken husband … until an opportunity presents itself that may free her. In another, zoot-suited dandies throw more shade than a drag queen at noon as they try to woo a liberated woman in post-War NYC. In the third, a loving family man deals with the anguish caused when his wife cheats on him in a weird twist on The Gift of the Magi.

This is toe-tapping theater, full of energy and dark beauty, magnificently lighted by Jason C. Foster (who imbues the Art Deco, Gatsby-inspired set with fire and mood) and performed by a gifted cast. Just try not to have a good time.


So, they let Leslie Jordan in the Round-Up Saloon

Posted on 18 Apr 2014 at 9:26am

Leslie Jordan performed at the Round-Up Saloon on Thursday night in a fundraiser for Oklahoma state Sen. Al McAffrey, who is running for Congress from Oklahoma City.

Jordan was in rare form telling stories, including one about how he was thrown out of The Round-Up 20 years ago. This time they let him in — but only through the back door.

McAffrey began his political career in the Oklahoma state House. When he ran for state Senate, Kay Floyd, a lesbian, replaced him in the House. Now that McAffrey is running for U.S. Congress, Floyd is running for McAffrey’s state Senate seat, and a gay man is running for Floyd’s state House seat. Obviously, liberal Oklahoma is going to hell.

One thing’s for sure — no one else running for Congress from Oklahoma had ever had a fundraiser like this one.


Out director Bryan Singer accused of 15-year-old sex crime

Posted on 17 Apr 2014 at 3:54pm

DBryan Singer, the openly gay film director who shot to fame with The Usual Suspects and has since helmed Superman Returns and launched the X-Men franchise, has been accused of sexual abuse in a federal civil lawsuit. The thing is, the alleged abuse occurred in 1999. The accusation is also of sexually abusing an “underaged” male, though the plaintiff was in fact 17 at the time (the abuse allegedly occurred in both Hawaii, where the age of consent is 16, and California, where it is 18).

Singer has disputed the charges. And considering that the acts supposedly occurred as long as 15 years ago — and the statute of limitations for rape would have expired more than seven years ago — the claim is rightly viewed with some suspicion.

The timing also seems curious — Singer’s next film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, opens next month. No better time to make a stale claim than when the defendant is anxious to avoid bad press.


Bette to speak at Hyatt luncheon

Posted on 17 Apr 2014 at 3:53pm


If you think I should have put a last name in the headline, you have no need to read further and won’t be attending.

Bette Midler will be in town on May 1 for the Woman to Woman 2014 Luncheon benefiting Jewish Family Services. Chad Mantooth and I are two Jewish women here in the Dallas Voice office that will be there.

The first time I saw Midler perform was in her first role on Broadway as Tzeitel in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. I saved my Playbill and years later she signed it. A few years later, I saw her first concert on Broadway, Clams on the Half Shell. Her piano player from her Continental Baths show, Barry Manilow, was in the audience. She pulled him up on stage, and they did an extra half hour that day. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of her concerts. I’ve always been exhausted after watching her perform. She’s always been nonstop, high-energy, start to finish.

The only reason I’m not still watching Ruthless People and Down and Out in Beverly Hills is because my Beta machine finally conked out, and I never replaced them on DVD.

Beaches I only saw once — I thought a great Bette movie would be comforting after coming home from my partner Jon’s funeral. Not the right time to watch it, but I had a good cry with Bette.

For anyone unfamiliar with Jewish Family Services, their offices are on Arapahoe Road in a building on the old Prestonwood Mall site. Its services, open to anyone, not just the Jewish community, include marital, family, divorce and individual counseling. LGBT families have always been welcome at JFS, which has partnered in the past with LGBT synagogue Congregation Beth El Binah to create a coming out and a parents group. A food bank, family violence intervention, employment services and services for children and adults with special needs are among the many services provided by JFS.

Woman to Woman luncheon at Hyatt Regency Hotel, 300 Reunion Blvd. May 1 at 11:30 a.m. Individual tickets $250 available online or at 469-206-1664.


The moon shone red on Passover — Thanks Obama

Posted on 15 Apr 2014 at 6:37pm

MoonLast night was not just a full moon, but a blood red full moon, which brought the crazies out.

Right-wing website World News Daily headlined the event with the warning: Move over Obama: The ‘pen and phone’ that really count.

Here’s their problem. In his State of the Union address, the president said he would issue executive orders to break the deadlock in Congress. Well, God doesn’t like that. How does WND know? Because the moon was red last night in a totally predictable and explainable astronomical event that happens with some regularity.

And while we’re being bat-shit crazy, we might as well bring in the Jews, especially since this week is Passover.

WND quotes a Pastor Mark Blitz who said, “I believe the moons are like flashing red warning lights at a heavenly intersection saying to Israel as well as the nations they will be crossing heavenly red lines, and if they do, they will understand as Pharaoh did on Passover night 3,500 years ago that the Creator backs up what He says.”

So, I’m not sure if the good pastor is equating the lunar eclipse to one of the 12 plagues that is part of the story of Passover. If so, were any cattle or first-born harmed during this lunar eclipse? Or is he calling Obama the Pharoah and if so, why can’t the president just tell Congress to act or he’ll bury them in the pyramid he’s building for himself.


‘Drag Race’ promises to drop ‘transphobic’ gags

Posted on 15 Apr 2014 at 11:13am


Following a dustup occasioned by a game that made its contestants guess the gender of a person based on close-up photos of their anatomy, RuPaul’s Drag Race has had a change of heart about some of the language it uses on the show, the Huffington Post is reporting.

The series, which airs on Logo Mondays, pits a dozen or more drag queens — that is, men impersonating women — against each other for cash and the title of “America’s next drag superstar.” Occasionally, however, a contestant on the show has been a genuine transgender woman, not just a drag queen; those “coming out” moments are some of the most sincere and heartfelt on reality TV. So it seemed a disconnect for some that the show would routinely use the term “she-mail” as Ru’s version of  ”e-mail” to the contestants, since “she-male” is considered a derogatory term for a trans woman. (The “she-mail” controversy began when it was first used in Season 1, though the hubbub quickly died down.)

In a statement from Logo to HuffPo, the network said, “We are removing the ‘you’ve got she-mail’ intro from new episodes of the series. We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We sincerely apologize.” Several former contestants (some trans, some not) lobbied for the change and endorsed the decision.

The question it raised for me is, why now? And why that term?

The “now” is fairly easy to answer: Society has developed its sensitivity to LGBT issues over the years, and it continues to grow, and the “female of she-male” game from several episodes ago was clearly a tipping point.

The “why” is harder to answer.

Is it derisive to call a trans person “she-male” offensive, even transphobic? Most definitely. But is calling a gay man a “girl” also bad? It certainly is when said with malice — but one of Ru’s other catch-phrases is “Silence! …. Bring back my girls,” in reference to the (male) contestants. Is calling someone “queer” wrong? When shouted angrily from a car at a gay man walking down the street, yes. But Queer Eye and Queer as Folk showed us how to co-op hate speech and turn it into empowerment.

“She-male” is clearly wrong, but “she-mail” — a pun on “e-mail” — is, and should be considered, a joke … perhaps one in bad taste, but then, bad taste is the stock in trade of Drag Race. In the same way that the transploitation film Ticked Off Trannies with Knives was so named in order to take ownership of a term that can be used derisively, couldn’t we all agree that “she-mail” was meant in good fun and leave it at that? There’s no show on TV that has greater respect for the gay community — including the trans community — than Drag Race. The show also objectifies men (the bikini-brief-clad Pit Crew), uses words like “hunty” and “fishy” in suggestive ways, regularly plays the quiz-show parody “Snatch Game” (and we know what “snatch” means in this context) and makes countless other transgressions. In the way that gay activisms popularized the mantra “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” could we take an expansive look at our culture and distinguish between maliciousness and good-natured hazing?

Maybe not. The trans community suffers a lot of indignities, and coming out as trans isn’t easy. We should try to be sensitive to issues of tolerance and not spread hate. But Chaz Bono — child of Cher and perhaps the most famous trans person in the world — was a guest on the show last night, and he presumably didn’t object to the term. Maybe we could all take a lesson from Chaz … or maybe Chaz needs to take a lesson from the activist trans community.


The wit and wisdom of Leslie Jordan

Posted on 14 Apr 2014 at 3:41pm

IMG_3157In this week’s cover story, I interviewed Leslie Jordan, Del Shores and Emerson Collins about their upcoming appearances in Dallas at both a fundraiser for Al McAffrey and screenings of their film Southern Baptist Sissies. As with most interviews, your subjects say a lot more than you can use in the final story. Most of the time, you just let it go. But when Leslie Jordan is talkin’, there are just too many gems to let them be lost forever.

Here, then, are some of the great comments Leslie made during our talk that I didn’t have room for in the story. Enjoy!

On the scope of his fame: I was performing at the Leicester Square Playhouse in London — you know what’s really popular over there? Sordid Lives! Who knew? Anyway, I was walking down the street at Piccadilly Circus and this cab slows down and the cabbie shouts, “Can you see my pussy now?” Then he took off, laughing! But I got misty eyed. People are screaming my lines at me out of taxicabs — I’m an international star!

On interacting with his co-stars: I was doing a show with an actress who plays one of the maids on Downton Abbey, her name is Siobhan Finneran and she tells me, “Just call be Shiv.” “Shiv?!” I said. “In American, ‘Shiv’ is what they stab people with in prison!”

On his rent-boy obsession: I spent three weeks in Puerto Vallarta [recently]. The best part of being there are the beautiful brown boys who hang out in the square. They’re all married straight boys with children, and all you have to say is, “Do you need a little diaper money?”


Thousands celebrate Oak Cliff Earth Day

Posted on 14 Apr 2014 at 11:18am

Thousands of people celebrated Earth Day on Saturday in Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff. On Sept. 20, the park will mark its centennial. The trolley that runs by the park linking Downtown with not quite Bishop Arts should open later this year.


The five Four Questions, or: Why do we only drink Coke from Houston on Passover?

Posted on 14 Apr 2014 at 11:07am

Passover celebrates Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea allowing the Jews to escape Pharoah in Egypt and shlep across the Sinai for 40 years

Each year, lots of people look forward to getting mad at me over my annual “I hate Channukah” posts. While Hanukah is my least favorite Jewish holiday, Passover is my favorite.

I love the two nights of Seder — a dinner with a service — with family and friends, the constipating food, the terrible singing and The Four Questions.

Every Seder begins with The Four Questions:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights we eat leavened products and matzah. Why on this night do we eat only matzah?

On all other nights we eat all vegetables. Why on this night do we eat only bitter herbs?

On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?

On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining. Why on this night do we only recline?

If you’re counting, that’s actually five questions, but that’s one of the things I love about the holiday. Another thing I love about it is that during a traditional Passover Seder, those questions are never really answered. (I’ll answer them below).

Passover is the quintessential Jewish holiday because it’s about asking questions. In Judaism, we learn never to accept something because a rabbi or teacher says it. We always question, and I love questions.

Like when anyone asks me, “Do you always answer a question with a question?” I invariably respond, “What do you mean?”

But I digress.

If it were me writing the Passover Haggadah (the book used for the Seder service) instead of Maxwell House writing it, I’d ask different questions.

Like: Why have more copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah been printed than any other Haggadah in history?

Because in 1934, Maxwell House noticed there was a drop in coffee sales during Passover. To encourage sales during that week, the company printed and distributed copies of its Haggadah free.

Why did coffee sales drop? In the original Hebrew, the Torah instructs that during Passover, we can’t eat legumes (string beans, peas, lima beans, things like that). Some languages don’t differentiate between the words legume and bean. In my grandfather’s Ukranian dialect, apparently, that was the case, because I grew up with no coffee or chocolate — both from beans, but not legumes – during Passover.

The good folks at Maxwell House wanted to make sure we knew there was a difference. The Maxwell House Haggadah remains in print, and this year, they came out with a new, gender-neutral version of their Haggadah to keep alive the true spirit of Passover — a time to remember which companies make huge profits stamping kosher for Passover on some boxes and doubling or tripling the price.

Another Passover question for a modern Seder should be:

On all other nights we drink Coca Cola bottled anywhere, why on this night do we only drink Coke from Houston?

The Torah bans a number of grains. Coke is normally made with corn syrup. Now, obviously corn wasn’t a banned grain since it’s native to North America, but it was never declared kosher for Passover, either. So the Houston Coke Bottling plant makes a kosher for Passover version by substituting sugar for the week. Stock up if you find some. It’s much better than regular Coke.

Speaking of grains, the Orthodox rabbis declared quinoa, a grain from South America, kosher for Passover this year for the first time. So even though we have to give up spelt, rye and barley, we can now substitute quinoa.

Some business news just last week might prompt us to ask this Passover question at this week’s Seders: Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

Because on all other Passovers, we ate Manischewitz products, and last week, Mitt Romney’s old company Bain Capital bought the food division. The crappy, sticky, sweet wine is made by a separate company.

Us Jews are funny about our kosher food. I don’t know how to explain it to Christians who are fine with Irving Berlin and other Jews writing all their Christmas music sung by Barbra Strisand and Neil Diamond, but Mormon matzo? It just didn’t sit right with me, and that’s the only Passover brand Kroger on Cedar Springs carries. I went to Whole Foods and bought imported, organic, whole wheat Aviv brand instead.

So happy Passover and the answer to the five Four Questions that this night is different from all other nights because we do the things listed in the other four questions. We eat matzo to remind us of the Jews not having time to let the bread rise before making their exodus from Egypt. We eat bitter herbs to remind us of the hard labor in Egypt. We don’t really know why we dip twice, but ask any rabbi and they’ll give you some ferkackta answer. And we recline to symbolize freedom from slavery.


PHOTOS: Dallas Art Fair this weekend

Posted on 11 Apr 2014 at 9:43am

The Dallas Art Fair, in conjunction with Dallas Art Week, has become a big deal, and this weekend you can see why at the Fashion Industry Gallery, where art exhibitors from around North Texas, the U.S. and even the world gather to show everyone what’s going on in the world of art.

Among the most interesting booths at F.I.G. right now are some local ones, like Ro2Art — with two galleries Downtown — featuring witty and sometimes erotic works from local gay artists “The Brians:” Brian Scott and Brian Jones. But there are tons more to see, from portraits to modern abstracts to pop art, sculpture, photography and video installations.

Check out the gallery below.