Stage review: ‘An American in Paris’

Posted on 02 Feb 2017 at 12:29pm

Garen Scribner and Sara Etsy in ‘An American in Paris.’ (Photos by Matthew Murphy)

The film version of An American in Paris is one of the signature musicals of MGM’s golden age (it won the Oscar for best picture in 1951), but by modern standards, it’s not great. Sure, there’s the music by George Gershwin and the dancing of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (especially the centerpiece closing dream ballet), but the elements don’t always fit together well. And Kelly’s character — former G.I.-cum-starving-artist Jerry Mulligan — is pretty much a selfish prick. He allows himself to be a kept man by art patroness Milo Davenport while openly chasing gamine Lise, who is the fiancee of one of his friends. There’s not a lot of subtext there, no commentary about shell-shocked soldiers grappling with mortality or even the “lovable heel” angle of film noir. Nope, he’s just an asshole. When he gets with Lise at the end, you’re kinda mad.

These flaws are largely dispelled in Craig Lucas’ book for the original 2015 stage version of An American in Paris (now onstage at Fair Park Music Hall through Feb. 12, and moving to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on Feb. 14). There’s grit and personality and explanations that flesh out Jerry and several other characters … and Gershwin’s music and amazing dancing. It’s truly the best of all possible worlds: A delightful, old-fashionedly show-stopping musical with a lot of smarts.

The plot is less about a love triangle than a love rhombus: French ballerina Lise (Sara Esty) is engaged Frenchman Henri (Nick Spangler), whose family may have been collaborators with the Nazis (or maybe something else). Lise doesn’t love Henri (who may even be gay), but she’s devoted to him. Jerry (Garen Scribner) is smitten with Lise, and while she feels an attraction back, she is put off that he seems to be coupled with Milo (Emily Ferranti). Meanwhile, Jerry’s fellow-American-G.I.-in-Paris Adam (Etai Benson), a composer with a gloomy outlook, pines in silence for Lise.

Lise meets with Jerry. Jerry pursues Lise. Henri can’t work up the courage to propose. Adam struggles to find a voice. Heck, it’s almost like La La Land … maybe Le Le Land.

An American in Paris is simply gorgeous in every particular, from the nimble sets (including inventive projections), evocative costumes, sparkling lighting and stunning choreography. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has turned a big, vivid movie into something nearly as big but specific to the stage. One of the set-pieces from the film, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” famously includes a huge lighted staircase; the adaptation here does away with the stairs, but comes up with such a dazzling substitute you never miss it. And the closing ballet makes much more sense (a combination of dream and concert) that lasts 14 glorious minutes.

The principal actors are all deliciously ebullient and likable … even Jerry, whose treatment of Milo seems less awful (it helps that Milo is given to modern self-reflection). There aren’t enough musicals anymore that are just about being delightful. This is welcome to set the standard.

Visit here for Dallas or Fort Worth tickets.

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Dallas Opera, DSM and PAFW reveal upcoming seasons

Posted on 01 Feb 2017 at 12:55pm

‘The Lion King’ returns as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals’ 2018 season.

Several companies have announced their upcoming seasons this week, in whole or part.

The Dallas Opera’s 61st season will feature five productions, including a U.S. premiere and three popular operas in the mainstream canon.

It starts with Samson and Dalila by Camille Saint-Saens (Oct. 20, 22, 25, 28 and Nov. 5). That’s performed in repertory with Verdi’s enduring tragedy La Traviata (Oct. 27, 29, Nov. 1, 4 and 10). 2018 kicks off with a rarely-seen one-act opera composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold when he was just 16: The Ring of Polykrates (Feb. 9, 11, 14 and 17, 2018). That will be accompanied by a recital of his acclaimed Violin Concerto in D Major (op. 35), written to commemorate the fall of Nazism.

That’s followed by the U.S. premiere of modern composer Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden (March. 9, 11, 14 and 17), a technological wonder that employs 3D projections (yes, opera audiences will wear 3D glasses). The season concludes with Mozart’s Don Giovanni (April 13, 15, 18, 21, 27 and 29), one of the darkest and most musically complex operas every created.

In addition, the season will feature the opening gala, a fashion show, simulcasts, family performances and other community outreach. Performances will be at the Winspear Opera House. Tickets are available at DallasOpera.org.

You may have heard already that Hamilton will be part of the Dallas Summer Musicals’ 2018-19 season, but before we get there, the 2017-18 season stands in the way… or facilitates it. If you subscribe to the upcoming season, you get first crack at Hamilton the following year (as well as Disney’s Aladdin, which has also been announced).

Dec. 5–10: White Christmas. This add-on show returns.

Jan. 23–Feb. 4, 2018: The Color Purple. The recent Broadway revival took best actress in a musical away from Hamilton. The original production also won for best actress. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, it features a lesbian relationship in the early 20th century South.

Feb. 27–March 11: On Your Feet. The popular jukebox musical featuring the songs of Gloria Estefan.

March 28–April 8: Waitress. Sara Bareilles’ acclaimed Broadway debut as a composer, based upon the charming indie film.

April 24–May 6: Les Miserables. The sensation is back again.

June 13–July 8: The Lion King. Disney’s long-running hit, featuring the puppetry and brilliant staging of Julie Taymor.

July 24–Aug. 5: Love Never Dies. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, set in Coney Island.

Aug. 15–26: School of Rock. Webber’s latest musical, about a teacher who instructs kids on how to be headbangers.

All shows at Fair Park Music Hall; tickets available at DallasSummerMusicals.org.

As has been the case in recent years, many of the DSM shows are part of Performing Arts Fort Worth’s season at Bass Hall as well:

Jan. 17-21, 2018: Something Rotten. The comic telling of merriment in Olde Europe.

Feb. 16–18: Chicago. A season add-on of the long-running smash.

March 20–25: Finding Neverland. The behind-the-scenes telling of the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

June 19–24: Waitress (see above).

Aug. 7–12: Love Never Dies (see above).

Aug. 28–Sept. 2: School of Rock (see above).

All performances at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Tickets available at BassHall.com.

In addition, the Dallas Theater Center will not release its full 2017-18 season until next month, but it has revealed the titled of four shows that will be included in it, among them The Trials of Sam Houston, Nick Dear’s Frankenstein, The Great Society — Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to his award-winning LBJ drama All the Way, which DTC staged last year — and the counter-culture musical Hair. We’ll have the scoop on the full season later this month. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

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Dallas Voice editor receives recognition from NATJA

Posted on 31 Jan 2017 at 3:09pm

MarqueeArnold Wayne Jones, the executive editor of Dallas Voice and its resident travel writer, was named a finalist in the 25th annual awards presented by the North American Travel Journalists Association. The competition “honors ‘the best of the best’ in travel media,” the association said when announcing the awards. “Given the quality of the entries, the judging was not easy,” said association CEO Helen Hernandez. (Submissions rose by 20 percent compared to last year.)

The recognized story, “Phoenix rising” — about the colorful options available to LGBT travelers headed for metropolitan Phoenix — was named one of the six best entries in the category of Best Illustrated Story (Newspaper), which recognizes excellence in both writing and photography within the same piece.

Gold and silver awards were presented to the Bend, Ore. newspaper The Bulletin; a bronze award was presented to the Pique News in the same category. Another travel writer, for the Toronto Star, was also named a finalist for two stories (roughly equivalent to “honorable mentions”).

Awards were also announced in about 20 other categories available to print newspapers, including Dallas Voice; as well as magazines, online/internet based publications, radio and television and other categories, including public relations and travel bureaus.The grand prize was presented to the National Geographic Traveler for overall publication, and to writers from the Wall Street Journal and American Way magazine. (You can see the complete list of winner here.)

Jones won three Lone Star Awards last year from the Houston Press Club, including first place for Feature Story, third place for Criticism/Commentary and second place for Print Journalist of the Year, pictured. He previously won a Katie Award from the Press Club of Dallas for his restaurant criticism.

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Rylee Spire becomes first-ever trans Mr. Texas Leather

Posted on 29 Jan 2017 at 6:14pm

This week, I wrote about Rylee Janus Spire, a trans man who two weeks ago became the first trans man ever to take the Mr. Dallas Eagle leather title.  I mentioned in the article that he would be competing this weekend for Mr. Texas Leather — a direct feeder event to the International Mr. Leather competition — and if he won that, would also be the first-ever trans holder of that title. And that’s exactly what happened Saturday night.

Spire bested a strong lineup of seven contestants to be named Mr. Texas Leather. First-runner-up went to Ursus.

In addition, Dawn was named Ms Texas Leather. All of the contestants also auctioned off at least one basket of goodies; Dawn broke the band — her one basket took in $1,400 alone.

Congrats to everyone!

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Stage reviews: ‘Mame,’ ‘Silent Sky’

Posted on 27 Jan 2017 at 2:57pm

For more than seven years, Jay Dias has been delighting local audiences by taking the original, full arrangements of classic broadway shows — The Most Happy Fella, Anything Goes, The King and I, My Fair Lady and more — and remounting them with 30-plus piece orchestras at Lyric Stage in Irving. Having accomplished most of what he set our to he do, he raised his baton on the final show he’s doing for Lyric (other than occasional projects) last night, Jerry Herman’s Mame. And what a lovely note to go out on.

Based upon Patrick Dennis’ memoir of his irrepressible aunt — a flapper who became a Svengali to an impressionable young man by living life to its fullest (“life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!” was her motto) — Mame was Herman’s follow-up to Hello Dolly about another flamboyant broad. His style as a composer exemplifies the brassy showmanship we usually associate with the Broadway style. But as big and sentimental as the showstoppers can be, Herman is equally gifted in small moments with beautiful music and touching lyrics. “Open a New Window” and “If He Walked Into My Life” capture both the ebullience and the humanity of Mame, who struggles to provide for her nephew while remaining committed to being a role model for progressivism. She’s the fun relative we all wish we had (though in real life would be exhausting).

Herman and Dias are aided immeasurably by Julie Johnson as Mame. Even in this concert version (orchestra onstage, using minimal sets and blocking) Johnson’s charisma exudes from every pore. She hits the big notes like a Streisand and plucks the heartstrings. It’s a big show with big numbers and a big leading role, and she has the personality to match. Indeed, most of the principal actors — Christopher Sanders, Jack Doke, Daron Cockerell — are just as fabulous. The lone exception is Amy Mills as Vera Charles, Mame’s best friend and supposedly the greatest stage actress of her day. Mills just doesn’t have the presence to stand up to Johnson — she shuffles around the stage in dowdy black looking more like Mr. Chipping than Helen Hayes, and seems far out of her element. But who can hold focus with Johnson drawing your eye and Dias’ conducting engaging the ear. The show only runs through Sunday; see it while you can.

You’ll also want to catch another based-on-a-true-story production, this one in Addison. Three smart women, called “computers,” work diligently in the male-dominated field of science, with none ever getting the recognition they deserve, despite their fabulous contributions to our understanding of outer space. I’m talking, of course, of Hidden Figures… well, that, and Silent Sky, now onstage at WaterTower Theatre. Like the film, Silent Sky gives us a long-overdue alternative history of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (Anastasia Munoz), whose work at Harvard study cepheid stars at the turn of the last century forged the way for our understanding of how vast the universe really is … and how we can calculate astronomical distances. Edwin Hubble fully credited her with opening doors and making his work possible. The named a telescope after him; you’ve probably never even heard of her.

Which is the point of Lauren Gunderson’s play. She presents a Henrietta who was smarter than the men around her but considered a troublemaker also by women who saw her as defying conventions of femininity and not knowing her place. A good point, but the play tends to rest of cliches as it rewrites history with large doses of poetic license, including a fictionalized romantic interest and a squishy timeline. Gunderson tends to write in modern idioms, making the characters sound a little to 21st century. I wish the play itself were stronger, but I have no quibble with the production. Munoz shines as the fiercely intelligent Henrietta, and Shannon J McGrann provides perfectly-timed comic relief as one of her co-workers. The rapport between them and Marianne Galloway as an early suffragette holds the play together, even during the overlong first act, when seems to lurch toward four different breaks before finally settling on one.

Clare Floyd Devries’ set and Kelsey Leigh Ervi’s direction add to the wonder and beauty of the universe. Try not to be inspired by the legacy these nasty women left.

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Gay critics group picks top films, TV for 2016, including ‘Moonlight’

Posted on 26 Jan 2017 at 2:41pm

GALECA — the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, of which I am a member — presents awards annually for the best in film, TV and the broader world of entertainment, with an especially concentration on gay-interest works. Voting for The Dorian Awards just ended, and as could be predicted Moonlight was the big winner, taking the prizes for Film of the Year and LGBTQ Film of the Year, Director of the Year (Film or Television) for Barry Jenkins, Film Actor for Mahershala Ali and Screenplay of the Year. Co-star Trevante Rhodes was also singled out as the Rising Star of the Year.

Best Film Actress went to Viola Davis for Fences, while Foreign Language Film went to The Handmaiden. La La Land took the award for Visually Striking Film and O.J.: Made in America was named Best Documentary. Rounding out the film awards were Christine for Unsung Film and The Dressmaker for Camp Film.

In television, Drama of the Year went to The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which also won best actress for Sarah Paulson. Comedy of the Year was awarded to Transparent, which also won best actor for Jeffrey Tambor. Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal was named best Current Affairs Show, and The Real O’Neals was named Unsung TV Show. Drag Race is Camp Show, while Kate McKinnon’s rendition of “Hallelujah” on Saturday Night Live the week after the election was named Musical Performance of the Year.

KcKinnon also tied Lin-Manuel Miranda for Wilde Artist of the Year, honoring a groundbreaking force in entertainment. John Waters was named Timeless Star and Wilde Wit went to the late Carrie Fisher.

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Cafe Brazil on Cedar Springs has re-opened in its new space

Posted on 26 Jan 2017 at 12:48pm

Back in October, we reported that the long-standing Cedar Springs location of Cafe Brazil would relocate to the space previously occupied by the Drama Room and other night clubs. Three months later, that plan has become a reality.

The new Cafe Brazil is officially open today, “serving hot coffee for a cold world” as they promise on their signage.

The new space — just yards away on the same side of the street, between Thai Lotus Kitchen and Street’s Fine Chicken — offers twice the seating capacity as the old cafe, and will again include a patio, as well as bar window seating. A rep for Cafe Brazil also told Dallas Voice this week that the same staff will come over from the old place, so there should be a minuscule learning curve. And of course the menu — hearty breakfasts, fine coffees and the like — will continue.

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Mary Tyler Moore has died

Posted on 25 Jan 2017 at 1:52pm

2016 was a year of near-constant celebrity passings, from David Bowie to Debbie Reynolds. And now comes another big one.

Mary Tyler Moore, who won Emmys playing the perfect 1960s housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show and then the quintessential single woman in the 1970s on her own eponymous sitcom, has died. She was 80, the Hollywood Reporter has written. Moore had a long history with diabetes.

Moore received her sole Oscar nomination for a role that went counter to her TV image: That of the cold and distant mother to Timothy Hutton in the Oscar-winning drama Ordinary People.

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The Oscar nominations are out and as expected ‘Moonlight’ is a major contender

Posted on 24 Jan 2017 at 8:08am

MoonlightThe Oscar nominations are out, and as expected, Moonlight — about an African-American male’s journey from child to questioning teen to closeted adult — joined La La Land as the frontrunners in major categories.

La La Land led with a record-tying 14 nominations, followed by 8 each for Moonlight and Arrival. Hacksaw Ridge — directed by Hollywood pariah Mel Gibson — got 6, including one for Gibson himself.

The “Oscars so white” movement of last year was halted this time out, with seven of the 20 acting nominees going to people of color.

PICTURE

Moonlight; La La Land; Manchester by the Sea; Hidden Figures; Hell or High Water; Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; Lion; Fences.

DIRECTOR

Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Barry Jenkins, Moonlight; Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea; Denis Villeneuve, Arrival; Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge.

ACTRESS

Isabelle Huppert, Elle; Natalie Portman, Jackie; Ruth Negga, Loving; Emma Stone, La La Land; Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Viola Davis, Fences; Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures; Nicole Kidman, Lion; Naomie Harris, Moonlight; Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea.

ACTOR

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea; Ryan Gosling, La La Land; Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge; Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic; Denzel Washington, Fences.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water; Dev Patel, Lion; Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea; Mahershala Ali, Moonlight;  Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Arrival; Fences; Hidden Figures; Lion; Moonlight.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

20th Century Women; Hell or High Water; La La Land; The Lobster; Manchester by the Sea.

VFX

Deepwater Horizon; Doctor Strange; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings; Rogue One.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

O.J.: Made in America; 13th; I Am Not Your Negro; Life, Animated; Fire at Sea.

ANIMATED FEATURE

Kubo and the Two Strings; Moana; The Red Turtle; My Life as a Zucchini; Zootopia.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Toni Erdmann (Germany); The Salesman (Iran); Tanna (Australia); Land of Mine (Denmark); A Man Called Ove (Sweden).

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

A Man Called Ove; Star Trek Beyond; Suicide Squad.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival; Lion; La La Land; Moonlight; Silence.

FILM EDITING

Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water; La La Land; Moonlight.

SONG

“Audition,” La La Land; “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls; “City of Stars,” La La Land; “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana; “The Empty Chair,” Jim: The James Foley Story.

SCORE

Jackie; La la Land; Lion; Moonlight; Passengers.

COSTUMES

Allied; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Florence Foster Jenkins; Jackie; La La Land.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Arrival; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Hail Caesar!; Passengers; La La Land.

SOUND MIXING

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Bengazi; Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Rogue One.

SOUND EDITING

Arrival; Hacksaw Ridge; La La Land; Sully; Deepwater Horizon.

LIVE ACTION SHORT

Ennemis Interieurs; La Femme et le TGV; Sing; Silent Nights; Timecode.

ANIMATED SHORT

Blind Vaysha; Borrowed Time; Pear Cider and Cigarettes; Pearl; Piper.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT

4.1 Miles; Extremis; Joe’s violin; The White Helmets; Watani: My Homeland.

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Last night, Bill Maher’s concert was … missing

Posted on 23 Jan 2017 at 9:50am

Bill-MaherFriday was a crazy day in America, what with Scrooge McDuck ascending to the presidency with as much class and honesty as professional wrestling, so it was a salve that, the same night, comedian Bill Maher returned from hiatus for his essential talk show Real Time on HBO. Bill was in true form Friday, which only whetted Dallas audiences’ appetite for his live performance, scheduled last night at Fair Park. The concert was sold out. At 7:20 p.m., though, the auditorium doors still hadn’t opened for the 7:30 show. Then at 7:21, this announcement:

“Due to mechanical problems on Bill Maher’s plane, tonight’s show in Dallas at Music Hall at Fair Park has been postponed. More details to come in the following days.”

A collective sigh as folks left the theater, a little disheartened. After all, we needed some straight-talking liberalism to gird us even more than the women’s marches.

As of this morning, there’s no word on rescheduling, but let’s hope it’s soon. We need you Bill!

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