Livin’ the Vida

Richard Vida revisits ‘Les Miz’ in a grand revival

La-Vita

MASTER OF THE HOUSE | Rirchard Vida returns to ‘Les Miz’ 18 years after his B’way run.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

“Show people don’t have holidays,” Richard Vida says with a sigh. Though he’s not complaining. In fact, he kind of likes it.

“In New York City, Christmas is packed. You’ll always have a show Christmas night, though on Christmas Eve, it depends. Before 9/11, we always had matinee and evening shows on New Year’s Eve. When I was doing Les Miz in the old days, when it was still three hours and 15 minutes, it got out at 11:45 and we were right in Times Square at midnight.”

A lot has changed since those days. Evening shows in Dec. 31 are canceled and Vida is on tour, not in New York. But one thing hasn’t changed: Vida is still doing Les Miserables.

Not the entire time, of course — and not in the same way. Vida was a replacement in the original production back in the 1980s, playing the thieving Montparnasse for two years. He loved the show.

“I was a dancer at the time, doing all the big dance shows. Les Miz was my first non-dancing show but I was blown away by it.

The original production of Les Miz ran until 2003 — closing a decade after Vida’s run in it. He went on to act in numerous TV shows, movies and musicals in the intervening years. “So imagine my surprise, 18 years later, to be playing Thenardier in the 25th anniversary production.”

Surprised, because as much as he enjoyed the experience, he’d had it. So when his agent asked if he’d be interested — advancing from one the bandits to their sleazy leader, Thenardier — he passed. His agent asked, before deciding, if he would go see the production. He did.

“It was the best version I have seen,” he says. “It’s been reorchestrated and newly conceived. Technologically it’s just beautiful — no more turntable! The backdrops are actual projections of Victor Hugo paintings. It’s so imaginative.At intermission, I called my agent and said not only am I interested in doing it, it’s mine.”

The process has been illuminating, now that he approaches it not as young dancer but as a seasoned actor in middle age.

“I already knew the role, but what is interesting was, when I re-read all 1,236 pages of the book and as an older person, I understood it better. I have the life experience to play this unredeemable, despicable human being. The comedy comes through, but he’s dark. And it’s so completely the opposite of who I am in real life.”

Les Miserables is one of the most successful — and divisive — musicals in history, a long-running hit about the failed 1832 Paris uprising. It’s a sweeping epic based on what is generally considered one of the great novels of the 19th century, but has its detractors as bombastic, although the characters are sharply drawn and the complexities of the book are masterfully synthesized.

Hmmm… students who take up arms against the rich hierarchy in the streets. Sounds a little like Occupy Paris, no?

Vida’s not so sure.

“In some [curtain speeches], Several presenters have said this is the French Occupy Wall Street, but I’m not so sure patrons are making that correlation. I don’t see it being the same thing. I think of it more as an allegory, and the religious awakening that turns your life around,” he says.

It’s certainly turned Vida’s life around. This is his eighth national tour, and the first one where he’s been able to travel with his partner, who is the show’s musical conductor.

“It’s fantastic that we are working and traveling together after 18 years,” Vida says.

That’s almost enough to soften the hardest of hearts … maybe even Thenardier’s.

… Nah, don’t count on that.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

As a birthday nears, everything old is new again

Looking back on the battles we’ve fought, and forward to the battles yet to come, as another year is marked off the calendar

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

Last week I stumbled across a picture of myself from the 1980s. Now that doesn’t seem so long ago to me — until I talk to friends who were born during that decade! And then I start to feel really old.

The photos pretty much sealed the deal. Who was that slender — or at least average-sized — guy with dark brown hair who looked like such a child? What’s worse, I was already in my 30s back then, already no spring chicken.

Age has its advantages. There is the whole “older and wiser” thing, and being older does give you a sense of perspective on minor problems that used to seem like life-altering crises when I was younger.

Today, I really don’t worry about missing a night out at the bar or making sure I am not wearing last season’s fashion. That just isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.

What is important is something I paid little attention to as a young man: Quality of life.

That doesn’t mean much to someone in their 30s, since most have few problems aside from sports injuries or the occasional hangover. But to a gay man creeping into his 60s “quality of life” is very much “top of mind.”

First of all, I never expected to live this long. After all, many of my gay friends from the 1980s died during the first wave of AIDS. Watching all those men prematurely age and pass away really can put a damper on your expectations for the future.

Amazingly, I have survived and remain HIV-negative. Now what do I do?

If you are younger than me, here’s what you may have to look forward to: Aches. Muscles, bones and especially joints just don’t feel the same as they did. I don’t bound up stairs anymore, and the idea of dancing the night away seems almost ludicrous to me now.

First of all, my legs just don’t have the pep they used to have. Secondly, 61-year-old guys dancing to Lady Gaga just look like a cry for help.

Aside from dancing, I don’t have the desire to do as much as I used to. Part of that comes from being settled down with a loving partner for more than 16 years, and part is just from the whole age thing. The idea of a nice dinner at home and an evening of TV and conversation with my guy is much more appealing than hanging out in a bar or an evening of retail therapy.

Yet, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Though we’ve had 30 years of education and research into AIDS/HIV, it is still with us and once again a growing problem for gay men. You’d think we would have gotten the message, but the younger generation has recklessly embraced barebacking and the older generation has forgotten that AIDS does not discriminate because of age.

It’s time to haul out the safer sex information that was squelched in the name of “abstinence only” and start educating again.

As the election cycle approaches, the same-sex marriage issue will continue to be on the forefront, while the real issue of full civil rights for LGBT citizens is pushed aside. I guess it’s not sexy enough to get media attention.

So I guess I will have to keep pounding away at the real equality issue until our politicians can get some kind of focus on the big picture.

And the whole idea of an aging generation of LGBT seniors has yet to hit the activists’ radar. Oh, there is a lot of talk about it, but who is going to assure that when I get old enough to need assisted care, my sexuality and my partner will not be ignored?

Guess there is still a lot to do. Time to get up off the couch and start getting busy.

Perhaps that will keep me from just being an old curmudgeon — like a kinky, gay Andy Rooney.

So time to get busy. If 60 is the new 40, then I fully intend to have an action-packed middle age.

Hardy Haberman, who will celebrate his 61st birthday on July 27, is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

—  John Wright

Great Spaces: Conditioner love

Yes, you can have a cold house without the big bills — and that’s not hot air

By David Taffet

Perhaps the one thing we loathe the most besides triple digit temps in summer is that dreaded electric bill. The air conditioner is a must for summer in Texas, but the wallet sure takes a beating. One local expert recommends these simple tips to help you keep your cool and some green.

Todd Ylen of TNS Mechanical in Arlington said that only half the air conditioning complaints his company receives could be traced to the main unit. The first thing he checks is the overall cleanliness of what he calls “the guts.” He recommends a professional cleaning with caustic chemicals.

“It should be done professionally,” he says, “The chemicals won’t hurt the plants but it can melt the rubber off your sneakers.”

During the season, he said, don’t be afraid to wash the unit with a hose, but not a pressure washer. A garden hose will not damage an outdoor air conditioning system. They’re made to withstand gale-force winds.

Keep grass and weeds off outdoor condensers. They clog the system and decrease efficiency.

Next, Ylen said he checks the house.

“How efficient is the ductwork?” he says. “How efficient is your house?”

The outer lining of much of the ductwork installed in the 1980s has deteriorated. Squirrels, raccoons and other animals that get into the attic can cause a tremendous amount of damage to the ducts as well.

Cold air will blow in the attic but never reach the living areas of the house if the ducts are torn or worn. He recommends modern, high-insulated ductwork.

Next, he suggests an energy audit company to check for leaks around doors and windows.

“Seal the house,” he says. It pays off in lower energy bills quickly.

And ventilate, he said. Ylen called the old whirlybirds on most roofs worthless.

He recommends solar-powered, fan-driven ventilators. A year ago, he said, they were $1,800. Today they sell for $400, an amount that will pay for itself in one season. He calls it an upfront investment that continues to pay off by lowering electric bills on air conditioning and never costing a cent to operate.

Filters should be changed monthly. Dirty filters prevent the system from drawing air easily, making it work harder and use more energy.
Programmable thermostats are also useful in keeping the system from cooling the house when not needed.

Ylen calls radiant barriers ineffective with a 50-year payback, but insulation very useful.

“A preventive maintenance program is crucial,” he says. He sums up his energy-saving tips to all homeowners — insulate, ventilate and stop air leaks.

TNS Mechanical services homes throughout Texas and has other tips at AirConditioningRepairArlington.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Franko running in District 14

4 candidates have started campaigns in Oak Lawn district; still no definite word from Hunt on mayoral candidacy

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Vernon C. Franko is one of four candidates who have already appointed campaign treasurers to run this year for the District 14 seat on the Dallas City Council, according to information posted online by the Dallas city secretary.

And that doesn’t count incumbent Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who may — or may not — choose to run for mayor instead of for re-election to the Council.

Franko said in a recent interview that he has been planning to run for the council for about two years because “I just didn’t think we were getting the representation we deserve in this district.”

Franko said that he is “upset that property taxes didn’t go back down after the adjustments for the [housing bubble]. We have seen some decrease, but not enough.

“I think we need to bring back integrity and fairness to the Council,” Franko continued. “There have been some closed-door meetings held that I really didn’t like. Everything should be out in the open. We just aren’t getting the kind of representation we had in this district back in the 1980s and ’90s.”

Franko also said that he is unhappy with the way “education issues” are being handled in Dallas, and that public school teachers have been “underpaid for way too long” and property taxes levied by the school districts are too high.

Although the City Council has no authority over public schools in the city, Franko said he believes the council “should be working with the school districts around here to make these issues better known. The council is prominent enough to help bring attention to these issues in a way that the school board can’t.”

And, he said, the council should also work with other entities that assess property taxes in Dallas, like the hospital districts.

“Homeowners are being discouraged from buying and maintaining homes because the way the tax situation is handled just isn’t equitable,” Franko said. “Property owners — and even renters who have to pay higher rents so that property owners can pay taxes — they are all carrying a disproportionate share of the tax burden.”

Franko, who lives on Cedar Springs Road, said he has been an insurance agent and small business for 15 years. Although he did not say if he is gay, he did describe himself as “a part of the Oak Lawn community,” and pledged to treat all his constituents fairly and equally if he is elected.

“I think the LGBT people should be represented just as fairly and equally as any other community,” Franko said. “I believe in fairness in representation for all groups, whether it’s about race or gender or orientation or what have you.

“I am a part of the Oak Lawn community, but I wouldn’t want to give Oak Lawn residents better treatment than someone from another community. All community’s deserve equal treatment,” he said.

Council election overview

Dallas City Council and mayoral elections will be held May 14.

Although candidates have already started filing paperwork designating campaign treasurers, the candidates cannot actually file to run for the council until Monday, Feb. 14. The deadline to file is March 14. The drawing for placement on the ballot will be March 18, and March 21 is the last day that candidates can withdraw from the races.
April 1 is the deadline to register to vote in the May elections. Early voting runs from May 2-10.

Four candidates for District 14 — considered the district with the largest LGBT population — have registered information on their campaign treasurers with the city secretary’s office so far: James Nowlin, Jim Rogers, Erin C. Lasseter and Franko.

District 14 incumbent Angela Hunt has said publicly she is considering a run for mayor to replace first-term incumbent Mayor Tom Leppert, who has said he will not run for re-election. However Hunt has not yet registered a campaign treasurer with the city secretary’s office for either a District 14 re-election bid — incumbents running for re-election are not required to file a new campaign treasurer form — or as a mayoral candidate.

Nowlin, who is openly gay and was the first to register a campaign treasurer, said he has been discussing the possibility of running for the District 14 seat with Hunt for more than a year, and he is confident she will run for mayor.

Rogers, however, said that if Hunt decides instead to run for re-election to the council, he would drop out of the race.

Two other incumbents in districts with significant LGBT populations — Delia Jasso in District 1 and Pauline Medrano in District 2 — so far face no declared opposition in their re-election bids.

But in District 3, neighborhood activist Scott Griggs has appointed a treasurer and is running to replace incumbent Dave Neumann. The District 3 seat was long held by Ed Oakley, the openly gay man who made national headlines with his 2007 campaign for Dallas mayor against Leppert, a race Leppert won in runoff balloting.

Other candidates who have registered campaign treasurers with the city secretary are Monica R. Alonzo and John M. Lozano, running for the District 6 seat held by incumbent Steve Salazar; Edward D. Turner, running for the District 7 seat held by incumbent Carolyn R. Davis, and Richard P. Sheriden, running for the District 13 seat held by incumbent Ann Margolin.

Other council incumbents facing no declared opposition yet are Dwaine R. Caraway in District 4, Vonciel Jones Hill in District 5, Tennell Atkins in District 8, Sheffie Kadane in District 9, Jerry R. Allen in District 10 and Linda Koop in District 11.

District 12 incumbent Ron Natinsky is a declared candidate for mayor.

Mayoral election overview

Natinsky is one of three candidates who have registered campaign treasurers with the city secretary, and is considered — at least so far — the frontrunner for the seat. Oakley, who lost the mayor’s race in Leppert four years ago, has already endorsed Natinsky’s mayoral bid, as have several other well-known leaders in the LGBT community.

Jim Moore, an attorney with offices in Oak Lawn, was the first mayoral candidate to register a campaign treasurer. He recently joined Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and he, too, said he counts LGBT leaders as friends and supporters.

The third declared candidate to replace Leppert is former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle who, during his years leading the Dallas Police Department, earned a reputation for treating the LGBT community fairly, and who was the first Dallas Police chief to participate each year in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Lubbock station flubs DADT; Texas Tech activist Nonnie Ouch says ‘It Gets Better’

Nonnie Ouch

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put a stay on a lower court’s ruling allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

Explaining the stay,  Fox 34 in Lubbock said, “As of right now anyone who is gay and in the military must keep that sexual preference under wraps.”

Nonnie Ouch, a Texas Tech student from Dallas, does help explain any confusion in her “It Gets Better” video below. She describes Lubbock as “the second most conservative city in the country.”

Getting sexual orientation wrong is the least of the Fox story’s problems. They’re a little fuzzy on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” issues.

For example, they quote a Texas Tech law professor saying he had a long, distinguished career as a JAG and knows “don’t ask, don’t tell” quite well.

So well, in fact that he claimed that he defended the policy in the 1980s. Wow. A whole decade before anyone even dreamed up the discriminatory DADT policy, this “expert” was out there defending it. He must really, really like it.

Or maybe not so much because the professor calls the policy an anachronism.

But the military needs time to work out some privacy issues, he says. Well, it seems the only privacy that’s been violated is the privacy of gay and lesbian military personnel. Their privacy is regularly invaded and they are thrown out.

The former JAG and legal expert Fox quotes thinks the military, not the courts, should be making the policy. Interesting since it was Congress who created the policy that was signed into law by the president. And I don’t remember anyone criticizing Congress or President Bill Clinton about interfering with military policy when they instituted it. And isn’t the president the commander-in-chief?

Ouch’s comments to Fox are a lot clearer than those of the policy’s sort-of defender who doesn’t seem to like the policy much anymore.

“It’s a huge deal, I have friends that are serving in Afghanistan right now that are gay and I couldn’t wait to tell them the news,” she told the Fox station before the stay was placed on the ruling.

In her video, Ouch tells gay youth that if they can get by in Lubbock, you can get by anywhere else in the country.

—  David Taffet

Looking for info on drag queen Kelly King

Anybody out there in Instant Tea Land know what became of a drag queen called Kelly King from Louisville, Ky.?

I got an e-mail today from David Williams of the Williams-Nichols Institute Inc., which is the corporate sponsor of the Williams-Nichols Archive and Library for LGBT Studies at the University of Louisville. They are trying to gather information on Kelly King, a drag queen who was profiled in the Louisville Times’ Scene Magazine on April 8. 1978. Apparently, the article set off what Williams calls “a firestorm of angry letters” from readers, an incident that has become, he said, “one of the earliest landmarks in Louisville LGBT history.”

From what Williams has heard, King has since died and is buried somewhere in the Louisville area. But they haven’t been able to verify that, and if she is buried there, they don’t know where. Here’s what they have heard:

1. Kelly King’s birth name was supposedly Rex Altman. He graduated from Doss High School in the Okolona area of Louisville in 1971 or 1972. Kelly King performed drag for several years at the old Odyssey club in Louisville and some other clubs. She apparently performed with Cissy Blake (Darrell Robinson), and Cissy Blake may have been the one who got Kelly King into the drag business.

2. By the late 1980s, Kelly King had moved to Pensacola, Fla., and continued to perform there. They have video of her performing at a 1988 AIDS benefit in Pensacola for the group EASE.

3. From Pensacola, Kelly King reportedly moved to San Francisco where she was murdered sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Her body was returned to Louisville and she was buried there “in her favorite black dress.”

And here’s what they want to know:

1. Where is Kelly King’s grave?

2. Did anyone attend her funeral and/or burial?

3. What is her date of death?

4. Does she have any family still living in the Louisville area?

I know there isn’t an obvious North Texas link to this story, but hey, drag queens travel all over to perform, and I know back in the early 1980s, performers from all over used to come to Dallas to perform at Joe Elliott’s bar, The Landing. Maybe Kelly King had fans here? Or maybe somebody who lives here now used to live in Louisville, or Pensacola, or San Francisco, and knew her and has information on what became of Kelly King. Plus, we do have readers all over the country who might see this post, too, and be able to help out with some info.

Anybody who knows anything is asked to contact the archives by e-mail at KyArchives@aol.com or WillnlCH@aol.com.

And here’s the video of Kelly King performing to raise money for EASE at Snoopy’s (which later became Fantasy, which burned down).

—  admin