N2Narnold1Stage, it is said, is an actor’s medium, and that is true with the local theater community, who did excellent work last year. Pam Daugherty and Jerry Crow breathed comfortable authenticity in Theatre 3’s contribution to the Foote Festival, The Roads to Home; seven months later on the same stage, Sally Soldo and Sonny Franks transformed the domestic musical A Catered Affair into a kitchen-sink master class in acting for the musical genre.

Larry Randolph, in the nearly-one-man show The Madness of Lady Bright, was a dazzling tragic tour-de-force of a drag queen in winter, nearly matched by Barry Nash’s entirely-one-man show Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of the Self, both running at the Festival of Independent Theatres — Bright from 1:30 Productions, Birdnow from Second Thought Theater. Second Thought was also represented by the threesome of Drew Wall, Natalie Young and Alex Organ, in the most compelling drama of the first half of 2011, Red Light Winter; Organ scored again (at comedy) in WaterTower Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, stealing the show in several roles.

The men offered the “wow” factor to DTC’s The Wiz, with Scarecrow James Tyrone Lane, Lion David Ryan Smith and Tin Man Sydney James Harcourt buoying that production. Oozing charisma, Wade McCollum’s sinewy, villainous M.C. in Cabaret turned a part often played for androgyny into a testosterone-laden sex show. Max Swarner oozed something different — goofy likeability — in ICT’s How to Succeed.

Comic women shone at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, with Emily Scott Banks and Catherine Wall standouts in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, while Shannon J. McGrann plucked her way through Bad Dates. The entire cast of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Kitchen Dog Theater “got” the humor in a sickly perverse comedy. Angel Velasco’s brain-dead beachcomber was a comic hoot in Level Ground Arts’ camptacular musical Xanadu.

But a trio of actors at Uptown Players made 2011 special. First Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd, pictured, turned the quasi-opera Next to Normal into Uptown’s best production to date, exploring music, family life and mental illness with tenderness and strength.

If I had to pick one performance I can’t shake all these months later, it would be Lulu Ward in, of all things, the Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century. Over a 25-minute monologue as the craft-happy mother of a son with HIV, she delved into the quirky charms of a kitschy Southerner to the depths of pain a mother feels watching her child die. Between fits of uncontrollable laughter was a cascade of tears from the audience as she choked back hers. You couldn’t walk away from what seemed like a frivolous comedy without feeling transformed by Ward’s performance. That’s what made her the actor of the year.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Cabaret’ star and director bring a lot of new ideas to a classic musical

The Dallas Theater Center’s current production of Cabaret just goes to show: It takes gay men to make something really good. At least in theater.

Wade McCollum, who stars as the Emcee 9pictured center), and director/choreographer Joel Ferrell, are responsible for much of what makes the show a success. Ferrell conceived the show, with its nightclub-like atmosphere of decadence gone amok and McCollum embodies it with his sexually charged but morally ambiguous ringmaster of the decline and fall of the German empire.

The intensely sensuous style is certainly one of its selling points — and it’s not really made up.

“That’s the nature of the show — the Weimar era was a racy time. It definitely evokes the era with lots of undies and titillating things with danger,” says McCollum. “We wanted to be more historically accurate than anything — it’s not about being shocking for the sake of shocking. Genderbending was more prevalent them. It could be hard to tell which boys were boys and which girls were girls, A lot of the clubs were just glorified brothels — the women are for sale and so are the men.”

“Clint Ramos is a strange, wonderful man,” laughs Ferrell about the show’s costume designer, who clad his performers in revealing, minimalist garb that helps hit home the outrageousness of the era. Ferrell cast one of his male actors, for instance, as a Kit Kat girl, exploiting the era’s happy acceptance of androgyny, epitomized by the pants-wearing icon of the time, Marlene Dietrich.

“That’s part of the fun of the show — it really begs you to come at it your way: What do you want to underline?” Ferrell had choreographed a production of Cabaret in Portland, Ore., before, but he had never directed it. But just working on another production gave him a lot of ideas.

“That production taught me some stuff about the show,” he says. “I think there are a couple of characters that usually get lost, like Fraulein Kost,” the prostitute who eventually embraces Nazism and goes from low-life to high-living overnight.

For McCollum, he was happy to create the Emcee in a way that straddled a line between reality and fantasy.

“You can make all sorts of different choices with that role,” McCollum says. “My job is to come in with a banquet of different choices and see what the aim of the overall intention of the show is. He is at once a very human master of ceremonies of a club just doing a show. But there’s a whole other layer, almost more prevalent, of overseeing the world of the play with an energy that could be interpreted a myriad of ways.”

Ferrell, for example, has McCollum perform the small role at the beginning of a train conductor who seems slightly villainous and pro-Nazi, even though that was not written in the script. The effect is to make the Emcee something of a trickster, who manipulates awful world events from behind the scenes.

“Yes, there’s a Luciferian energy to him, “McCollum agrees. “He almost takes delight in the emotional and physical demise of the people in the play — he’s almost a catalyzer of the decay.”

McCollum, a New York actor brought in for the role, has played the Emcee before. For Ferrell, take on Cabaret right on the heels of his last success, Dividing the Estate, was a daunting task.

“I have been asking myself why I decided to go immediately into another show, but no complaints!” he says. “I wanted very much to direct both of them.”

Still, it proved well worth the effort — for him and audiences.


—  Arnold Wayne Jones

James Franco on cover of new trans magazine

For their second issue, Candy, the first magazine devoted to trans culture, dressed up James Franco in old school Joan Crawford-esque drag for the cover, shot by photographer Terry Richardson. This adds to the ever-increasingly-gay-friendly actor’s list of random moments in LGBT support. Jezebel mentioned the cover Wednesday with the following blurb about Franco.

James Franco has been exploring sexuality for sometime — his art show included lots of male genitalia; in his student film he “dashes” through the Louvre wearing a penis on his nose. He did an interview with The Advocate, the world’s leading gay news source. He’s played gay men, and directed movies about gay men. He says he’s not gay, but he certainly seems interested in sexual identity, gender and self-expression through performance art.

The magazine’s trailer for this issue says there are only 1,000 copies in print available worldwide, so we’re thinking that’s like one issue in one bookstore in Dallas? And somehow, I don’t think a used copy will be found at Half Price Books anytime soon. The magazine is scheduled for newsstands on Oct. 24.

Candy is the creation of Luis Venegas from Spain who is also behind the magazines Ey! Magateen and Fanzine137. With Candy, he touts it as “the first fashion magazine ever completely dedicated to celebrating transvestism, transexuality, cross dressing and androgyny, in all its manifestations. … Candy is a magazine for everybody. A space for individual freedom, and a publication that pushes people to take on the persona of what they always wanted to be.”

—  Rich Lopez

Acne and Androgyny

acne jeansSwedish denim label Acne Jeans has released a capsule collection unisex shirts — inspired by Dynasty characters. Daily News

—  John Wright