WATCH: Dallas actors create a ‘Hamilton’ video that deserves to go viral

Screen shot 2016-06-10 at 1.04.02 PMOn Sunday night, Hamilton — the amazing, hip-hop musical tour of Colonial history — is primed to all but sweep the Tony Awards. Why the surge? Because it’s often years between truly culturally-changing musicals (the last was probably The Book of Mormon), and this one has tons of support. People love it. Love it. It can be scary. (Theater queens are scary anyway.)

So Dallas theater folks — among them Rob McCollum, Kristin McCollum, Jessica Cavanagh, Gregory Lush and many more — decided to offer some medical help for your Hamilton addiction… and it requires you put your tongue firmly in cheek. “Hamilaria” is the 3-minute video, a purported commercial for a treatment center (the made-up Weehawken Institute) that treats those suffering from #Hamilaria, the condition of constantly finishing sentences with lyrics from the original cast recording. Barely 24 hours since it came on YouTube, it’s already been retweeted by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda… and you might wanna get on the ground floor and help it go viral. (Side effects may include spontaneous rapping, bursts of laughter and throwing signs with your fingers.) Watch it once, and you’ll be back… and if you don’t get that reference… well, you soon will…

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Drive-by tasting: Start

This gayborhood restaurant could be the Start of something good (for you)

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A wrap and tater tots (with organic ketchup) are some of the healthy items at Start that have fast food appeal. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Here’s the dirty little secret about Americans: we want our fast food. We like our fast food. But deep down, we want to feel good about liking our fast food. And that’s where a place like Start comes in.

It has the trappings of fast food. It’s open early for breakfast, and stays open for late snacking. There’s a drive through — the essence convenience eating.

But then there are the non sequiturs: Beer and ciders are sold here (organic). So is granola (same).

Selling itself as “handmade, wholesome food,” Start — with two locations, one on Lemmon in the gayborhood, one near SMU on Greenville Avenue — boasts a hipster vibe where the menu filled with ingredients so free of preservatives that eating them won’t pickle you before you’re dead: Organic, hormone-free meats. Grass-fed beef. Salads made of protein-rich quinoa — indeed, there are an assortment of vegetarian selections (see “hipster” reference above — hipsters are either vegans or subsist solely on edibles and housemade game sausages. That’s just a fact). Start even strives to diminish its eco-footprint by not offering water bottles and minimizing waste. “Real food fast” their logo announces. That’s very different than “real fast food.”

You pay a bit extra for that sense of social responsibility, but you are rewarded for it. The hamburgers are a specialty, touting the option of gluten-free buns as well as build-your-own-burger possibilities. It’ll cost you anywhere from 7 to 10 bucks, depending on your mood. But the flavors are fresh and satisfying, and considering how many actual fast food joints serve mystery meat faster than Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop, there is a smug bit of self-congratulation that comes with knowing the provenance of your meal.

The other entrees deliver as well. The turkey and swiss wrap was dry in bites, washing it down with a bottle of cider was more than sating.

No value meals here; the value is in living a cleaner lifestyle. That means you shell out separately for garnishes and sides, like tater tots (which, if I’m being honest with myself, probably were not hand-cut by an Irish farm girl). But honestly, who really wants that anyway? Isn’t it enough that they are, apparently, baked? (Start restaurants  don’t own a deep-fryer, according to the menu.) Just ladle on the organic ketchup and indulge in a bit of childhood comfort dining — only the kind your nutritionist would approve of.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Hope & joy

Living life to its fullest in ‘Beautiful,’ ‘Mullingar,’ ‘Mothers & Sons’

Natural-Woman

Carole King (Abby Mueller) composes the soundtrack of a generation in the jukebox musical ‘Beautiful.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Carole King’s music mirrored the full pageant of the rock ‘n roll era. From soul anthems like “Natural Woman” to novelty dance ditties like “Locomotion” and soft-rock classics like “You’ve Got a Friend,” you can hardly imagine any occasion where one of her songs would not work as the background music to life’s great moments. That richness is much of what gives Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, its amazing texture. Unlike, say, Jersey Boys, which celebrates one group’s sound, or even Mamma Mia!, which shoehorns one group’s catalogue into a conventional book-musical narrative, Beautiful is a songwriter’s tribute with all the ups-and-downs of a creative — not interpretive — artist. You feel King in every note, every lyric.

The show is as ebullient and joyful as any contemporary musical since The Drowsy Chaperone. It opens in Brooklyn during the poodle-skirt days of teenybopper music. Carole (Abby Mueller, sister of Jessie Mueller, who created the role on Broadway) is a 16-year-old college student with aspirations to write a hit song. She pairs up with sexy budding lyricist Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), goes to work for Don Kirschner, and a legend is born.

But legends have high and low points. Gerry cheats on her and has emotional problems, but through it all, Carole martials along, turning out songs that reflect (and sometimes deflect) her personal turmoil, which will eventually culminate in Tapestry, one of the most acclaimed, honored and best-selling albums of all time.

But this isn’t a lemons-to-lemonade story. The great depth of its appeal is how strong yet vulnerable Carole is — secure in her talents, but doubtful as to her sex appeal. It’s one of the most complexly written leading roles in a musical comedy, and Mueller’s upbeat, somewhat defiant performance hits it home. The whole cast rocks it, with great comedic support from Becky Gulsvig and Ben Fankhauser as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (a rival songwriting couple), brisk staging by Marc Bruni and, of course, a score that is par excellence. Just try walking out not humming a tune and feeling hopeful.

outsidemullingarHope plays a central role in the lives of the characters in Outside Mullingar — even hope that seems drowned by life’s occasional tragedies… and tragedies abound here because, well, it’s Ireland. The Irish are a peculiar lot, and plays and films set there are plump with an atmosphere of beautiful, hilarious dread. The plays of Martin McDonagh reveal a sense of horror masquerading as day-to-day normalcy. (Psychopathic cat owners. Matricidal spinsters. Felonious gravediggers.) Even a sprightly musical like Brigadoon is premised on a lovely Irish village that disappears into the mist for a century at a time — hardly the makings of a conventional happy ending.

And so it is with the Muldoons and the Reillys, neighboring farmers in damp central Ireland. The Muldoon patriarch has just died, which leaves an opportunity for the senior Reilly (John S. Davies) to finally re-acquire a small strip of land — an easement, which he sold years ago but which has been a sore spot ever since. But the younger Reilly, Anthony (Jeremy Schwartz), might not even inherit the land, which creates a rift between father and son, exacerbated by Anthony’s prickly relationship with Rosemary Muldoon (Jessica Cavanaugh), the girl next door who has been crushing on him for 30 years … though he hasn’t seemed to notice.

It’s all very kitchen-sinky, with lilting brogues and clever wordplay, courtesy of author John Patrick Shanley. But when you let director Rene Moreno loose on this kind of material … well, something as magical as Finian’s rainbow appears. There’s no better director of actors anywhere that I have seen. He turns a cast into a collection of fully-fleshed-out humans as deftly as a close-up card sharp. There’s such effortless naturalism here, you almost forget that you’re even watching a play; it feels more as if you’re spying on the lives of real people.

And his actors do live those lives, so wonderfully. The tentative romance between Cavanaugh and Schwartz — middle-aged folks playing middle-aged folks — is expertly rendered by the leads, while Davies and Gail Cronauer as the irascible oldsters have breathtaking moments. Outside Mullingar isn’t a flashy play with hot-button moments. It must settle for just being an exceptionally engaging and true one about waiting until the moment’s right.

Family dynamics and the time to confront long-buried feelings take a different turn in the contemporary drama Mothers & Sons … though the story begins decades earlier.

In 1990, Terrence McNally won an Emmy for writing a TV movie called Andre’s Mother. It was the height of the AIDS crisis, and the film was set during the memorial of Andre, an actor who succumbed to the disease. Andre’s lover, Cal, was there, as was his disapproving mother Katherine, a humorless transplant to Texas who seems so cold she could not forgive her son for the sin of being different.

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A married couple (Greg Lush and Kevin Moore, above) confront ghosts from their past in ‘Mothers & Sons.’

This new play builds on those characters, but it’s a loose sequel. Cal (Gregory Lush) is now a financially secure money manager with a new husband, Will (Kevin Moore) and a son Bud (Alex Prejean). Katherine (Marjorie Hayes), now a widow, shows up on their doorstep unannounced a few days before Christmas. She and Cal haven’t kept in close contact over the years, so Katherine is astonished to find he has moved on with his life when she clearly has not. She projects her disappointment with every icy gesture and sniping aside: How dare Cal continue to live, when her son’s life was cut down too soon?

It’s a play with each foot in a different generation of gay culture, seeking to bridge two eras: The scary-activist days of an epidemic that decimated gay society, and the more settled world where same-sex marriage is legal and acceptance the rule, not the exception. Will and Bud belong to the latter; Katherine and Cal to the former … only she never felt a part of it and he has evolved beyond it.

Screen shot 2016-06-09 at 9.48.09 AMIn the broadest sense, Mothers & Sons is a political play, a play of ideas — it parses the rift between those who still live in a self-imposed labyrinth of bigotry and a culture that has moved on from them. At its worst, it sounds a bit old-fashioned and intentionally provocative, as if these arguments haven’t been hashed out for 35 years.

But at its best — and its best is exceptional — it subtly navigates the ways in which we communicate, how diplomacy in the face of ignorance if a blessing, and how ignorance morphed into hatred needs a sturdy slap to the face. Cal “handles” Katherine, diffusing her insults with light-hearted banter, using manners to soften her hard edges… until she crosses too many lines. The play has a lot to say about blame, self-pity and how age differences should not affect our innate humanity.

It’s a serious play, but not one without levity. The balance is achieved with the nimble ensemble. Moore has never been so natural onstage, and Lush delivers another well-crafted character who has to hide and reveal deep emotions within a hair’s breadth. Katherine’s hardness makes Hayes a tougher nut, but her genuineness comes through. Director Bruce R. Coleman and set designer Kevin Brown make excellent use of the stage, filling it with real lives, which is what makes Mothers & Sons resonate so profoundly … no matter how old you are.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tricky dick

A real-life political tragedy unfolds before the camera in the funny-sad documentary ‘Weiner’

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The mayoral candidate marching in a Pride parade, flanked by folks who’ve probably sent a dick pic or two.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

What is it about the heroes of progressive Democrats that they can’t keep their junk in their boxer-briefs? Bill Clinton’s horndoggery is legendary; Gary Hart’s literally signaled a sea-change in how the political press covers politicians’ private lives.

And then there was Anthony Weiner.

Clinton and Hart were “victims” of investigative journalists and chatty conquests, surprised that their secrets were revealed. Weiner’s downfall resulted from him own thumb, when he tweeted his erect… ummm… wiener to a woman he was flirting with online. There’s no evidence the then- congressman from New York ever physically cheated on his wife Huma Abedin (remarkably, one of Hillary Clinton’s closest advisors) but he botched the handling of the scandal — claiming he was hacked, then quibbling about what really happened, and how much, and with whom. It cost him his congressional seat. But he thought he could ride it out, and two years later looked to be the frontrunner in the race for mayor of New York City. He even allowed two documentarians to make a film of his comeback campaign.

And then he fucked up again.

Screen shot 2016-06-09 at 9.48.23 AMWeiner — the tightly-focused, virtually all-access chronicle of Weiner’s fall-rise-fall in American politics — feels slightly obscene due to its insiders’ look at a man coming apart. We see Anthony Weiner as the firebrand representative, excoriating Republicans in vituperative screeds on the floor of the House, fearlessly taking on opponents in pundit-filled talk shows, gladhanding his constituents during cheer-filled gay Pride marches. He is a Noo Yawkuh, through and through, the kind who brings a gun to a knife fight, who isn’t afraid of a little dirt. You wanna root for the guy. And you wanna throttle him.

Weiner could be screened for those practicing crisis management, although I’m not sure if it’s best seen as a case study or an abject lesson. It’s never fully clear to viewers when Weiner lapsed and sent more incriminating tweets (apparently after the congressional scandal, but how long before the mayoral campaign?).

That’s when his supporters turned on him. A second chance is one thing… but a third? (I think most of us lost our respect for Weiner when we learned his online screenname was “Carlos Danger.”) Yet what, exactly, had changed in the intervening years? The gay community — long ardent fans — would probably be the most forgiving; after all, we are probably, well… more “familiar” with the concept of sending dick pix to strangers and not thinking much of it. (Don’t judge.) But how has such provincialism survived from the Mayflower, when universal marriage is now the norm.

There’s a lot of armchair psychologizing (“Do you have a sex addiction?” an aide queries, although considering he never even meets his online paramours, it makes you Clintonize “It depends on what the definition of ‘sex’ is”) and we get to read it all on the faces of Anthony and Huma, who takes a backseat for most of the campaign as well as the movie, but emerges, in a strange way, as its protagonist. But a large part of you wants to rewrite history: Yes, Anthony Weiner ended up being a flawed narcissistic jackass … are we shocked? He’s a politician … the same politician, by the way, who believes in raising the minimum wage, in securing abortion rights, in expanding Medicare and advocating on behalf of LGBT issues. Weiner suggests that despite his shortcomings, his public shaming — even if earned — shouldn’t be a bar to good works. Twenty-five years after Clarence Thomas coined the phrase, we may finally have proof of what a high-tech lynching looks like. And it’s not pretty.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theatre Too announces upcoming season

nancegroup2BBruce R. Coleman, the acting artistic director of Theatre 3, has announced the 2016–17 season for the company’s downstairs black box space, called Theatre Too.

The season starts with The Sum of Us (Sept. 1–25), a comedy-drama about the relationship between a widower and his gay son. Mark C. Guerra will direct. Next up will be A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show (Nov. 25–Dec. 11), which returns from last year’s run. B.J. Cleveland, pictured, once again performs the one-man tour-de-force. Another popular staple takes over after that, with I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change (Dec. 29–Feb. 12, 2017… though expect an extension, as usually happens with this show). The romantic musical revue will be directed by Cleveland.

There’s another revival of sorts with The Empress, The Lady and The Pearl, Part II: Miss Billie and Miss Freddie (March 23–April 16, 2017). Denise Lee, who played blues legend Bessie Smith (“The Empress”) in Part I earlier this year, comes back, this time as Billie Holliday. The season will end with Con McPherson’s thriller The Birds (May 25–June 18, 2017), based on the Daphne Du Maurier novella (and also the basis for the Hitchcock film). Tickets are available here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

CD review: Nick Jonas’ ‘Last Year Was Complicated’

NickJonas20164Nick Jonas has never felt as processed, mixed, packaged and AutoTuned as many of his pop-music contemporaries. One reason for that is probably that he didn’t need to resort to those tricks. Early on, his fanbase of shrill teen girls didn’t require singing chops so much as pretty-boy sincerity. Growing out of heartthrob status — or rather, into adult-throb status, where more mature women and gay men are as sighingly captivated by his hunkiness as their pre-pubescent counterparts — is a skill not everyone can accomplish… although when they do, it’s usually by discarding the baggage of virginal imaging and adopting an edgier persona. (For many, it’s really about revealing their real personas; the music industry and superstardom are seductively corrupting.)

Jonas has aged well into his prime with brooding good looks that he capitalizes on with sexually charged performances (playing gay in the TV shows Scream Queens and Kingdom, which returns this month), and even saying just last week that “it would be lying” to say he has not slept with another man following his Method-y performance. Publicity tease to sell album and TV audiences… or an outright confession? Who cares — it’s what helps set Jonas apart from his douchier chart-mates. He’s a flirt with attitude, … and the pipes to keep the payoff coming once the headlines die down.

As far as corporapop music goes, Last Year Was Complicated, Jonas’ new LP (it drops tomorrow), capitalized on the Dallas native’s maturation away from girl-crush to reckoned-with solo artist. It’s a promising foray.

For me, the best track is “Unhinged,” ripe with Sam Smith-esque plaintiveness. It’s Jonas’ most impressive handling of the vocals, though “Close” — the disc’s first single, a duet with Tove Lo — is in the running as well. It’s Jonas at his purist without to much clutter and over-production.

“Champagne Problems” is a fairly familiar-sounding variation of the hip-hop trope of having too much of a good thing, but while the riffs and production aren’t exactly groundbreaking, the attitude is lightly ironic. “Touch” conveys an old-school R&B vibe, and he continues the urbane feel with rap solos from Ty Dolla Sign (on “Bacon”) and Big Sean (on “Good Girls”). The 12-track album has enough gems that, while it never takes off — like Sam Smith or Adele seem to do so easily — it definitely establishes Jonas as a solo artist of some skill.

Read our interview with Nick Jonas tomorrow in Dallas Voice online and in print.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Bishop Arts Theatre taking submissions for 3rd PlayPride festival

Comedy and tragedy masksThe Bishop Arts Theatre Center will hold its third annual PlayPride Festival in September, and as before, are seeking submissions for original, local works to showcase. Six playwrights will be invited to compete for cash prizes (voted on by audience members). The scripts should be produceable during a 15–20 minute runtime, be unoptioned, published or produced, containing LGBT themes and with no scene changes, blackouts or more than four cast members. The author must also be a resident of Texas.

You have until July 1 to submit the script electronically in PDF format at info@bishopartstheatre.org. Selected playwrights will be informed in about a month, and the festival will take place Sept. 15–25. Get working!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Jazz Jennings possesses a rare quality in a reality TV star: Dignity

Jazz and FriendsIf there’s not cooking or Tim Gunn involved, I’m not much of one for reality TV, especially (though not exclusively) as practiced by TLC (which, I thought, used to stand for The Learning Channel but apparently now means Trashy Lifestyle Channel). The programming  look very much like a race to be The Least Common Denominator (another TLC…D!) of cheap entertainment: Honey Boo-Boo. Duck Dynasty. Little Couples. I Am Cait. They seem like non-geographic versions of The Real Housewives — niche shows that hope, desperately, to grab eyeballs in a kind of freakshow of the airwaves: “Look, at these actual families of misfits behaving stupidly for your amusement!” They all seem to be touted with carnival-barker vulgarity.

And so I didn’t watch the first season of I Am Jazz. It appeared to be like all the others. But I took a look at the second season premiere, which starts Wednesday at 9 p.m. on TLC. One reason is that Jazz Jennings, the focus of the show, seems so prepossessed: Now 15, she’s written a book about being a transgender teen (one taught in schools, which is a plotline on the opening episode), been heralded for her openness by Time and Out magazines and was a pioneer in getting the right to use the girls’ bathroom. She’s a millennial role model, and conveys something all too rare in reality TV: Personal dignity.

Jazz and her supportive family have had some time getting used to it. She came out as trans at age 6, and everyone seems comfortable with the feminine pronoun… except some haters, who truly don’t understand (or want to understand) trans issues. She’s not brave in the overused sense that pop culture has diminished — she’s rather just a normal teen living through unusual circumstances with as much grace as any teen could be expected to show. You like Jazz — and her mom and dad and siblings, who are all equally “normal” — and so the pitfalls she endures resonate more. They don’t seem faked, because we all know how difficult being an “other” teen is, at any time. (It seems especially relevant during the current political climate. I wonder if the North Carolina legislature will allow it to air there?)

So I may make an exception to my reality TV rules. I might watch I Am Jazz, as much to support the next generation of leaders as to see what happens next in her life. And keep hope alive that quality may actually make a difference.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PHOTOS: Chefs for Farmers Mix-Off and tasting event in the Design District

The 2016 Chefs for Farmers pre-main-event event — which features talented sous chefs and mixologists showing off for a panel of judges and attendees — finished up Sunday evening, and no one left hungry or thirsty. Eight judges from the major food-reviewing outlets in Dallas — including yours truly, as well as critics from D Magazine, Dallas Eater, Dallas Observer, Dallas Morning News, Escape Hatch Dallas and Zagat — did our own tastings, and awards were given for popular pick and judges’ choice.

As with last year, the sold-out crowd selected The Blind Butcher’s Brian Bell as fan favorite with his sausage and mashed potato dish, a tribute to summery picnicking. Sarah Green from the Joule won judges’ choice for her empanada-style Frito pie.

The Maker’s Mark cocktail from Henry’s Majestic won best bourbon creation, while Parliment’s Patron cocktail won the best tequila drink and the people’s choice award.

Here are some photos from the event.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PHOTOS: The gayest of weddings — Tallon-Tenenbaum

Surrounded by about 100 of their family and friends, including me, Zach Tallon and Harold Tanenbaum — a popular couple in the North Texas gay community — legalized their relationship of 10 years with an official ceremony in their North Dallas back yard. Despite being a Jewish service, Sister Helen Holy showed up to entertain with her benedictions. Mazel tov!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones