With ‘Six’ you get Cantone

Comedian Mario Cantone brings his inimitable outlook to ‘Page Six TV’

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SUPER MARIO | Cantone is one of four panelists discussing the trends of the day on the summer series.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Summer is usually a black hole for original TV programming, but if you’ve tuned into the broadcast networks this past week, chances are you’ve seen a show with Mario Cantone. First, he was a celebrity guest on the primetime reboot of the classic game show The $100,000 Pyramid (and he’ll be on its sister show, Match Game, next month). And late-night on Fox, you might have caught him as one of the hosts of Page Six TV, the new gossip chatfest getting a three-week tryout in select cities, including Dallas. What’s with the media blitz, Mario?

“If they ask me, I [show up] — I can’t go beggin’, Arnold!” he shouts in mock anger. “I go home and watch Turner Classics Movies and when they call, I come. The problem is, you’re always asked to do the stuff you don’t want, and aren’t for the ones you do.”

That’s not the case, he insists, for Page Six TV, modeled after the New York Post’s famed gossip column.

“The thing about Page Six is, it’s historic — not that it invented gossip, but it’s always been fun and lighthearted. That’s what I like about it — it’s more ‘what the fuck’ than ‘fuck you.’”

On the TV version, Cantone and his fellow panelists — entertainment reporters Elizabeth Wagmeister and Carlos Greer, lifestyle guru Bevy Smith and host John Fugelsang — tackle a series of trending topics in the news that day, and offer their insights. Example: In rehearsal, they discussed the current trend of people who are getting vegetable tattoos. “Reallly!?” Cantone gasps. “What the fuck! You gotta watch the tattoos — when your 90 and you skin is hanging on the floor, and the ink is staining the carpet, don’t call me!” And don’t get him started on Pokemon GO.

So what, exactly is Cantone, who has no background in journalism, doing among these experienced rumor-mavens?

“[The producers] called me and said they wanted a comedian,” he explains. “I won’t do a reality show, but I will do a talk show or a game show. And it’s the mix of the cast that moves it along. I really love Bevy Smith — she’s so knowledgeable about [pop culture]. And Carlos! I love his demeanor. He and Elizabeth are more serious, because they’re journalists. My comments are frivolous, spontaneous and hopefully funny, which I think is refreshing. If everyone was so in-the-know, it wouldn’t [have broad appeal]. I’m representing you on the show, Arnold!”

Me? You mean, the gays? Not necessarily…

“No offense to my people, because I love them, but if I brought a true gay perspective, I would watch The Real Housewives, which I don’t. And they’re all Italian, which is so embarrassing for me! A friend forced to me to watch the Kardashians the other day, which was torture!!! No, I represent the townhouse set — I bring the cranky-old-man perspective.”

Cantone is joking (a little), but it’s true that his persona — from his guest spots on The View (or Pyramid) to his featured role in Sex and the City to his Tony-nominated show Laugh Whore — is that of the short-tempered New Yorker with a heart of gold but no time for bullshit. Unlike a Lewis Black or Sam Kinison, his shouting doesn’t seem like a pot boiling over but a teakettle letting off steam before providing a refreshing beverage. He has an old-school appreciation for who deserves to be famous.

“I was teaching the young’uns, like young Carlos Greer, that in my day, you had to have a craft to be a star. Now, people are famous without having a craft. And whether you think I’m funny or not, I know how to hold an audience. On the show, I’m coming from that animosity and resentment,” he says. (It’s probably what led Jon Stewart to call him “the white Sammy Davis Jr.”)

He hopes, of course, that the show is a hit with audiences.

“It’s the summer and this came out of nowhere,” he says. “If it goes away, in 2017 I’ll be in my trailer. Come get me.” He’ll just be watching Turner Classic Movies.

Page Six TV
airs weeknights at 11:30 p.m. on Fox4

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Oscar winner Mo’Nique shows her funny side in standup act

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Those who only know Mo’Nique from her Oscar-winning performance in Lee Daniels’ Precious or her sad turn in Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird have overlooked her talents as a gifted comedienne. In addition to her eponymous sitcom and a syndicated radio show, she was also one of the headliners of the concert movie The Queens of Comedy.

But even with all these appearances filmed, you have probably missed seeing her perform her standup act live. Well, miss no more! Mo’Nique will storm into North Texas this week for four shows over two days at the Improv in Arlington. July 29 and 30, she’ll do two shows … both open only to 21 and up. Hey, no one said funny had to be funny for kids, too.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Arlington Improv
309 Curtis Mathes Way, Ste. 147, Arlington
July 29 at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
July 30. 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m
$40–$50
ImprovArlington.com
817-635-5555.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

AB fabulous

Sexy, smart ‘Cha Cha Bitch’ sensation AB Soto makes his Dallas debut at Down To Float 2

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You might not expect a musician best known for two-stepping in a hot-pink Bedazzled tuxedo in Cuban heels to have a subversive philosophy about the essence of masculinity and Latin stereotypes, but that’s just because you’ve never talked to AB Soto.

When he hit it big last year with his single “Cha Cha Bitch,” Soto became a darling of the club kid set, with a color video of pulsing beats that sent out a message of pure joy and attitude. But dig deeper, and there is some thoughtfulness behind the disco ball.

“I made a conscious decision to be more Latin [on my last album]. The first was more rappy and the second more underground,” he says.

That has meant a progression of his musicianship, one that is as colorful as a flamingo but as rooted in dance music, rap, even the sounds of the barrio in a uniquely spicy combination. “Why can’t someone from East L.A. be multidimensional?” he asks. And the answer — gleaned from his work — is: “They can.”

Wanna see for yourself? Soto will be performing this weekend in Dallas at Down to Float 2, the second annual pool party and fundraiser presented by Impulse Group, that will also feature DJ Brandon Moses, Stoli cocktails and a runway show, dancers, a VIP lounge and more. We chatted with him before his Dallas debut about his musical influences, his Mexican heritage and what audiences can expect from a real live “Cha Cha Bitch.”

Arnold Wayne Jones

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SOTO FLOATO | AB Soto says his mariachi outfit is not meant to mock, but to celebrate, his Latin heritage.

Dallas Voice: Like Lady Gaga, your work seems to combine fashion and music.  AB Soto: As a kid, I would sing and dance in my bedroom, but I didn’t know it was something you could do as a professional, so I studied fashion first. I only went to fashion school because I thought there was a lack of fashion to represent myself. I took some time off from that to pursue dance, because I felt the need to follow that. But the fashion always stayed with me — I’ve always been about rebelling against all rules and stereotypes. Fashion has always been a silent performance. [Fashion, music and dance] combined are my paintbrushes.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 9.51.33 AMYou certainly seem to undercut expectations about Latino culture. Your style seems to bridge the divide between macho Hispanic men and a flamboyant drag sensibility.  You pretty much nailed it. [There’s a stereotype] that Latino men have to be a certain way. People would say to me, “You can’t be openly gay in music; you can’t rap because you’re not masculine enough.” But since I was little, there were all these rules I had to abide by and follow … and I don’t do well with that. When I was little, my dad would put us in these [traditional Mexican clothes] and put us in these hats. It was a really grand time, and me and my brother loved wearing that stuff, but other kids were like, “That’s so ethnic! Everyone will make fun of you.” So wearing the mariachi outfit [in my act] isn’t about me making fun of [my Mexican heritage], I just like to take a new spin on it. The fact I dance feminine is what some macho Latino gay men have a problem with, especially when I’m in that outfit. If I was dancing like a straight man — whatever that is — you wouldn’t have a problem with it. That’s homophobia.

It’s not just in the shiny spectacle of your performance, but also in your lyrics, which go into a kind of Spanglish. Do you think of it as a mashup of cultures? Are you consciously trying to create something new — gay, Mexican, feminine but with a hairy-chested sexuality?  I wouldn’t say it’s intentional — it’s just who I am. Just because I am Latino doesn’t mean I listen to one kind of music. That’s where we’re stuck [as a society]: “You’re white, so you listen to country.” I speak English and I know how to speak Spanish.

Hollywood wanted me to be Latin in a specific way, but if I was to be signed by a major label now, they would want me to be “the new Ricky Martin” or “the new Enrique Iglesias”… what does even the mean? I sing all in Spanish? I don’t’ like to be pigeonholed.

What’s the difference between Hispanic gays in Los Angeles, Texas, Florida…?  Growing up in East L.A., it wasn’t cool to be brown. You come to the states and you Americanize yourself and try to get away from what makes you Mexican. You find yourself in this realm where you’ve tried to erase your roots and what makes you you. I wanted to go back and touch on those things that I was made to feel embarrassed about and embrace that. L.A. is pretty progressive about owning your brownness. In Texas, I get a whole different dialogue. Texas is embracing, but you get that one person who doesn’t really understand it. It’s like I’m making them come out of the closet once again, but in their heritage: “Wait a minute are you making fun of my culture?” That’s the real interesting dialogue that needs to be had. Why would someone owning their heritage want to put it down?

What can people in Dallas expect from your live performance?  A lot of people love my videos, but the live show is where it’s at. I’m a trained dancer and I love to be onstage. I’ll have two backup dancers and perform like eight songs with lots of costume changes. I don’t think people who have not seen me live had the full AB Soto experience.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The great Caruso

Former Dallas diva — and current New York celeb emcee — Jim Caruso returns to his old stompin’ ground for the inaugural Dallas Cabaret Festival

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(Photo courtesy Christopher Boudewyns)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

For more than 25 years, Jim Caruso has called New York home — performing at the famed Carlyle, serving as backup for Liza Minnelli the world over, showing up on Broadway and even entertaining newly-inaugurated President Bill Clinton in 1993. And since 2003, he has hosted a weekly show at Birdland called Cast Party. If you’ve been recently, you might have heard Eve Plumb yodeling, or seen David Osmond make Caruso an honorary Osmond. No wonder Cast Party has been heralded by the Wall Street Journal as “the gold standard of open mike nights.”

But the truth is, it all started for Caruso right here in Dallas.

“There was really a cabaret scene there in the ’80s,” he says, “and we all made a good living at it, going from Dallas to Houston to Little Rock.” Longtime gayborhood denizens may recall Bentley’s, or Patrick’s, or Bill’s, or John L’s. It wasn’t always glamorous, but it was a whole helluva lot of fun.

“Patrick’s on Fitzhugh was next to a leather bar, so while we were singing our medley of Dionne Warwick hits, there would be this amazing thump-thump-thumping coming through the common wall…. Those days were magical!” he recalls fondly.

Ah, the glory days. It was a fantastic time to be a singer, especially for a gay young man like Caruso. Seeing a cabaret performance was when he first realized the potential of being an entertainer of his own making.

“I was sitting in an audience of maybe 60 people, and these singers were just being celebrated for their talent,” he says. “I realized: I don’t need to be in the ensemble at Dallas Repertory Theatre or Theatre 3 — I can create my own thing.”

His first act — he swears this is true — was performing at fish restaurants along Lovers Lane with his mother at the piano; he called the act Son of a Bitch. “That wasn’t good,” he admits with a laugh, “but it got me into the scene and [let me figure out] how to create my own product and not be at the whim of others.”

Caruso formed a male trio, called Wiseguys, which variously featured such notable musicians as Gary Lynn Floyd (“still one of the best singers I’ve ever known,” Caruso effuses) and the late Buddy Shanahan. They opened John L’s, and soon after took off.

“There was an audience in Dallas for what we were doing. I booked a group of girls in cowboy hats called the Dixie Chicks.” Then, sadly, the Dallas cabaret scene “really dried up for many years — there were piano bars, but not a ‘scene.’ I always thought that was sad. But now Denise Lee has really taken it upon herself to bring it back.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 9.51.19 AMCaruso is referring to the efforts by Lee — herself one of the most respected singers and actresses in North Texas — to incubate a new culture where cabaret can flourish. For more than a year, she’s brought regular cabaret shows to The Women’s Building in Fair Park. But now it’s time to blow it out: On Thursday, Caruso, his longtime accompanist Billy Stritch and a host of others will join Lee in launching the inaugural Dallas Cabaret Festival — three straight days of musical performances where the gift of musicianship shows audiences what raw talent looks like. And it’s all free to the public.

“This entire series has simply been amazing,” Lee says of her cabaret shows to date. The festival will be the highlight of the series and serve as the foundation for future [cabaret] festivals at Fair Park.”

It’s been a long time coming. “Denise called me about two years ago and said. ‘I have this idea — I’m determined to help make nightclub and cabaret music a thing again.’ I said, ‘Bless your heart!’ It’s a difficult row to hoe … I know because I’ve done it since the 1980s. But man, she has done it. I am so impressed at her work.”

One of the hardest parts is an educational arc: Letting people know what they are getting.

“Cabaret is a word a lot of people don’t understand — I don’t even use the word sometimes; I usually say ‘nightclub concerts and entertainment,’” Caruso says.

For his part, the opening night of the festival will be exposing audiences to his Cast Party.

“We’ve brought this wild, extreme open mike into town for years, and Denise has always been there to sing and spread the word,” Caruso says.

Including in the lineup, of course, are Caruso and Stritch, who perform hits from the Great American Songbook. But the diversity is nearly endless.

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WHERE’S THE (CAST) PARTY? | Jim Caruso and fellow Texan Billy Stritch will christen the Dallas Cabaret Festival, a free three-night event at Fair Park.

“We’ll have some of the stars of Dallas entertainment” — among them, Lee, Floyd, Linda Petty, Julie Johnson and Marisa Diotalevi — “but also anyone who wants to get up. We will welcome theater and jazz … whatever shows up. If we have a juggler, I’m over the moon. There are so many kinds of music — we’re the tip of the iceberg. One night it’s the Night of 1,000 Stars, and then it can be the Den of Non-Equity… sometimes in the same night! But it’s an upbeat, positive experience for everyone. No one is a smartass.”

Caruso has seen a lot of musicians over the years, though, and he does play favorites.

“Liza Minnelli is the top of the list, and not just because she’s one of my best friends: I’ve never seen anyone care more and work harder. And Barbra Streisand is the thoroughbred to Liza’s workhorse — just perfection. I can’t believe I get to hang out with the people I hang out with. It’s a total joy.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: ‘AbFab,’ ‘Star Trek Beyond’

Joanna Lumley as "Patsy" and Jennifer Saunders as "Edina" in the film ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE. Photo by David Appleby. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights ReservedEarlier this summer, I heard some movie pundits sniff that when Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie came out, it would be a flop, because it wouldn’t have a laugh-track like the series does. Well, guess what geniuses? It does have a laugh-track: We call it an audience. The chuckles came fast and furious during this 90-minute, surprisingly gorgeous and whiz-bang confection, which relies on comedy largely provided by two ladies — one age 58 (Jennifer Saunders, who also wrote the screenplay) and another (Joanna Lumley) age 70. 70! And still with the comic timing of Amy Schumer.

Now, it probably doesn’t hurt to be familiar with Edina (Saunders), a public relations professional, and Pats (Lumley), the fashion editor at a high-end magazine, and how they have boozed their way through 35 years of friendship. They’re both terrible parents, terrible role models, alcoholic narcissists … and endlessly entertaining. All they lightness of their lives, however, come crashing down when Eddy’s clients dry up, her ex-husband stops her alimony and she, well, possibly murders Kate Moss.

The plot, though, is hardly the point. It’s the physical humor and absurdist digs at pop culture (Jerry Hall, talking for hours about Chanel on the red carpet; Jon Hamm, regretting losing his virginity to Pats 30 years ago, yet still unable to resist her; Pats again, dressing up as a man … and looking remarkably like Pierce Brosnan in the process) that fuels the fun. Even those unexposed to AbFab (especially gay audiences, for whom the tone seems perfectly tailored) should enjoy this breezy summer delight. Drink up, darlings! (Read our interview with Saunders and Lumley in this week’s Dallas Voice.)

Left to right: Karl Urban plays Bones and Zachary Quinto plays Spock in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm EntertainmentFrom one absurdity to another, and once again written by a cast member. Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, scribbled out the screenplay for Star Trek Beyond, the third in the rebooted movie franchise, based on the cult series (which turns 50 this year). There are jokes here, too, but not enough to really distract us from the sloppiness of the production, a visually muddy and convoluted mess that does a disservice to the series.

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the reboot anyway. The first one, called just Star Trek, restarted all the characters on a brand-new timeline (never one of my favorite gimmicks), which meant they could reinvent the characters any way they wanted (Spock dates Uhura!), but still get the benefit of Leonard Nimoy cameos. The second film, Into Darkness, merely was another timeline trick, basically remaking Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was itself based on the TV series. Beyond also treads old ground … this time, sort of mirroring the plot of the Next Generation film, Insurrection (which, like Khan, depends on a madman who spends decades seeking revenge while bathing in the fountain of youth). The original series managed 76 episodes without really repeating itself; can’t the movies get through three?

Justin Lin is the director this time out, and exposition isn’t one of his strong suits. He overloads the screen with so many crazy camera angles, accented by ear-splitting sound effects that drown out much of the dialogue and an underlit set that makes the film seem murky and confusing, that you can’t really follow what’s going on. Something about an ancient relic. Something about an amazing weapon. Hard to follow. But ask me to summarize the plots and motivations of any of the original six films, and I can cite you chapter and verse.

And yet… I won’t say “Don’t see this.” The characters have become iconic over the decades, and there’s something to be said for discovering things still. (Sulu, we find out, is gay and has a daughter.) Chris Pine’s Capt. Kirk seems more diplomatic than hot-headed Shatner, and Zachary Quinto’s Spock is always fun to explore. Trekkies — and trust me, I am one — will think of it like returning to visit old friends. But that’s something that happens at reunions: A dozen times in, and you realize you’re all telling each other the same old stories. It gets boring.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Bill Maher cover the GOP convention with Dan Savage and Michael Moore

MaherGOPIf you love Bill Maher — I never miss his weekly Real Time show, the smartest comedy-news program on TV — you’re as excited as I am that he will be doing bonus shows, available on YouTube, for four nights of the Republican and Democrat national conventions. Last night was the first one, and his guests includes uber-liberals Dan Savage and Michael Moore. Side-splitting and insightful. And there’ll be another one tonight! Enjoy.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Help kick off Leslie Jordan’s Legacy fall fundraiser tonight

Leslie-JordanLeslie Jordan is a regular denizen of Dallas, thanks largely to his appearance every fall as a fundraising event for Legacy Counseling Services and Founders Cottage. Last year’s big event at the Majestic Theater actually netted more than $89,000.

Well, you can be a part of it this time. Tonight in the Design District will be the kick-off and sponsorship party for this year’s event, again at the Majestic, called Leslie Jordan Uncensored. You mean he’s been censoring himself until now?

Stop by from 6–9 p.m. and get a drink or a bite for a $20 donation, and learn more about being a sponsor. It all takes place at the Allan Knight Showroom, 150 Turtle Creek Blvd, Suite 150.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What’s your favorite Melania Trump quote?

MelaniaMore than one person has said to me today that their favorite part of the election so far is how budding first lady (and wannabe Bond Girl) Melania Trump stole exact passages for her speech last night at the opening of the GOP convention. And not just passages, but from current first lady Michelle Obama. And not just some Michelle Obama speech, but her own convention address from eight years ago. “Who expected that the star of the GOP convention would be Michelle Obama?” someone said.

Well, it keeps getting better, thanks to the internet. The meme #MelaniaTrumpFamousQuotes, which puts others’ words in Melania’s mouth, is trending more than Pokemon GO right now. “The first rule of fight club is: you don’t talk about fight club. — Melania Trump” and “All my life I had to fight, I had to fight my daddy, my uncles, but I be damned if I have to fight in my own house! — Melania Trump” and “And I say to you this: Fish don’t fry in the kitchen. Beans don’t burn on the grill. Took a whole lot of trying just to get up that hill. — Melania Trump” and my favorite, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. — Melania Trump.”

What is yours? That you’ve seen or come up with? We need more entertainment round here. Or as Melania might say, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute. Candles in the window, carols at the spinet.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Asian Film Fest screens award-winning ‘Spa Night’

SPANIGHTLast weekend, Los Angeles’ OutFest — the LGBT film festival — handed out its awards for the top movies screening there, and two went to Spa Night: A special recognition for outstanding performance by Joe Seo playing a gay Korean-American, as well as the U.S. Grand Jury Prize. If you didn’t happen to be in SoCal for the fest, though, don’t worry — you can actually see that award-winner tonight.

The Asian Film Festival of Dallas has a few days left in its fest, including a screening of Spa Night at the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station tonight at 10:15 p.m.  Seo plays a closeted gay man who discovers the underground world of gay sex while working at a spa. And if you can’t make it tonight, well, you still have a few mores days of screenings of other films to entertain you.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Kitchen LTO bids farewell… for now

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Casie Caldwell, with former LTO chef Blythe Beck.

The “LTO” in Kitchen LTO always meant “limited time only,” and that limited time has come to an end. The so-called permanent pop-up restaurant, which tagged a different chef every several months to design a menu (as well as an artist to help flush out the decor), closed its doors last night for good … sort of. Founder Casie Caldwell, who was one of the first entrepreneurs to open a spot in the growing Trinity Groves development in West Dallas three years ago, announce that the concept will appear as a series of pop-ups at some time in the future.

Caldwell other current restaurant, Pink Magnolia, continues in Oak Cliff.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones