STAGE BRIEFS

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The Night of the Iguana. As if we need further evidence that Rene Moreno is Dallas’ best director, we have this remarkable production as Exhibit A, pictured right. Tennessee Williams’ last great play is set in tropical Acapulco, so most productions emphasize its steam sexuality. But Moreno — at least in Act 1 — discovers Williams’ biting humor, staging the action with the pacing of a farce. He saves the sultry stuff for Act 2, allowing the melodrama to sneak up on it.

Set at a run-down motel in the off-season, it features a hurricane, a failed clergyman (Ashley Wood, appropriately manic) tied to a hammock, a slutty proprietress (Cindee Mayfield, who could unleash a whole new career as a bad girl) and an underaged nymphomaniac. Hey, it is Williams.

It clicks along so spritely, with the cast (including Elizabeth Van Winkle, and Terry Vandivort delivering his best performance in years) capturing the exaggerated Southern melody or Tennessee’s over-wrought dialogue, you get easily lost. Imbuing a classic with fresh energy is one fine feat.
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Through Mar. 4.

Pluck the Day. It’s been almost 10 years since Second Thought Theatre produced Pluck the Day, a comedy about quirky Texans set entirely on a ramshackled porch littered with beer cans and forgotten dreams. The original was a longish two-acter about lost 20somethings.

The revisions by STT’s co-artistic director, Steven Walters, of his rambling play tighten a lot of the action, but the major accomplishment is one that the calendar gets the most credit for: The maturing of the characters. Now they are in their 30s, when the malaise of realizing your best years were more than a decade back really sets in.

The men at the center are an unusual trio, despite their similar upbringings. Duck (Clay Yokum) is a dumb, married redneck and proud of it; Fred (Mike Shrader) is his bachelor counterpart, about to pop the question; and Bill (Chris LaBove) the smart gay one who has hung around this one-stoplight town for far too long. But just how gay is Bill?

The plot revolved around a did-they-or-didn’t-they plot you might have caught on Three’s Company, but there’s a sweetness to it all and a full share of laughs, especially when Duck — who wouldn’t know a metrosexual if he gay-bashed him — wonders why Bill isn’t attracted to him. Been there.
Second Thought Theatre. Through Feb. 26.

stage-2-2Bring It On: The Musical. Talk about the power of the pyramid: Cheerleading onstage kicks ass. Oh, say what you will about it being a cheesy faux-sport practiced by mean girls (there’s a lot of that here, no question) — when you see a man in a tank-top and shorts do a running back-flip across the stage, it’s hard not to fall in love.

Or at least in serious, serious like, which is the reaction you’ll have to Bring It On, pictured left. While based on the teen rom-com, the touring production now at Fair Park creates its own story about Campbell (Taylor Louderman), a flighty senior cheer goddess and team captain gerrymandered into an inner city school district. In predictable fashion, she rallies the hip-hop girls (including one sassy black trans, given an overdose of spunk by Gregory Haney) into turning their dance crew into a cheer squad.

Like Legally Blonde, or even Hairspray, it’s a sunny, silly story about the redemption of a teen queen through the power of (fill in the blank: Law, cheerleading, dancing). But like Wicked, it’s also underhandedly smart, with a catchy, contemporary score and clever lyrics.

The tour hasn’t made it to Broadway; it probably doesn’t need to go there. New York audiences probably imagine themselves too sophisticated to appreciate a musical about cheering; here in the hinterlands, we’re not ashamed to stand up and rah-rah at impressive displays of athleticism that come with singing as well. Go, team!
Dallas Summer Musicals. Through Feb. 26.

The Secret Life of Girls. Thank God I don’t have kids — and am not one anymore. Dallas Children’s Theater tackles teen bullying in its studio production, but not in a way you might expect. There are no hate crimes here, nor even an obvious hero or villain, just continually readjusting cliques among teen girls. It’s the darker side of Bring It On, where sniping doesn’t warrant a “snap!” but leads to cutting and bulimia. Though gay issues are not directly addressed, it’s an instructive and shockingly timely show (followed by a therapist-led talk-back) that all families can walk away from with new insights into how hard it can be to grow up.
Dallas Children’s Theater. Through Feb. 26. Suitable for teens and adults.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: “Fashioned Forward” Gaultier music exploration at the DMA fails

Last night held a whole lot of mixed feelings for me.

I finally made it to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art, thanks to a sort-of ticket-only pre-show viewing. The crowd wasn’t so thick and I could soak in all the edgy, avant garde work by the designer, as well as the innovations used in the exhibit — mannequins with animated faces, two-level displays and an automated runway showed the museum really upping their game. It made me  proud of the place. And the exhibit itself was full of energy.

But then came the reason we were there.

Fashioned Forward was billed as “a musical exploration of the creative spirit of fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier.” I was fascinated by the idea of pairing music with fashion, like wine with food. With punk rock skirts for men and ornate corsets made of straw, I could only imagine how the side-by-side would be.

I did not expect what happened.

A cast of four singers, a guitarist and a pianist made up the cast for the night, led by artistic director Ryan Taylor (not onstage). The Horchow Auditorium was packed with a diverse crowd and the show opened with Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” followed by John Duke’s “Morning in Paris.” Unfortunately, it started the show on the completely wrong stiletto. American standards aren’t what I picture as augmenting the hard edges and spiky textures of Gaultier. Not. At. All. Foreign language songs like “Chiome d’Oro” disengaged the show even more, and poems about (or merely mentioning) fashion were peppered in without much effect while slides of fashions acted as backdrops for works intended to relate to that look.

That was the first half.

—  Rich Lopez

Resounding Harmony performance benefits Make-A-Wish Foundation

Rene Syler to narrate stories of children whose wishes have been granted in ‘Wishes from the Heart’

Syler.Rene

Rene Syler

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resounding Harmony presents its first concert of the season on Nov. 22, called Wishes from the Heart, to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation works to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, and through its chapters around the country has granted some 250,000 such wishes since it was founded in Phoenix in 1980.

Resounding Harmony Artistic Director Russ Reiger said the benefit show was birthed out of the chorus’ admiration for the foundation.

“We held our retreat at the Make-A-Wish facility and it’s a magical place,” he said.

Resounding Harmony Board Chair Mark Knight said that children’s wishes are divided into categories: “I want to go…,” “I want to be…,” “I want to do…” and “I want to have… .”

So Resounding Harmony used that as a structure for the concert, basing the program on the idea of children being taken into the wishing tower.

Narrator Rene Syler will introduce some children whose wishes have been granted and tell a number of their stories. Syler is the author of the book Good Enough Mother.

Before moving to New York to host The Early Show on CBS, Syler was known to North Texas audiences as anchor of the Channel 11 news in Dallas. While in Dallas, she was active in fundraising activities for Resource Center Dallas.

Syler has worked with Resounding Harmony before. She narrated the 10th anniversary production of Sing for the Cure in Dallas and at Carnegie Hall in New York.

“I love Resounding Harmony,” Syler said. “Any time I can pair with them and a great group like Make-A-Wish, I’m glad to come to Dallas.”

She said she’d be doing some things on her website, GoodEnoughMother.com, before and after the concert to promote Make-A-Wish and hopefully raise additional funds for the organization.

“Rene is an old friend and we were thrilled she said she’d come,” Rieger said.

Rieger said that many of the songs during the concert will revolve around the wishes that have been granted.

“‘New York, New York’ is associated with one wish-kid’s story,” he said.

Resounding Harmony will also perform ‘Joyful, Joyful’ from Sister Act, ‘You’ve Got a Friend Indeed’ from Toy Story and ‘Out of My Dreams’ from Oklahoma.

“The first act will end with a gospel roof raiser,” he said.

Sheran Keyton, a popular Fort Worth singer, will be the guest soloist. Keyton appeared in Casa Manana’s production of Hairspray this summer.

Artwork from some of the Make-A-Wish kids will be for sale in the Meyerson lobby.

“One special piece created just for the concert will be auctioned during the show,” Knight said.

This is Rieger’s first full season with Resounding Harmony. He joined the chorus last year for the June concert after founding Artistic Director Tim Seelig moved to California to head the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Rieger said money raised at the concert would be distributed in December at an end-of-year celebration.

Each Resounding Harmony concert benefits a community organization. Proceeds from the spring concert Songs for the Heart will support the Dallas-based American Heart Association. Next season’s beneficiaries will be announced at the upcoming November concert.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, Resounding Harmony will also perform for the second time at Cancer Support Community, formerly known as Gilda’s Club, for its annual service of remembrance.

Resounding Harmony at Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. 8 p.m. $25–40. ResoundingHarmony.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: DTC adds summer musical to season

For the last three seasons, the Dallas Theater Center has extended its season into the summer with a family-friendly musical: Sarah Plain and Tall, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman and The Wiz. But not was on the calendar when the season was released last spring.

Well, artistic director Kevin Moriarty has fixed that. Today, he announced the addition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, directed and choreographed by Joel Ferrell, to the season. (We wrote about how valuable Ferrell is to the Dallas arts scene and DTC here; he’s done Joseph before, in Plano, to great acclaim.) Not only is it a bonus show, but it will be there for an eight week run — pretty long for regional theater.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What’s Shakin – Houston Pride Band’s Guilty Pleasures, Haute Boys of fall

Artistic Director Skip Martin

Pride Band Artistic Director Skip Martin

1. The Houston Pride Band presents “Guilty Pleasures,” a concert featuring the favorite guilty pleasures of the Pride Band members, tonight at 7:30 at the Hobby Center.  The concert marks the premier of the Pride Band’s new artistic Director, Skip Martin.  Martin chose the feature favorite’s from the bands 30-year history. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased from the Hobby Center.
2. The “Haute Boys of Fall II” gather at James Craig Furniture (4500 Washington Avenue), since their founding in 2010 the Haute Boys (which includes quite a few girls) have raised over $15,000 for area AIDS charities.  Tonight’s event features complimentary signature cocktails by Harmonie, an array of neighborhood bites, elements of design and fashion, music and more. Admission is an unwrapped toy, gift card or $20 donation for Houstonians in need.
3.  Voter turnout held steady for the ninth day of early voting in Harris County.  So far 34,329 people have voted, only 80% of the 42,968 who had voted by this point during the 2009 municipal elections.  Montrose’s own Multi Service Center on West Gray broke 400 voters for the first time since voting began on Oct 24. Early voting continues through November 4.  Election day is Nov 8. A list of all early voting locations and sample ballots  are available at harrisvotes.org.

—  admin

An awakening of their own

How Baylor classmates Josh Gonzales and Matt Tolbert teamed up onstage — and in real life — for WaterTower’s ‘Spring Awakening’

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UP AGAINST THE WALL | Gonzales and Tolbert will share their first scene — and first onstage kiss — as the gay couple in WaterTower’s sexually frank musical ‘Spring Awakening.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

Matt Tolbert may be just barely old enough to drink legally (he’ll turn 23 in October), but he’s already an experienced theater hand.

Four months ago, he was finishing up his last semester at Baylor University before a May graduation, but he’d already made his professional debut earlier this year, hanging upside down as a torture victim in WaterTower Theatre’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Soon after that, he co-established a theater company and produced a show for the Out of the

Loop Fringe Festival; as of last week, his day job is assistant to WTT’s producing artistic director, Terry Martin.

“I guess you could say I’m aggressive about my career,” Tolbert concedes, “though I say I’m just highly motivated.”

And one thing he was motivated about was getting cast in WaterTower’s upcoming production of Spring Awakening. Ever since Tolbert learned of the show, he’d wanted to be in it, so when WTT put it on their 2011-12 schedule, he knew he’d audition. But even more, he wanted to be in it with his partner Josh Gonzales.

The two met several years ago while both were studying at Baylor (Gonzales is still there, with plans to graduate next spring); for the past two years, they have been a couple. But while they have been in shows at the same time, they have never shared a scene. Spring Awakening seemed like a good chance for them to do a musical together.

“I was in love with the show and when I heard WaterTower was doing it, I jumped at the chance,” says Gonzales, 21. “[Matt and I] have been in five shows together before — this will be our sixth — but we very rarely interact onstage. This is our first time to get to act.”

The plan was for Tolbert to play Hanschen, the slightly predatory gay teen, and Gonzalez to play Ernst, the object of his lustful urges in the explicit, sexually charged musical about the yearning of 19th century youth (which oddly echoes the same feelings of youth in the 21st century). Still, getting cast was hardly a sure thing, even with Tolbert’s connections at the theater.

So this summer, Tolbert studied voice with Mark Mullino, who was about to start work as the music director on Spring Awakening. Tolbert planted seeds with Mullino that he and Gonzalez would be interested in doing the show.

Alas, it seemed destined not to happen.

“Matt went to the audition but I couldn’t go because I was in New York,” sighs Gonzales. Not only that, but once the call-back list was released, Tolbert was asked to re-audition… for the role of Ernst.

“I thought, ‘Darn! I missed my chance,’” says Gonzalez.

But, despite the downbeat message of Spring Awakening, true love was determined to find a way.

Martin, who is directing the show, decided to do a second round of call-backs. Gonzales thought maybe he could try out for Hanschen, “even though Matt would be a better Hanschen than me. Or I could just be in the ensemble — I would do anything,” he says.

Tolbert and Gonzales auditioned together; Martin asked them to sing one of the show’s signature songs, “The Bitch of Living,” with each other. They did it once. Audition over.

It wasn’t until the next day they were both cast as they’d hoped: Tolbert as Hanschen, Gonzales as Ernst. It’s a dynamic that has been fed by their own relationship.

“It was a lot easier to do once we started rehearsals,” Tolbert says. “We didn’t need to choreograph the kiss. But we like [recreating] the awkwardness of the seduction — even though Hanschen is the seducer, it’s his first time, too.”

Still, art does not imitate life — at least not in this instance.

“Ernst is a little confused throughout most of the show, because he’s not exactly sure what he wants, but ultimately he just wants someone to be intimate with,” Gonzales says. “The tragedy is that Hanschen just wants someone to have fun with.”

In real life, the couple is truly committed. Gonzales is still in school in Waco, meaning he has to commute several times a week to attend rehearsals. When he’s able, he stays in town with Tolbert. Well, sort of — they both stay at Tolbert’s parents’ house, though in separate rooms.

“It’s interesting because our families don’t know we’re gay — we just came out to our close friends this summer,” Tolbert explains.

That’s likely to change soon. Especially after opening night.

“Obviously there’s a little chemistry — how could there not be?” Gonzales admits. Tolbert agrees the friends and family they are not out to yet will probably figure it out. But until they do, it’s enough to combine work and romance.

“It’s great we can share [the kiss]. I trust him completely… and I don’t want him to kiss another guy. Our goal is never to have our understudies go on,” Gonzales says.
Ah, young love… .

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Fahari’s Harold Steward on KERA’s Art&Seek

Harold Steward

In this piece from Thursday, KERA’s Jerome Weeks talked to Harold Steward, artistic director of Fahari Arts Institute, as the organization begins its third season. Opening with two art shows (and a special edition of Queerly Speaking for Dallas Black Pride), Steward discusses Fahari’s confidence going into a new season, and some of that is due to the piece’s mention of the three Dallas Voice Reader’s Choice Awards the organization won. Collectively, the group won for Best Local Arts Organization, Best Theater Director for Steward for Fahari-produced The Bull-Jean Stories, and Q-Roc Ragsdale as Best Actress for the same show.

Steward: “Of course, it’s all based off of popular vote. But you know, we looked at it, and said, ‘Here we are, a volunteer staff, an even more volunteer budget because we don’t know what it is, and how do we come away with three awards when no other organization does?’ Well, that speaks to the people and their beliefs in this . . . What we’re doing is building community.”

We highlighted Steward and Fahari back in January.

—  Rich Lopez

Applause: Don’t Ohlook away

Keep an eye out for Ohlook Performing Arts, a suburban theater company with an edge

RockyHor
Ohlook doesn’t offer your mother’s idea of community theater. Shows like ‘Debbie Does Dallas,’ ‘Vampire Lesbians of Sodom’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ (pictured) definitely give edge to the ‘burbs.

A conservative bedroom community like Grapevine, Texas,  isn’t the first burg you think of when you consider a hotbed of nightlife. Maybe you can get a nice dinner, do some shopping, even drinks. But late-night theater with vampire lesbians?  That doesn’t seem much like a suburban offering.

But almost defiantly, and with fascinatingly good reason, the folks behind Ohlook Performing Arts Center embrace the idea of edgy shows in the ‘burbs. And, as it turns out, the community seems to be following suit.

“I’m surprised that we haven’t had more of a backlash,” says producing artistic director Jill Blalock-Lord. “But we have a board that supports what we’re doing and hey, there are gay people in the ‘burbs, too!”

In recent months, Ohlook has produced some very queer shows that even urbanites in Dallas proper might drop their jaws at. They just came off a double-feature of Charles Busch plays — Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party — that ran back-to-back as part of Ohlook’s late-show adult series, as well as productions of Debbie Does Dallas and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.

All that begs the question: How are their neighbors in the GOP-friendly ‘hoods of Grapevine, Southlake and Colleyville adjusting?

“Well, the city hasn’t given us a lot of support, but they leave us alone,” Lord says. “We were worried with Trannie, but even in this community, we haven’t had any problems.”

Yes, Trannie.

In February, Ohlook debuted Trannie: A Musical written by Lord’s husband and Redneck Tenor founder Matthew Lord, about a cross-dressing prostitute who searches for the men who gave her up when gay couples were denied adoption rights. But the surprise was on Ohlook: People came out for the show.

Still, the company isn’t specifically gay-centric. In fact, Blalock-Lord says it’s really just been a coincidence — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“I don’t think gay content is the quantifying factor, but I tend to like the message [it] bears,” Blalock-Lord says. “Honestly, we’ll do anything out there because we will do any kind of edgy show.”

They took the gay-themed play Dog Sees God to the American Association of Community Theatre play festival in Rochester, N.Y., and won six awards for it, including best overall production.

Blalock-Lord clearly gets the unbelievable wackiness that her theater company has undertaken. But she wasn’t trying to necessarily step out of the box and be something other community theaters were not.

“Ohlook started as an educational program with student shows,” she explains. “As my kids were growing up, they wanted to be in more adult shows. And so actors that started with us as children are growing into adults in our shows.”

“That’s part of the reason we do those shows,” board member Julie Hahn adds. “We have some talented and serious young people and we offer quality training. These are the shows they wanna do.”

This next season, Ohlook plans to present three shows: The Who’s Tommy, Evil Dead and they’re deciding between Christmas Rocky Horror or Scrooge’s Groovy Christmas. There has been some difficulty in planning because Ohlook is looking for a new home.

“Yeah, we’ve been given our notice so we’re on the lookout,” Blalock-Lord says. “We’re hoping to stay in same area, but we have friends who say come to Dallas. Well, they got theaters in Dallas!”

With a fan base already set, they have every intention of staying close by and they will be in their original space for Tommy, even though it starts later than planned. (“We didn’t want it to open here and then close there,” she laughs.)

Regardless of their struggles, Blalock-Lord feels like Ohlook will always have its peculiar take on theater. And for gay audiences, including some of Ohlook’s students who have made their own self-discoveries, there’s always going to be a place for campy theater — even if it’s way up north.

“I noticed people came from all over to our shows,” she says. “We wanna do shows that bring in an audience and we have revenue from our classes that allows us to be more adventurous. It’s ideal. Part of theater is to educate, but you gotta have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

For more information about Ohlook, visit OhlookPerform.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Turtle Creek Chorale seeks new members with open rehearsal, auditions coming in August

On the heels of the news last month that Jonathan Palant was stepping down as artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, the organization wants to make sure everyone knows there’s still a full season of music ahead — and a need for more singing members.

On Aug. 23 at their home at the Sammons Center, the chorale will host a new member reception at 6 p.m., where new faces can mingle with old ones, including staff and board members, followed by an open rehearsal anyone can attend. Then on Aug. 28, the TCC will hold open auditions for new members from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Grace United Methodist Church.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The constancy of change

Everything changes but the dedication of the Turtle Creek Chorale members, TCC president says

SEAN BAUGH  |  Special Contributor

In the song “Change,” Melissa Etheridge sings, “The only thing that stays the same is change.” As president of the Turtle Creek Chorale, I am here to tell you, that quote applies to all of us.

The Turtle Creek Chorale is not immune to change, and we have certainly experienced our share over the past 31 years.

Honestly, though, five artistic directors in 31 years? That’s a pretty good track record for leadership when compared with senior management trends in the non-profit and artistic communities.

Change came to us last week in the form of news that Dr. Jonathan Palant was leaving the chorale. Jonathan has been my friend as well as the chorus’ artistic director.

His departure is a tremendous loss for so many of us.

I know my fellow chorale members well enough to say that we’ll weather this change, just as we have weathered many a difficult time. We have survived the AIDS crisis; we can survive anything.

It is our daily challenges that make the Turtle Creek Chorale what we are today: a strong, resilient and dedicated community of singers, friends and brothers.

With comings and goings also come growth and an incredible journey. The chorale will continue to sing with an even stronger voice as we rally to support our new artistic leadership.

In the coming weeks we will begin a nationwide search for the next artistic director, and you can rest assured that he (or she!) will meet a vibrant and dedicated group of men that recognizes its history and lives up to its reputation as one of the finest choirs in the world.

As Melissa’s lyrics coax us:

“And so it goes
This too shall pass away
It cuts so strange
The only thing that stays the same
Is change.”

In the coming weeks, the Turtle Creek Chorale kicks off its 32nd season with auditions for new members and rehearsals starting Aug. 23. I invite you to join us either by purchasing season subscriptions, giving to the chorale or singing with the TCC.

We, the Turtle Creek Chorale — the decorated Dallas, Texas men’s chorus — will continue on our mission to entertain, educate, unite and uplift our community. We are, and will be, an organization that you can be proud of.

This — I can assure you Miss Etheridge — will never change.

Sean Baugh is president of Turtle Creek Chorale. For more information on the chorale, go online to TurtleCreekChorale.org

—  John Wright