Stage review: ‘An American in Paris’

Garen Scribner and Sara Etsy in ‘An American in Paris.’ (Photos by Matthew Murphy)

The film version of An American in Paris is one of the signature musicals of MGM’s golden age (it won the Oscar for best picture in 1951), but by modern standards, it’s not great. Sure, there’s the music by George Gershwin and the dancing of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (especially the centerpiece closing dream ballet), but the elements don’t always fit together well. And Kelly’s character — former G.I.-cum-starving-artist Jerry Mulligan — is pretty much a selfish prick. He allows himself to be a kept man by art patroness Milo Davenport while openly chasing gamine Lise, who is the fiancee of one of his friends. There’s not a lot of subtext there, no commentary about shell-shocked soldiers grappling with mortality or even the “lovable heel” angle of film noir. Nope, he’s just an asshole. When he gets with Lise at the end, you’re kinda mad.

These flaws are largely dispelled in Craig Lucas’ book for the original 2015 stage version of An American in Paris (now onstage at Fair Park Music Hall through Feb. 12, and moving to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on Feb. 14). There’s grit and personality and explanations that flesh out Jerry and several other characters … and Gershwin’s music and amazing dancing. It’s truly the best of all possible worlds: A delightful, old-fashionedly show-stopping musical with a lot of smarts.

The plot is less about a love triangle than a love rhombus: French ballerina Lise (Sara Esty) is engaged Frenchman Henri (Nick Spangler), whose family may have been collaborators with the Nazis (or maybe something else). Lise doesn’t love Henri (who may even be gay), but she’s devoted to him. Jerry (Garen Scribner) is smitten with Lise, and while she feels an attraction back, she is put off that he seems to be coupled with Milo (Emily Ferranti). Meanwhile, Jerry’s fellow-American-G.I.-in-Paris Adam (Etai Benson), a composer with a gloomy outlook, pines in silence for Lise.

Lise meets with Jerry. Jerry pursues Lise. Henri can’t work up the courage to propose. Adam struggles to find a voice. Heck, it’s almost like La La Land … maybe Le Le Land.

An American in Paris is simply gorgeous in every particular, from the nimble sets (including inventive projections), evocative costumes, sparkling lighting and stunning choreography. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has turned a big, vivid movie into something nearly as big but specific to the stage. One of the set-pieces from the film, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” famously includes a huge lighted staircase; the adaptation here does away with the stairs, but comes up with such a dazzling substitute you never miss it. And the closing ballet makes much more sense (a combination of dream and concert) that lasts 14 glorious minutes.

The principal actors are all deliciously ebullient and likable … even Jerry, whose treatment of Milo seems less awful (it helps that Milo is given to modern self-reflection). There aren’t enough musicals anymore that are just about being delightful. This is welcome to set the standard.

Visit here for Dallas or Fort Worth tickets.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Opera, DSM and PAFW reveal upcoming seasons

‘The Lion King’ returns as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals’ 2018 season.

Several companies have announced their upcoming seasons this week, in whole or part.

The Dallas Opera’s 61st season will feature five productions, including a U.S. premiere and three popular operas in the mainstream canon.

It starts with Samson and Dalila by Camille Saint-Saens (Oct. 20, 22, 25, 28 and Nov. 5). That’s performed in repertory with Verdi’s enduring tragedy La Traviata (Oct. 27, 29, Nov. 1, 4 and 10). 2018 kicks off with a rarely-seen one-act opera composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold when he was just 16: The Ring of Polykrates (Feb. 9, 11, 14 and 17, 2018). That will be accompanied by a recital of his acclaimed Violin Concerto in D Major (op. 35), written to commemorate the fall of Nazism.

That’s followed by the U.S. premiere of modern composer Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden (March. 9, 11, 14 and 17), a technological wonder that employs 3D projections (yes, opera audiences will wear 3D glasses). The season concludes with Mozart’s Don Giovanni (April 13, 15, 18, 21, 27 and 29), one of the darkest and most musically complex operas every created.

In addition, the season will feature the opening gala, a fashion show, simulcasts, family performances and other community outreach. Performances will be at the Winspear Opera House. Tickets are available at DallasOpera.org.

You may have heard already that Hamilton will be part of the Dallas Summer Musicals’ 2018-19 season, but before we get there, the 2017-18 season stands in the way… or facilitates it. If you subscribe to the upcoming season, you get first crack at Hamilton the following year (as well as Disney’s Aladdin, which has also been announced).

Dec. 5–10: White Christmas. This add-on show returns.

Jan. 23–Feb. 4, 2018: The Color Purple. The recent Broadway revival took best actress in a musical away from Hamilton. The original production also won for best actress. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, it features a lesbian relationship in the early 20th century South.

Feb. 27–March 11: On Your Feet. The popular jukebox musical featuring the songs of Gloria Estefan.

March 28–April 8: Waitress. Sara Bareilles’ acclaimed Broadway debut as a composer, based upon the charming indie film.

April 24–May 6: Les Miserables. The sensation is back again.

June 13–July 8: The Lion King. Disney’s long-running hit, featuring the puppetry and brilliant staging of Julie Taymor.

July 24–Aug. 5: Love Never Dies. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, set in Coney Island.

Aug. 15–26: School of Rock. Webber’s latest musical, about a teacher who instructs kids on how to be headbangers.

All shows at Fair Park Music Hall; tickets available at DallasSummerMusicals.org.

As has been the case in recent years, many of the DSM shows are part of Performing Arts Fort Worth’s season at Bass Hall as well:

Jan. 17-21, 2018: Something Rotten. The comic telling of merriment in Olde Europe.

Feb. 16–18: Chicago. A season add-on of the long-running smash.

March 20–25: Finding Neverland. The behind-the-scenes telling of the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

June 19–24: Waitress (see above).

Aug. 7–12: Love Never Dies (see above).

Aug. 28–Sept. 2: School of Rock (see above).

All performances at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Tickets available at BassHall.com.

In addition, the Dallas Theater Center will not release its full 2017-18 season until next month, but it has revealed the titled of four shows that will be included in it, among them The Trials of Sam Houston, Nick Dear’s Frankenstein, The Great Society — Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to his award-winning LBJ drama All the Way, which DTC staged last year — and the counter-culture musical Hair. We’ll have the scoop on the full season later this month. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What a weekend! Your guide to what’s going on in North Texas

Rawlins Gilliland

So, there was simply no room this week to write about all the incredible things going on in North Texas this weekend. Tomorrow’s print edition will have stories on the Texas Veggie Fair (Sunday), Dallas Comic Con (Friday–Sunday) and of course the IGRA Finals Rodeo (which will be our cover story), but there’s much more. So, to make it easy on you, here’s a breakdown:

Friday. The Turtle Creek Chorale is back for its 35th season opener, this time premiering at the Latino Cultural Center, in a concert called Brave. It also marks new interim music director Sean Baugh’s debut behind the baton. (The concert is also on Saturday.)

Also on Friday and Saturday, and even on Sunday, is the Texas Ballet Theater‘s season opener, The Sleeping Beauty, which will be a Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

Saturday. Rawlins Gilliland, pictured, returns with a new live show of spoken words, this time with a seasonal theme. Happy Murder Stories are expected to be dark (yet always with a humorous chunk of humanity) recollections from his amazing adventures. It’s at the Kessler at 8 p.m.

Also on Saturday, the Dallas Video Festival continues, and among the films screening will be Fallen Angel II — The Legacy Lives On. A sequel (though more of a re-edit I hear) of a 2008 documentary about the choreography of Bruce Wood, who passed away suddenly earlier this year. This version contains new footage and discussed Wood’s lasting impact on dance. At the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station at 8:15 p.m.

Also on Saturday is Drag Racer Willam Belli appearing at Gaybingo in the Rose Room!

Sunday. Another busy day. In addition to the Texas Veggie Fair at Reverchon Park (11 a.m.–6 p.m.), the Honey Pot Bear Fest returns to the Dallas Eagle (2–5 p.m.) and the annual Great Gatsby 1920s-themed fundraiser for AIN is back in Preston Hollow (3–6 p.m.). All of these kinda require costumes, whether it’s flapper garb, leather, or definitely not leather.

Have fun sorting it all out!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Overtures: Notes on the classical scene

NOTE: With this, we begin a new regular column, Overtures by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs — an overview of the month ahead in the classical music scene in North Texas of interest to the gay community. It will run occasional Fridays in place of The Week’s Takeaways.

January starts with an overloaded Saturday (Jan 5). First, the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts presents Berlioz’s six hour long opera Les Troyens starring Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham and Marcello Giordani starting at 11 a.m.; check out the Met website  for a list of local theaters that will screen it. This opera is almost never produced because it is such a monster and so long, so this is a rare chance to see it.

That same afternoon, the Fort Worth’s chamber music society will present Gregory Raden, principal clarinetist with the Dallas Symphony, in a recital at the Modern Art Museum with Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Silver Medalist in the 2001 Cliburn competition. Both are superb artists and Raden gets my vote for the best clarinetist of his generation. That evening, the Fort Worth Symphony presents none other than gay icon and super diva Bernadette Peters at Bass Hall. A planning suggestion: Hit the recital early, have dinner in Fort Worth and then cross to Bass to listen to La Peters, and catch the encore screening of the opera on Jan. 23 (6:30 p.m.).

The Dallas Symphony continues it conservative offerings Jan. 10–13, but gussies it up with the glamorous violinist Nicola Benedetti playing the Tchaikovsky concerto, paired with Brahms’ first symphony. Pablo González is the guest conductor. Yawn. The rest of the month, the DSO presents a two concert Mozart miniseries. Wow — there’s an original idea.

Things are somewhat better at the Fort Worth Symphony. Jan. 11–13 is the most interesting concert musically, with a performance of Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote with Brinton Averil Smith, their handsome former principal cellist, doing the honors. Cliburn also brings in gay composer John Bucchino for a performance at the Modern Art Museum on Jan. 19. Then get out your ruby slippers Jan. 25–27 as the FWSO screens The Wizard of Oz with the orchestra playing the Oscar-winning score live.

Voices of Change always presents is a fascinating journey into the music of our time, and their concert on Jan. 20 at 2:30 p.m. at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium is no exception. Show up at 1:30 to hear the always-intriguing Laurie Shulman give a preview.

Lastly, on Jan. 28, the Cliburn at the Bass Series will present a recital by pianist Radu Lupu, who won the second Cliburn competition and went on to achieve legendary status.

— Gregory Sullivan Isaacs 

—  admin

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

With the Labor Day holiday upon us, there’s lots of stuff you can do (especially if you’re skipping Southern Decadence this weekend — lots of flooded streets, curfews and canceled flights). If you stick around Dallas, you can check out a pool party during the day … and maybe  and get a new swimsuit beforehand.

Wanna stay inside? See The Producers at Uptown Players, which we (and most other critics) loved. One set of “critics” who apparently didn’t like it: Some students from Kentucky. According to reports from audience members, chaperones for the minors stormed out of the theater during intermission, apparently not happy with the gay themes and Jewish humor. (Ummm… the musical’s been around a decade and the theater is run by gay guys — how did you not know what it was about and come in the first place?!?!?) Still, leading actor B.J. Cleveland apparently had fun with it. During his Act 2 number “Betrayed,” where he pauses to summarize the show until then, Cleveland ad-libbed “Last bus leaving for Kentucky!’ and “They’ll marry their cousins, but they find this offensive.” Ouch.

A lot more fun is taking place this week, too … though much of it seems to be at the end of the week. Even at Uptown Players — again. On Thursday, it launches is second annual Pride Performing Arts Festival with a one-night-only staged reading of Dustin Lance Black’s play 8, and continuing until Dallas Pride Weekend. Also on Thursday: The first concert of the Van Cliburn Concerts series at Bass Hall kicks off with four former Gold Medalists performing for the ailing gay maestro; plus, it’s Fashion Night Out (and our friends at DFW Style Daily have complete coverage here).

On Tuesday, gay music legend Bob Mould drops his latest CD, Silver Age, in which he embraces his daddy status — and rocks out doing so. Before that, the new film For a Good Time, Call from gay director Jamie Travis opens today, and it might be worth a look-see — especially if you’re a fan of huge dildos (other than the ones you saw at the GOP National Convention this week).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dixie’s Tupperware Party at McDavid Studio

Plastic all the way

Tupperware parties may evoke images of shag carpets, Ambrosia salad and avocado decor of the 1970s, but it’s just as popular as it ever was. Some of that is likely owed to Dixie Longate, the drag queen who took her party on the road and turned it into a show. That doesn’t mean she’s not selling it, but at least you can have a good time while pondering your selection(s). It’s not one of those awkward situations where you’re just kind of there to help a friend out but you really don’t want to spend the money.

DEETS: Bass Hall’s McDavid Studio, 301 E. Fifth St., Fort Worth. 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 26. $22–$38.50. BassHall.com.

—  Rich Lopez

GIVEAWAY: Tickets to Dixie Longate’s Tupperware Party at Bass’ McDavid Studio

Tupperware parties may evoke images of shag carpets, Ambrosia salad and avocado decor of the 1970s, but it’s just as popular as it ever was. Some of that is likely owed to Dixie Longate, the drag queen who took her party on the road and turned it into a show. That doesn’t mean she’s not selling it, but at least you can have a good time while pondering your selection(s). It’s not one of those awkward situations where you’re just kind of there to help a friend out but you really don’t want to spend the money.

Longate will turn up the fabulosity on Tupperware when she comes to Fort Worth Feb. 14–26 at Bass Hall’s McDavid Studio. And you could win a pair of tickets to the show. Here’s what you gotta do. We wanna know what’s been your most inventive use of T-ware. Do you use it as a cake mold? Maybe a planter? As part of your Halloween costume? We need to know. Email us your unique Tupp-ish innovations here with your name and contact info and “Gimme some Dixie” in the subject line. Two winners will be selected and notified prior to the show.

Good luck!

—  Rich Lopez

Jim Brickman tonight at Bass Hall

He’s a brick…man

BrickmanThe elegance of popular pianist Brickman is never lost during the holiday season. He brings back his “Christmas Celebration” concert to North Texas, and while he enchanted us at the Meyerson this past January, he’ll be tickling our ivories in Cowtown at Bass Hall this time. Either way, he makes it look a lot more like Christmas when he’s around.

DEETS: Bass Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth. 7:30 p.m. $33–$82. BassHall.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Joan Rivers tonight at Bass Hall

Can she talk?

While she’s never fully on the road anymore like she was in her heyday, the comedy icon (and celeb-basher) can’t help but return to her standup roots — even if her shows are in glamorous venues (like Fort Worth’s Bass Hall) instead of dank comedy clubs of one-liners past .

“I love to get out there and do it,” she says. “And those gays better show up.”

Rivers knows she can count on her gays. And with her foray into fashion and celebrity dish, well, what self-respecting gay man could resist? Her show on E!, The Fashion Police, has become a huge hit since she and her daughter Melissa (who produces the show) took over, with Rivers’ fashion shtick both hilarious and spot-on. But with such gay appeal, many of her fans are surprised to learn that Rivers is (cue the collective gasp) a Republican. (It’s no secret — she’s mentioned it in previous interviews.)

Read the rest of the article here.

—  Rich Lopez

Joan of Snark

Comic icon (and queer fave) Joan Rivers is (gasp!) a Republican … but only when it comes to her money

Joan-Rivers

RIVERS RUNS THROUGH IT | The comedienne has long been a ‘friend of the gays.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

There is something fascinating about Joan Rivers eating a sandwich on the phone during an interview. She’s demure about it and never talks with her mouth full, but she acknowledges its existence. Is it a ham sandwich? With pickle? Celebrities eat sandwiches?

“They just brought me my lunch,” she says,” Hope you don’t mind.”

Of course not — it’s fucking Joan Rivers!!!

While she’s never fully on the road anymore like she was in her heyday, the comedy icon (and celeb-basher) can’t help but return to her standup roots — even if her shows are in glamorous venues (like Fort Worth’s Bass Hall, where she’ll be Wednesday) instead of dank comedy clubs of one-liners past .

“I love to get out there and do it,” she says. “And those gays better show up.”

Rivers knows she can count on her gays. And with her foray into fashion and celebrity dish, well, what self-respecting gay man could resist? Her show on E!, The Fashion Police, has become a huge hit since she and her daughter Melissa (who produces the show) took over, with Rivers’ fashion shtick both hilarious and spot-on. But with such gay appeal, many of her fans are surprised to learn that Rivers is (cue the collective gasp) a Republican. (It’s no secret — she’s mentioned it in previous interviews.)

“Yes, I am,” she says. “I am a Republican who believes in gay marriage, is pro-choice … all that stuff. My assistant once said that I’m only a Republican when it comes to my money. I’ve already paid my taxes so shut up, people. Don’t touch my money!”

As Rivers comes to Texas, she isn’t all that impressed with Gov. Rick Perry who has been sliding in recent polls for the Republican nomination to vie for the presidency. But really, she’s not impressed with anyone on either side.

“Ugh, that Rick Perry is hideous,” she says. “Everyone [on the GOP front] is a moron in this race, but so is Obama. Plus, I wish I could fix his teeth. I can’t stand that whistle.”

Rivers isn’t optimistic about the direction the next election will take. For her, it’s not about which party comes out ahead, but if there will ever be the right person (or people) in charge. But she keeps trying when it comes to heading to the ballot box.

“This country is in such trouble, there’s nobody out there you want,” she bemoans. “They are all liars and cheats and stupid and they only vote on the party lines.  I feel sorry for the person behind me at the booth because I vote all over the place. My ballot looks like a drunk driver going, from person by person.”

But fans tune in and turn out, not for her punditry, but for her outlook on celebrities. Lately, she’s been hammering at Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s marriage and Christina Aguilera’s … um, curvier lines. Rivers takes to Twitter to unleash her comic bullets that are both scathing and hysterical, which sometimes come back to bite her in the ass. She tweeted recently after running into Demi Moore on a flight: “Now for the awkward moment! After joking about Demi on last week’s Fashion Police I hid under a blanket for the entire flight.” Awkward moment indeed, but Rivers doesn’t shy away from them.

“Those come with the job,” she says. “What I really am is a critic and I think that’s what makes the show so good. We tell the truth, but it’s fun for people who like fashion.

We have a good time, we gossip. It’s not for the uptight.”

What people might forget is the number of hats Rivers wears. Besides hosting Fashion Police, she designs jewelry and fashions for QVC, she’s a radio host, she has the Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best show on WE, in addition to her occasional live performances. At 78, not much is stopping her.

“Well, at this age, it does take careful planning,” she laughs. “But you know, I love what’s happening around me. I do it with fun and it’s not always easy but I love my work.”

Rivers is almost as famous for her plastic surgery as she is for her comedy. She knows the gay boys have their narcissism and offered these tips for those considering going under the knife or sticking a needle in their forehead.

“Oh, do it while you’re young,” she insists. “That’s the trick. And just do it a little bit at a time. The thing is, you don’t want anybody to think that you’ve done anything.”

Rivers doesn’t mind so much what people know about her. She’s willing to head into TMI territory and proudly proclaims she’s been sexually active recently, even if it’s been a few years.

“It was about three years ago the last time I got laid,” she admits. “That’s why I’ve gained a little weight. Anyway, this hotel is now closed.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas