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

Going bi (coastal)

2 weeks, 2 cities, 2 coasts! Part 1 of our U.S. winter east-to-west tour: NYC

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BERN THE FLOOR | Bernadette Peters returns to B’way for more Sondheim in the smash revival of ‘Follies.’ (Photo courtesy Joan Marcus)

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

What’s it like to, in one week, clock time on both major coasts in America’s two largest cities? For New York in winter, it’s all about theater; in Hollywood, it’s about the movies (and the weather, a welcome break from the cold). And both have great places to eat.
First up: NYC. This time of year, the wind bites through you there, so a trip has to be based on the theater season, which is at its midpoint. Some of the hits have become apparent and new ones promise something great in the spring.

Follies isn’t the not-to-miss Sondheim experience that A Little Night Music was last year — at least after Bernadette Peters took over for Catherine Zeta-Jones — but it is all Bernadette, without replacement — though she shares the limelight with Jan Maxwell, who almost steals the show. Seldom staged because of its huge cast, elaborate costumes and sets, Follies is a nostalgic take on the fate of musical theater as viewed from 40 years ago; little has changed.

But it also crystallized Sondheim’s peculiar thematic preoccupation with nostalgia. See it, and you instantly realize how many of his shows are about the wistful, bittersweet resignation from looking back on one’s youth: In Follies, the younger selves of the ageing chorus girls; in Sweeney Todd, a life lost to a corrupt judge; the rekindling of a long-dead romance in Night Music; the simplicity (or not?) of the fairy tale world of Into the Woods. This production is a wonderful reminder of that and much more, beautifully performed by an exceptional cast.

Follies closes this weekend; not so Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which officially opened last week. The quintessential American opera, set along Charleston’s Catfish Row, it evokes rural life through the sound of the spiritual mixed with honkytonk abandon. This new production, with the incomparable Audra McDonald in the lead and Dallas’ own Cedric Neal among the company, was the only show every employee at the TKTS booth unconditionally recommended … and for good reason. Get up and see it.

Both of those shows are revivals; original musicals are in short supply this season — at least those with any staying power. Bonnie & Clyde and the Dallas-bred Lysistrata Jones died quickly (the latter despite a rave in the New York Times; still, look for Liz Mikel a possible Tony nominee in May). Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark continues to draw crowds in amounts equal to the contempt held by the theater community, but it has been around since 2010 thanks to a record-setting six months of previews.

The big new musicals of the season have yet to open: Rebecca, Once, Newsies, Ghost and the pastiche Nice Work if You Can Get It (more Gershwin). So go up now for some plays, which are significantly less expensive to see and good seats are more readily available.

Another revival, Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca, isn’t totally successful, although its tight second act — featuring a tremendously devilish performance by Jim Dale as a sleazy preacher in South Africa trying to trick an old lady into giving up her house — nearly vindicates the logy first act, which prattled on endlessly and without seeming point. By the end, though, you realize the message of faith versus religion versus spirituality, plus you get to see a classic theater actor, Rosemary Harris, onstage right next door to Spider-Man (she played Aunt Mae in the film versions — how’s that for coincidence?).

The best new plays now running should be on any theatergoer’s list. Seminar is Theresa Rebeck’s smart, fast-paced comedy about a pompous but oh-so-perceptive writing teacher instructing four aspiring novelists about how bad they really are … and how they could be great. As the sardonic anti-hero, the magnificent Alan Rickman commands the stage. At a climactic point, he delivers a monologue that could have seemed trite and mawkish, except that Rebeck’s writing is so strong and he’s such an accomplished actor it works wonderfully. Hamish Linklater provides a terrific foil, and Lily Rabe, as a tart upper-class dilettante, handles Sam Gold’s bullet direction masterfully. No one even pauses for the laughs. That’s a good way to get audiences back  — so they can hear the jokes they missed this first time.

David Henry Hwang returns to Broadway with his best play since the gender-bending M. Butterfly. Chinglish(which closes Jan. 29) pits a plainspoken Midwesterner against the opaque business customs and complex social rules of China, but the point is broader. The problem of communication is not just between two cultures, but between men and women, and business-folk trying to gain an edge. Intelligently plotted and sharply directed by Leigh Silverman (the use of supertitles projected on the dazzlingly versatile set is inspired), it benefits from a memorable performance by Jennifer Lim as a canny Chinese functionary.

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GRADE A | Public, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Nolita, offers great food in a high school themed setting. (Photo courtesy Public)

Of course, a theater trip to New York necessarily includes more than theater: You have to eat while you’re there, and the tradition of the pre- and post-theater meal is as honored as the show itself. It’s easy to get stuck along the stand-bys around Times Square (I always stop by John’s Pizzeria), but two newish restaurants — one far uptown, one far down — make for inventive off-the-beaten-path dining experiences.

Public, a Michelin-starred resto in Nolita, boasts something few Midtown restaurants can: space. Inspired by a public high school: Its dining rooms are lined with card catalogues, its security-glass doored bathrooms so authentic you expect to get a swirly, its menus presented on clipboards in a style that calls an exam paper (for a minute, I worried the waiter would grade me on how well I ordered). If it were all gimmick and no follow-through, these conceits would probably seem annoyingly twee, but they take a backseat to the food.

Its fusion dining from chef Brad Farmerie, with diverse dishes like roasted foie gras on a buttered brioche that’s richly flavorful, both fruity and salty; the scallops, while not fully caramelized, were so well-dressed with a miso salsa as to make you forgive that. For entrees, the Chatham cod’s fleshy, moist but well-charred preparation is not to miss, nor are the medallions of rare venison on a chewy blue cheese mash evocative of gnocchi. Add a great wine list, and Public is the perfect out-of-the-way find that makes a New York trip fun.

Red Rooster from celebrichef Marcus Samuelsson is out of the way in a different direction. Born in Africa but adopted by Swedes, Samuelsson gained fame at Aquavit, which made Scandinavian food hip. Now, he’s embraced the food of the African-American community.

He dropped Red Rooster, which opened about a year ago, in the middle of Harlem at the famed intersection of Lenox Avenue and 125th Street (the Apollo Theater is around the corner), giving neighbors, savvy downtowners and adventurous out-of-towners a polished (if slightly pricey) take on down-home cooking.

Samuelsson offers up droll reinventions of soul food classic like must-have “yard bird” (that’s just chicken — $24) fried in a crisp batter that has hints of cinnamon, perched on a bed of cheesy mashed potatoes and with a spicy-spicy house sauce that could bring out the secret flavors in a rice cake.

His Helga’s meatballs ($24) are equally delish, a kind of strange take on Thanksgiving with a lingonberry relish and paper-thin but crunchy housemade pickles, served alongside dill potatoes. It’s remarkable, how this comfort food warms you even though you’d never had it before. Hint: Start your meal with a side of mini tacos and tostadas ($9), four bite-sized bits of ceviche that are the perfect way to whet your appetite.

The bar is exceptional both in appearance (a bulbous horseshoe, topped in shiny copper) and substance — a drink menu worth repeated visits. Try the flight of craft beers ($9), or the Brownstoner ($12), a dazzling modification of the Manhattan. There’s even live music some evenings, giving you the true Harlem experience without having to brave a pub-and-club crawl in the frigid cold.

You don’t have to worry about the cold in Los Angeles … which will be the upcoming part 2.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Gay cantor finds welcoming home in straight synagogue

Don Croll left Broadway to find more consistent work as a Jewish cantor, coming out as gay along the way

Croll.Cantor-Don
Don Croll

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Don Croll has learned that his path to becoming a cantor — with an Actor’s Equity card and a Broadway run — was not that unusual. Today Croll is the cantor at Temple Shalom in North Dallas.

After graduating from Ithaca College with a major in theater, Croll was hired as a dancer for the Summer Music Theater in Charlotte, N.C. There, he earned his Equity card and next was hired by Fran and Barry Weissler for their National Theater Company.

At the time, it was one of the best children’s theater companies in the country, Croll said, adding that the Weisslers have since become what Croll calls “the revival king and queen.” Their production of Chicago has been running on Broadway since 1996.

“They liked me very much and would have used me one day,” Croll said. He said he ran into the couple at Fair Park Music Hall, at the opening of one of their shows, and Barry Weissler told him, “You could have understudied Joel Grey in our revival of Cabaret.”

Croll did make it to Broadway in a 1971 revival of On The Town with Bernadette Peters, Phyllis Newman and a pre-Chorus Line Donna McKechnie. He played the bill poster and the Congacabana master of ceremonies and was part of the singing ensemble.

“The New York Times hated us,” Croll said. Although the show got otherwise decent reviews, it closed after just 71 performances.

Croll also toured with Howard Keel and John Raitt in Man of LaMancha and danced in a production of Fiddler on the Roof. He had begun to establish a solid career — solid but not consistent.

“Then I didn’t work for eight months,” Croll said. “At the time I didn’t realize that wasn’t so terrible.”

But Croll said he hated working temp jobs. He was married at the time and contemplating a family, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be running around the country in national tours. That’s when he decided to become a cantor, the clergy member who sings or chants the service in a synagogue.

In cantorial school Croll met others who had begun their careers on stage, and while he was studying for his career in sacred music, he came out.

“Once I came out, I never looked back,” he said.

After 10 years in New York, Croll accepted a part-time position at Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, the first LGBT synagogue.

“When I told the head of the American Conference of Cantors, he looked at me and said, ‘Why are you ruining your career? You’ll never work in a mainstream synagogue again.’”

But a mainstream synagogue in Santa Monica hired him after members attended a service at BCC to hear him sing.

While in L.A., Croll resumed his acting career. Ironically, he was cast as a cantor in Reasonable Doubts, an early 1990s TV series that starred Mark Harmon and this year’s Black Tie Dinner speaker Marlee Matlin.

Then in Melissa Gilbert’s thriller Donor, he played a rabbi.

Croll’s partner, Jan Gartenberg, whom he met in Los Angeles, encouraged him to take a full-time job and Croll was hired by a synagogue in Albuquerque. And in 1996, Temple Shalom brought him to Dallas.

After he was hired, Rabbi Kenneth Roseman asked Croll if he’d be moving to Dallas alone. Croll said his partner would be coming and is attending nursing school. Roseman said, “Then we’ll find her an appropriate nursing school.”

Croll said, “she is a he.” Without missing a beat, Roseman replied, “Then we’ll find him an appropriate nursing school.”

Croll said the big question he was asked by Temple Shalom members about Gartenberg was, “Is he Jewish?”

He is — and his brother is the rabbi of a synagogue in Juneau, Alaska.

“I told them, ‘Jan’s more Jewish than I am,’” he said.

At Temple Shalom, Croll said he and Gartenberg are always invited to events as a couple, although, “In the beginning, some people were uncomfortable.”

In fact, a few families left the synagogue, which now has about 800 member households.

But Roseman stood behind Croll and said, “These are the values by which we stand and they shouldn’t be here if those are not their values.”

Early in his Dallas career, Croll was invited to sing at the installation of a new rabbi at Shearith Israel, the largest Conservative synagogue in Dallas. He received one hate letter.

“Every time you get up to sing, I’ll walk out,” he said the congregant wrote.

Croll showed it to the Shearith rabbi who, he said, was mortified and assured Croll he would always be welcome at their synagogue.

Croll said that his tenure at Temple Shalom has been rather noncontroversial.

“In 2003, we [he and Gartenberg] were married at Temple by five rabbis,” he said. Family, friends and lots of Temple members were there to celebrate with them.
Then in 2008, the couple were legally married in Vancouver by a gay rabbi who was new to that Canadian congregation. They were the first gay couple married at that synagogue.

And this year, Croll said, he and Gartenberg will stand together when the temple honors couples celebrating long-term anniversaries: Croll and Gartenberg will observe their 25th anniversary in November.

Croll said he’s spoken to groups a few times about his relationship, and he said parents sometimes have to explain to their children who Gartenberg is.

But after 16 years in Dallas, Croll said he is simply accepted as one of the faces of Judaism in the Metroplex.

He has also been there as a role model for the temple’s youth. One boy that he bar mitzvahed a number of years ago recently stopped by to casually tell Croll that his boyfriend was moving in with him. And Croll thinks that’s healthy and the way it should be.

Through his years in Dallas, Croll has participated in a number of events in the LGBT community. He’s performed a number of times with the Turtle Creek Chorale and has participated with Congregation Beth El Binah.

When the LGBT synagogue hosted a conference, Croll emceed the evening’s entertainment that included Estelle Getty, Roslyn Kind and local favorite Paul Williams. Last year, he represented the Jewish community at the dedication of the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope.

Croll said he isn’t at Temple Shalom to make sure things get better. He’s there making sure that everything’s OK from the beginning.

………………………………….

Beth El Binah plans High Holiday services

Congregation Beth El Binah celebrates the High Holy Days beginning Wednesday, Sept. 28 with an evening service conducted by the congregation’s new rabbi, Steve Fisch, who was hired in June.

Fisch.Rabbi-Steve
Rabbi Steve Fisch

Alan Josephson will perform as the cantorial soloist.

 

“We’re expecting record crowds with our new rabbi,” congregation President Diane Litke said.

“The High Holidays encourage us to reflect on where we have been, where we are and where we can be,” Fisch said. “Services are going to be fun. I’m going to try to bring a spirit of enjoyment to these beautiful days.”

The High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the new year. The holiday is two days long and all Jewish holidays begin at sunset. So Rosh Hashanah runs from sunset on Wednesday, Sept. 28 until sunset on Friday, Sept. 30.

Evening services begin at 8 p.m. at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and continue with morning services at 10:30 a.m.

On Friday, the congregation will gather at Litke’s house in Richardson for Tashlich service.

The holiday season is a period of asking for forgiveness. Tashlich is performed sometime during the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as an act of tossing away sins. Usually bread is torn into small pieces and tossed into a running body of water as prayers are recited.

Beth El Binah traditionally gathers on the second day of Rosh Hashanah for the ritual.

Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, takes place 10 days after Rosh Hashanah. The day begins on Friday, Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. with Kol Nidre service, a somber chant that will be played on viola by congregation member Dan Sigale, who performs with the Fort Worth Symphony.

Services on Oct. 8 begin at 10:30 a.m. and continue until sunset.

A week later is the eight-day festival of Sukkot, which marks the harvest with a celebration of thanksgiving. That holiday is observed with a meal eaten in a sukkah or booth.

The sukkah represents the small temporary shelters that were built in the fields for eating and sleeping during the harvest and are decorated with fruit and vegetables.

Beth El Binah’s sukkah is built in member Wayne Wilson’s yard in Lake Highlands and seats 50 for a large potluck dinner that will be held Friday, Oct. 14.

Fisch said that after the holidays he is planning to begin a class in basic Judaism.

“The class is for people who want to convert or just learn more about Judaism,” he said.

For more information about attending any service or class, email rabbi@bethelbinah.org.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas