ATTPAC announces 2014-15 season

‘The Book of Mormon’ returns

The AT&T Performing Arts Center announced its five-show Broadway subscription series tonight, but it’s the sixth bonus show than many locals will be jazzed about.

In February 2015, the super-gay Book of Mormon returns to the Winspear Opera House for a two-week engagement. The Tony-winning juggernaut was a sell-out last summer, but its inclusion as a non-subscription show means those who didn’t get to see it — or who want to see it again — have a better chance of scoring tickets.

Of the five shows in the main series, two are returning favorites, and three are recent hits. Among the returning shows are The Phantom of the Opera (Aug. 6–24), which will play for nearly three weeks — the first time at the Winspear. The production is an all-new staging of the 20-year-old hit.

It will be followed after a four-month gap by Once (Dec. 17–28), the Tony Award winner for best musical and best score, based on the captivating movie.

Next up with be Mormon (Feb. 10–22, 2015), followed by Newsies (April 29–May 10), the Disney hit from Alan Menken; then another returning fave, Annie (June 23–July 5), which was recently revived on Broadway with Jane Lynch as the wicked Miss Hannigan. The season concludes with a new, already-announced production of a current hit, Motown The Musical (July 21–Aug. 9, 2015). That’s a full 12-months of shows.

The following season, the hit Matilda will be presented, though dates are not presently known.

Another major change is that the series will no longer be called the Lexus Broadway Series — as of the final show of this season, Beauty and the Beast, in April. No replacement presenting sponsor has been announced yet.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

9 ways to fabulize your week

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It’s a music-filled week in Dallas.

For more traditional concerts featuring gay artists, Saturday is super-busy, with Deborah Vial and Jane Doe reuniting for a concert at The Kessler Theatre (doors open at 6 p.m.). Down the road in The Cedars, Eric Himan, pictured, launches his new national tour promoting his CD Gracefully at Poor David’s Pub (doors open at 7:30 p.m.).

If you prefer dance music from a DJ, Dick’s Night Out is back at the W Hotel Ghostbar on Friday, with DJ Charlie Phresh spinning. Then on Sunday, Honey Pot celebrates its first anniversary with Summer Chill at the Dallas Eagle, with DJ Medic making some noise.

Prefer your music in showtune form? You can still try to get tickets to see The Book of Mormon, which settled into the Winspear with a Tony Award-winning score. (The musicals Kiss of the Spider Woman, Xanadu and Miss Saigon all close this weekend, so if you haven’t seen them yet, this is your last chance.)

For non-musical outings, Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown delivers the laughs at Teatro Dallas, and the irrepressible Molly Ivins spins her homespun liberalism in Red Hot Patriot at WaterTower Theatre. And Gaybingo is back at the Rose Room with a Slumber Party theme on Saturday with Drag Racer Latrice Royale in tow, and the HRC’s Fruit Bowl rolls into Richardson on Sunday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

ATTPAC announces discounted ticket lottery for ‘The Book of Mormon’

Book of MormonThe Book of Mormon is the most awaited theater tour of the year, and if you thought tickets would be hard to come by — or just too expensive — there is a solution. And you don’t even need to be a student to benefit.

For the entire run of the show — Aug. 21 through Sept. 1 (it launches the Lexus Broadway Series season) — beginning 2½ hours before each performance, the box office, at 2353 Flora St., will conduct a lottery. You simply write your name and the number of tickets you want on a card (only one or two), and exactly two hours before curtain, they will select from the entrants a limited number of lottery winners.

Your cost? Only $25 per ticket. Considering that tickets even in the Grand Tier balcony of the Winspear run $70 — and considering the show is practically sold out — that’s a deal.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Whitty banter

Gay ‘Ave. Q’ scribe Jeff Whitty builds a pyramid of laughs in cheer-full musical ‘Bring It On’

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CHEER UP | Whitty swore off writing musicals — but changed his mind to take on two new ones.

Jeff Whitty will probably spend the rest of his life living down the legacy of creating the musical that turned Muppets … sorry, puppets — into sexed-up losers. Avenue Q became the surprise hit of the 2003-04 Broadway season, sweeping the Tony Awards (including one for Whitty’s book) and forever changing our view of Sesame Street.

One of Whitty’s collaborators on Q went on to co-write The Book of Mormon, but Whitty himself has been busy as well, opening two musicals in the past 13 months, including the cheerleading comedy Bring It On: The Musical, which opened this week at Fair Park.

The gay librettist, who is also an actor (he’s in rehearsals to appear in a play he wrote, in which he’ll star in drag — a first) chatted about his love of cheerleading, his failed promise never to do another musical and the filthiest show he’s ever seen.

Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Voice: Here’s something the librettist never hears: My favorite thing about Avenue Q is not actually on the cast recording, it’s the name of a character, Miss Thistletwat.  Jeff Whitty: Thank you. I was in Paris with one of the [French] producers and we had this great lunch with champagne at 1 in the afternoon and everything. I asked her, “How did you translate the name of Miss Thistletwat?” She got really embarrassed, but she told me; it would translate as, like, Miss Grassmuncher, which [is slang there] for lesbian.

I also love when Kate fingers Princeton. That’s the audience’s fault — they are putting that in, I don’t actually say it. There are actually only 13 swear words in Avenue Q, and they are carefully placed — like five “fucks”, one “pussy” and four “shits” …. By the way, I’ve seen four international productions of Avenue Q and Paris was the filthiest. Kate rimmed Princeton. Even to me, that’s a little much.

Since last year, you’ve opened two other musicals: Tales of the City and Bring It On, which is now in Dallas. I didn’t want to do another musical after Avenue Q after learning how hard they are. I said no to everything for quite a while. Then on a plane to London [while watching DVDs of the miniseries Tales of the City], suddenly a bolt of lightning struck that said there could be this really chewy, big musical made out this material. I know Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters [who co-wrote the score] and we opened last spring. The show was not finished and we didn’t have enough previews to nail it, but we’re figuring out what the next step for that show will be.

Your colleagues on Bring It On are composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who did the barrio hip-hop musical In the Heights, and Tom Kitt, who composed Next to Normal, a musical about mental illness. Who said, “Wow, those guys would make a great team to write a musical about cheerleading.” It’s a funny story, how that evolved. I have been wanting to do a cheerleading musical since 2004. Real athletic cheerleading is amazing to watch, if you see it on ESPN; plus, it has a built-in performance component that is so helpful in a musical. A cheerleading structure is perfect and it’s something you can see live that a lot of people haven’t.

My agent knew [of my interest] and told me about Bring It On; I said “Sign me up!” I’d never done a movie adaptation but I was totally onboard. Plus at the first meeting, the [producers] said they’d be interested in doing an original story instead of basing it on the first movie or one of the four [direct-to-video] sequels, so this was a huge opportunity. [Director] Andy Blankenbuehler had choreographed In the Heights [so he had worked with Lin-Manuel]. So that’s how that came together.

It’s a different style for you, too, not just Miranda and Kitt. Yes, Tales is full of angel dust, pot-smoking and child pornographers and Avenue Q is called the “potty-mouthed puppet musical.” So I really wanted to do a musical I could bring my nieces to. There are these warnings of sexual content, but really?

All three of the musicals have been excruciating. You have to get all of these disparate parts to have this one sensibility and have cohesion. I was working with great collaborators [in Bring It On], people I loved to be in the room with. When they start to click they are truly exciting. It’s been a great

Here’s a very gay question: Among you, Miranda and Kitt, who has the bigger Tony Award? You ever whipped ’em out and compared? They actually made the stand bigger since I won! But I’d say Tom [Kitt] wins, because he has a Pulitzer, too.

Where do you keep your Tony?  I have this trophy collection I pick up from flea markets — weird, old stuff, like senior body building trophies. So my Tony sits among all those.

You’re the only gay guy on the creative team for Bring It On. Do you still like to gay it up? It is a musical, after all.  Absolutely, I always try to put gay characters in my shows. I didn’t wanna go with a cliché in Bring It On, but without giving anything away, you’ll see there’s a character there that’s definitely a first-of-her-kind in a musical. I found a fresh take.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Tony Award wrap-up: Totally gay (again)

It was an untenable situation for the gay Dallasite: Watch the Tony Awards or game 6 of the Mavs? Thank god I had two DVRs. Best of both worlds.

Of course, the Tony Awards are always the gayest of award shows, and they did nothing to disguise that Sunday night starting with the opening number by the telecast’s gay host, Neil Patrick Harris, “‘[Theater] is not Just for Gays Anymore.” He then did a medley duet with Hugh Jackman that was damn funny. (It got even gayer when Martha Wash performed “It’s Raining Men” with cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.)

Then the first award of the evening went to Ellen Barkin for her Broadway debut in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, giving a shout out to the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. She was immediately followed by gay actor and Plano native John Benjamin Hickey for his role in The Normal Heart. (He even chastised his family: “You’d better not be watching the Mavericks game.” Sorry, John, I for one kept flipping between them.) The play also won the award for best revival — a controversial choice, since The Normal Heart never opened on Broadway until this year, usually a requirement for a revival nominations (some thought it should be eligible for best play). Kramer accepted the award. “To gay people everywhere whom I love so, The Normal Heart is our history. I could not have written it had not so many of us so needlessly died. Learn from it and carry on the fight.”

The very gay-friendly Book of Mormon from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone won several off-camera awards, including score of a musical (the composers thanking gay producer Scott Rudin), orchestrations, scenic design, lighting design and sound design, before taking their first onscreen trophy for best direction of a musical to Parker and gay director Casey Nicholaw (The Drowsy Chaperone), on its way to winning nine total awards, including best musical, best featured actress (newcomer Nikki M. James, defeating prior winners Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone and Victoria Clark and prior nominee Tammy Blanchard) and book of a musical.

“This is such a waste of time — it’s like taking a hooker to dinner,” said best musical presenter Chris Rock before announcing The Book of Mormon for the night’s last prize, best musical.

Other winners in the musical category include John Larroquette for best featured actor (How to Succeed…, apparently the only straight nominee in his category), choreographer Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes, which also beat How to Succeed for best revival of a musical and won best actress for Sutton Foster. Norbert Leo Butz was the surprise winner for best actor in a musical for Catch Me If You Can. One more really gay winner: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert took best costumes, natch.

The big winner in the play category (other than The Normal Heart) was the brilliant War Horse, which won 5: best play, direction, lighting design, sound design, scenic design, as well as a special Tony for the puppet designs of the horses.

Other play winners include The Importance of Being Earnest (costumes), Good People (best actress Frances McDormand) and Jerusalem, a surprise winner for best actor Mark Rylance.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Postcards from the edge

Screen legend Shirley MacLaine talks about everything under the sun …. and a few things beyond it

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‘EVENING’ STAR | Shirley MacLaine, left, gives audiences the dish on her films in her one-woman show at Bass Hall Saturday. She’ll also talk up her life, possibly her past lives and anything the audience asks.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Shirley MacLaine is onto something with all her talk of otherworldly topics. When I asked the screen legend about her iconic status in the gay community — due to appearances in such films as Steel Magnolias, The Children’s Hour and even Postcards from the Edge — her phone cuts out. She doesn’t skip a beat on the return call.

“See how it went dead when you said the word ‘iconic?’ That’s a sign!” she says with a true guffaw.

At 77, MacLaine is still a spitfire who can quickly turn a question back on the interviewer. She’s a veteran at talking about her work and life, but admits that there are some things she doesn’t know about herself.

“I don’t know why the gays might think of me that way. What do you think?” she asks. The humor for one thing, I say — and how gays can’t resist a good, strong-willed woman.

“I’m curious what strikes me and what doesn’t,” she says. “Oh, and I think Madame Sousatzka is also popular. It’s the humor and that’s what I loved about those parts. There’s nothing more sophisticated than the gays’ sense of humor.”

So true — especially when it comes to Broadway. MacLaine raves enthusiastically over The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker and the musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Both show an irreverence as well as artistic merit, which MacLaine thinks is just what art needs right now.

“I just got back from New York and the audiences were so receptive,” she says. “Mormon is quite astonishing. You’ve just got to see it. You know, the world is in such bad trouble that [artists] don’t give a shit anymore. The feeling is, ‘We’ll make humor out of it.’ And Priscilla was moving and well done and over the top. It was such an exercise in imaginative clothing and shoes and humor. I had no idea.”

She has less to say about Promises, Promises, the musical revival based on her famed film, The Apartment. “Everyone keeps asking me that, but I just haven’t seen it,” she says.

MacLaine is onstage in North Texas with her show An Evening with Shirley MacLaine, which stops at Bass Hall Saturday. Despite her musical theater cred (she was Sweet Charity, after all), don’t expect singing and dancing —  she’s over all that. Instead, the Oscar winner will talk about her movies, her life and her loves.

She’s been doing that a lot lately. She’s been making the media rounds lately for her 13th book, I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions, including a spot on Oprah. But the show isn’t necessarily the live version of her latest autobio.

“The show is really fun and just a retrospective of my life — I tell stories about my films and Broadway, television, travels, love affairs,” she says. “It’s just me and a remote control up there.”

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.36.00 PMHopefully that will includes anecdotes about another screen legend, her late friend Elizabeth Taylor. MacLaine was part of the Golden Age that introduced the world to the likes of Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon and Taylor. But Liz’s passing (from this world, at least) struck MacLaine the hardest.

“That affected me more than I thought it would, to tell you the truth,” she says. “I met her when I was 20. I knew how she was feeling and I knew this would happen. I’ve been calling her and am talking to her still, but I don’t like to think of a world without her in it.”

Umm, still talking to Taylor? Well, MacLaine is almost as famous for her new age beliefs as for her acting prowess. She has written books that cover topics such as reincarnation, spiritual exploration and transcendentalism. So when she says she’s talking with Elizabeth Taylor … well, who can doubt her? A headline in a British tabloid recently labeled her “kooky,” but that’s nothing new to her. For years, she’s been mocked about her beliefs, but she uses the same thick skin needed for her acting career and she never let the media get to her.

Even having reached living legend status, MacLaine says that there is one thing she still hopes to accomplish in this lifetime.

“I’d like to go into space,” she says. “But not with an astronaut — an extraterrestrial spacecraft. I know a lot of people who’ve been taken aboard one. I haven’t done that yet in this lifetime.”

Of course, there’s always the next one.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas