Down Christmas Layne

Down Christmas LaneAustin cabaret act Hedda Layne gives one of the nicest gifts of all. On her website, she’s offering a free album download of holiday music. With an electronica approach, Layne and producer/husband Troy Lee come out of left field to drop a whimsical package of carols to add to your collection.

Without going overboard, Layne offers nine familiar tunes, but starts with Lee’s remix of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Lee keeps it simple, but turns the instrumental into a great techno-lite opener.

The beat hits when “Santa Baby” goes into a high energy beat that works almost too well. Layne’s voice has an appropriately vintage Betty Boop-ness to it which the song needs. The dance tone never pulls away from the song’s spirit, but instead enhances it with some punch. They delve into some robotic voice enhancement that could have gone majorly awry, but instead, Layne and Lee smartly just add in a pinch of it. The formula continues to work in the dance-floor-ready “Winter Wonderland.”

Layne stays true to traditionals “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “What Are You Doing for New Years Eve,” which balance out the the energetic numbers. Her “Silent Night” rendition, though, is a bit hit and miss. Layne has beautiful control over her voice, reaching sublime high notes, but at times she gets a little too dramatic and that feels more like she’s showing off.
She teams up with Girl Scout Troop 1149  for two songs which have a lot of heart, but are also a bit awkward.

Remember, this is not a girl’s choir, but a scout troop. Layne singing on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” works fine, but the kids are all over the place. You can sense what she’s trying to do here, but the intended cuteness factor wears thin.

The medley of “Jingle Bells/We Wish You a Merry Christmas” works far better. The girls are reigned in as they sing the chorus and the downtempo dubstep beat gives a consistent groove. Layne sometimes derails on her vocal runs, but the track finishes with surprising sophistication.

— Rich Lopez

Three stars.
To download the free tracks, visit HeddaLayne.com.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Clouseau, but no cigar

stage-1
LA CAGE AUX FOOLS A mobster (G. Shane Peterman, above) rejects his girlfriend (Whitney Hennen, below) because of his feelings for ‘Victor’ (Ashley Puckett Gonzales, below right) in the cross-dressing musical. (Photos courtesy Mike Morgan)

There’s pink but no panther in Blake Edwards’ drag musical ‘Victor/Victoria’

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

I have to confess: I am not fully convinced Wendy Williams is really a woman. The first time I saw a promo for her talk show, I assumed it was on Bravo or Logo, and meant as a joke — an African-American Dame Edna.

That kind of gender confusion is at the heart of Victor/Victoria, the 1982 Blake Edwards movie later adapted into a 1995 stage musical about a Jazz Age British singer who becomes a Paris sensation only because everyone thinks she’s a he.

stage-2It’s really nothing much different than My Fair Lady, where a Svengali-esque linguist crafts a guttersnipe into a lady, passing her off to society as something she isn’t. (Interestingly, both originally starred Julie Andrews.) Here, boozy gay lounge singer Toddy (Paul Taylor) takes wannabe cabaret act Victoria (Ashley Puckett Gonzales), creates a back-story for her as Victor, Poland’s greatest female impersonator, and wows everyone astonished that a man is so convincingly feminine. Along the way, there are questions of mistaken identity as American mobster King Marchand (G. Shane Peterman) finds himself uncomfortably attracted to “Victor.”

In many ways, it’s a cutting-edge comedy of contemporary mores, with the film well ahead of its time, dealing with gender-bending in a surprisingly tolerant and off-handed (if slapstick-heavy) manner. In the post-Queer Eye, post-Drag Race era, it’s perhaps less edgy, but there’s some poignancy about acceptance underneath all the French farce door-slamming and bed-hopping.

Which is not to say the script is well written. I doubt you’ll find many people who will defend its structure. It’s messy, with few good buttons to end scenes, some parts that drag (not the good kind of drag) and a few puzzlingly-placed moments best abandoned altogether.

In Uptown Players’ production currently at the Kalita Humphreys, some — not all — of those weaknesses are less obvious. The score, a pastiche of 1930s-style jazz with Broadway flash layered on top, has few memorable hits (the best, “Le Jazz Hot,” was composed for the movie 30 years ago), but the band plays and the cast sings it all well, all on a fabulous and mobile set that makes great uses of the Kalita’s space.

What it doesn’t do especially well is conjure up both the glamour of Old Paris and the camp extravagance of the drag world. It would be hard to over-play the flamboyance of a Parisian nightclub in interbellum, but this one does. The “Victor-as-drag-queen” scenes don’t fully work because Victoria doesn’t look like a drag queen. She may be meant to be convincingly female, but RuPaul accomplishes that with glamazon femininity that still leaves you asking, “Could she be…?” Gonzales, in ill-fitting costumes and too-tasteful makeup, has no panache as Victor. Androgyny is one thing, but Victor needs dazzle to make King’s obsession with her seem authentic.

She could learn a move or five from Whitney Hennen, who steals the show as King’s ditzy platinum blonde moll Norma. Bubbly and empty-headed as Lina Lamont, she turns eating a piece of chocolate from throw-away stage business into comic art, all with an excess that rises to the level of farce Edwards established in his Pink Panther movies. (The best scene, in fact, may be the dance of characters sneaking in and out of the bedrooms, which director Cheryl Denson choreographs beautifully.)

In the wake of Dallas Theater Center’s recent awesome production of Cabaret — and Uptown’s own high-bar-setting Next to Normal — Victor/Victoria seems incidental, though considered on its own, there’s much to enjoy, especially as a respite from the August heat. Here life is a cabargay, old chum. Come to the cabargay.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Dresden Dolls and Girl in a Coma play tonight at the Granada

Girls, comas and dolls — oh my

The Dresden Dolls and Girl in a Coma are perhaps one of the better musical pairings this year. At least for the gay contingent. GIAC rocks out the lesbian in all of us and The Dresden Dolls’ is a given with its dark cabaret act resurrected by Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, much to the delight of  the fans who thought their self-imposed hiatus would never end.

DEETS: Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave. 9 p.m. $29. GranadaTheater.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Best bets • 11.19.10

Friday 11.19

Girls, comas and dolls — oh my

The Dresden Dolls and Girl in a Coma are perhaps one of the better musical pairings this year. At least for the gay contingent. GIAC rocks out the lesbian in all of us and The Dresden Dolls’ dark cabaret act has been resurrected by Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, much to the delight of  the fans who thought their self-imposed hiatus would never end.

DEETS: Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave. 9 p.m. $29. GranadaTheater.com.

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Saturday 11.20

So they think they got talent

The Texas Gay Rodeo Association hosts Thanks for the Giving which shakes up your usual talent show. TGRA puts nonprofits to the test who have to put their best entertainer up to lip-sync, dance, drag or whatever for their life. Or at least for some fat cash. The winner of the contest takes it all for their agency.

DEETS: Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave. 6 p.m.
DallasTGRA.org.

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Monday 11.22

How about a pirouette for lunch

The Dallas Black Dance Theatre is going to make your lunch plans a whole lot more interesting this week. Now an annual event, the mini-series called Behind the Scenes offers noontime performances. That is something totally to be thankful for. The first two shows will offer a sneak peek at their December Winter Series. The troupe performs A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair to the music of Earth Wind and Fire on Wednesday.

DEETS: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 2700 Flora St. Noon. Free. For reservations call 214-871-2390. DBDT.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens