Man and Manolos

A Texas transplant’s love life fuels comedy in ‘Bad Dates’

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IMELDA OF THE WEST SIDE | Haley (Shannon J. McGrann) has a shoe fetish that doesn’t help her with me in the one-woman comedy ‘Bad Dates.’ (Photo courtesy George Wada)

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

The sly trick of Bad Dates is that its leading (heck, its only) character — Haley (Shannon J. McGrann), a Texas transplant who unexpectedly “makes it” in the Big Apple, and is only of late re-entering the dating world — is such a likeable, genuinely try-hard kinda gal, you are firmly on her side … before you realize she’s not exactly the perfect mom. As with Pyscho, where Hitchcock got you to sympathize with Norman Bates, playwright Theresa Rebeck has you rooting for Haley, sometimes against your better judgment. It’s the power of the unreliable narrator put starkly to work.

It helps that men and women, gay and straight, will see something familiar in Haley, who spends two hours as the only voice in this one-woman show, talking about relationships, family (especially her gay brother), dating and career. She dates gay guys, who are priggish. She dates bug experts, who are weird. She dates a great guy who… well, there’s always something wrong with a great guy. Trust me.

You can’t over-estimate the skills it takes to do a character monologue that has to be funny and poignant and not drone on. For two hours. This isn’t standup comedy; it’s comedy standing up, lying down, changing clothes and occasional slapstick. That’s a lot of baggage resting on McGrann’s narrow shoulders, but she carries it like a Sherpa. Bad Dates rises and falls on the strength of the actress playing Haley — approaching middle age with a cynic’s experiences but still determined to stay cautiously upbeat, she’s an underdog with an Imelda-sized shoe collection. Does that make her insufferable or needy? Or both?

Screen shot 2011-10-27 at 1.14.55 PMNeither with McGrann, who maintains a twinkle that is crucial to making the role work. (“Twinkle” is an undervalued asset in theater.) She modulates Haley’s self-doubt, over-confidence and general good nature in digestible bits. Whether it’s her or Rebeck who deserves the most credit for steering the tone away from maudlin is difficult to say. But for a comedy that takes a sudden turn into drama, Bad Dates never feels manipulative or melodramatic.

Robin Armstrong directed in a manner similar to how she designed the copious costumes: With generosity. There’s a light touch at work here that allows McGrann the freedom to work the stage, interacting with the audience with the gossipy joy of a coffee klatch. Unlike Haley’s Jimmy Choos — or her date with the gay guy — it’s a good fit.

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‘LUCIA’ IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS

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The Dallas Opera scaled back its season for budgetary reasons, but that wasn’t obvious at the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor, which powerfully conveyed the beauty and depth of Donizetti’s finest piece in a flamboyantly intoxicating performance.

The story — about a bride gone mad when the man she loves is kept from her — boasts one of the great coloratura roles for any soprano, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone besting Elena Mosuc (pictured, in her DO debut), for beauty and control as well as dramatic commitment. It’s not merely her technique during “Il dolce suono,” but her passion that makes this Lucia shine.

There won’t be another full mainstage production until April. This teaser has certainly whetted the appetite for what’s to come.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St.
Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 6 matinee at 2 p.m.
DallasOpera.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Who’s Tommy?

Tommy
TAP, DOG | Tommy Tune’s new act traces his legendary Broadway career — and it all began in Dallas.

Maybe you think you know gay  stage icon Tommy Tune, but even he’s still learning things about himself

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STEPS IN TIME

Fair Park Music Hall, 901 First Ave. March 15–20. $20–$75. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

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When I get Tommy Tune  on the phone for the first time, I finally get to tell him about my three Tommy encounters: One was on Broadway when he appeared in My One and Only; one was in his one-man show Tommy Tune Tonight! at Fair Park Music Hall; but the first time was in the locker room of the Watergate Hotel where we were both staying. He was changing clothes after a swim. And I confess to him my 30-year secret: That I saw his naked ass.

“How’d it look?” he hoots with an excited cackle. “Great!” I tell him. “Well, you know dancers,” he says with a flirtatious laugh.
This dancer just turned 72 — a number that rather delights Tune: “If you add together 7 and 2, it equals nine. And nine has always been a lucky number for me.”

It has indeed. Tune directed and choreographed the original stage musical Nine, and has won an astonishing nine Tony Awards in four categories over his 50-year stage career — a career that launched, in several ways, here in North Texas.

“I began at the Dallas Summer Musicals,” says the Texas native, whose sister still lives in Fort Worth.“I got my Equity card there. John Rosenfield, who was the king of culture [in Dallas for decades], reviewed my first professional job in Redhead with Taina Elg. In the last paragraph of the review, he wrote: ‘We cannot let this report pass without mentioning Tommy Tune, who handles his incredible long form with grace control and power.’ That was the energy that sent me to New York. I had the courage after that. And I just linked that up.”

Where he links that up is in his new one-man showcase, Steps in Time, which opens Tuesday on the same stage where Tune got his start.

“Everything I do in Steps in Time is the truth,” says Tune. “I’ve done four acts and this one is the most personal and the purest and it works better than the others. It doesn’t have the glitz, but there’s depth.”

It’s also a work in progress. Tune has performed it about 100 times so far, but often in one- or two-night stands; he’ll be in Dallas a week, and the version includes new material he’s only recent added. It also has the added bonus of getting him back to his Texas roots.

“I still like to get my feet in the Texas mud, which is different than all other muds,” he says.

Tune kicks off his show with his arrival in New York on St. Patrick’s Day 1962. His beginnings were auspicious: He auditioned for a show and got the job on the spot. That led to dozens  more shows as an actor (Seesaw, which won him his first Tony), director and choreographer (Grand Hotel, Nine, The Will Rogers Follies). But he’s loathe to choose a favorite experience.

“I’m gonna have to answer the next one will be my favorite,” he says. “Every show I’ve done, I’m not satisfied with. But there is a sense of dissatisfaction that keeps you marching.”

Still, he coos about many of the talents he’s worked with over the years. Raul Julia “was a dream.” With Julia and Keith Carradine he recalls “not one bad moment. It’s so easy for an actor to give a director problems. Actors can be quite contrary. But these two guys worked for the good of the show.” And there was the great Vaudeville hoofer Charles ‘Honi’ Coles, whom Tune co-starred with in My One and Only and who “was the best dancer that I ever worked with. He taught me more than anybody. And when I worked with him he was 76, so he’s still got a few years on me.”

Tune recounts one joyful memory about appearing with Coles: They performed a number together — a charming soft-shoe — that on opening night led to a tumult of uncontrollable applause. It literally stopped the show.

“I was just gobsmacked,” he says. “I leaned over to Charles and said, ‘What should we do?’ He smiled up and said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ So I just broke the fourth wall like you don’t do and said, ‘Let’s take it again from the top of the dance.’ We did it! I just thought, ‘That’s opening night — everything’s up for grabs.’But we did over 1,000 performances together and we never failed to stop the show — it happened every night! It’s when that magic thing happens, when the audience takes control of the show, that you love like theater.”

Which is exactly what Tune didn’t enjoy about one aspect of his career: Making movies. Tune kicked off his film career with a prime role opposite Barbra Streisand in the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Hello, Dolly! but he quickly soured on Hollywood.

“I hated making movies,” he says. “My whole thing is about the audience connection. In movies, you are not performing for the crew but for a machine — the camera — or yourself. It was just so unfulfilling. You never get the joy of performing a number. After Hello, Dolly! they put me in a couple episodes of Nanny and the Professor but I was burning to be back on Broadway. I asked them, will you let me out of that deal? Off I went, and fast!”

And he’s still returning to it — as a performer, director and a patron. His favorite recent shows? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and American Idiot.

“Those are my two favorites. And it worries me that neither has found their audience but both speak to now, but work through then. [The lead in Andrew Jackson] is so good, I saw it four times. It made me laugh so hard. Maybe it was a mistake that they moved it to Broadway, but it was better than the off-Broadway version. They really sharpened it. American Idiot is highlight. I was new to Green Day — I don’t usually do anything more contemporary than the ’50s — and they just knocked me out. I’m so grateful I’ve got to do this with my life. But we need to still be respectful of our fabulous invalid called the theater.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

DRIVE! 2010 • Driver’s seat

Changing cars is like changing clothes for Classic Chassis’ James Gudat

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Classic Chassis member James Gudat
HOW HE ROLLS | Despite having a reliable, newer Dodge Ram truck to do most of the heavy lifting, Classic Chassis member James Gudat opts for one of his many vintage cars for everyday driving, like this awesome Matador. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice).

In Drive, we try to look at what’s on the horizon for new cars and upgrades of our favorite models. But for a sizeable group of gay Dallasites, older is better.

The Classic Chassis Car Club provides a place for vintage car aficionados to meet and share their gearhead passion. Many of its nearly 150 members are multiple car owners. But few have as many as James Gudat, who garages more than two dozen cars at his East Dallas home and in Canton. Ironically, he uses his vintage rides more than his “new” car, a 1995 Dodge Ram truck.

For more information, visit ClassicChassis.com.

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Name: James Gudat

Day job:  There are a couple of things I do. I’ve had an assortment of rental properties for the last 20 years, and four days a week I go into the office of Connectrac, a great place that my longtime friend Clint Strong created. I am really spoiled there. The two facilities that we have occupied in the last four years have space set aside in the warehouse for parking my vehicle of the day. It’s super to drive into the building and not have to worry about door dings, sun, hail or any other unfavorable elements.

What kind of car: I have 30 of them.

Say what? Yeah.

Which do you drive on a daily basis? It depends on the weather, what has air in the tires, a charged battery … and not two or three cars behind it.

Seems like it’d be tough to go through all to find out which to roll out with. What do you have to choose from? The group of wayward cars is a hodgepodge, which includes a 1928 Studebaker President (which is all original and runs but looks like it’s 82 years old), a 1958 Nash Metropolitan and a 1979 Pacer wagon. I love wagons and fixed up duplicates of the ’63 Rambler wagon and ’73 Ambassador wagon with woodgrain sides.

When it’s nice, I take out a convertible, or a hardtop and roll down all the windows. When I need attention, one of the 1970s cars in a factory original over-the-top two-tone paint scheme. Other times, I feel like a luxury ride so I pull out a 1956 Continental Mark II (the rarest car in the group) or a 1966 Imperial LeBaron. If I feel like hot rodding, I will pull out the 1979 Camaro (triple black with nice cast wheels and white letter tires) or my bad boy car, a 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ with a powerful 455, Posi-track and no emission controls.

I have no idea what that means, but I want to ride in it. It isn’t restored so it has rough edges, but it’s a real kick to get behind the wheel and stick your foot in it. Laying big black rubber strips is almost a thing of the past and most cars now simply cannot do it. Still, sometimes it’s fun to not grow up.

Where did your love of cars come from? Aunt Sylvia gave me a model of a red 1968 Lincoln — I loved that toy and still have it. Aunt Louise was always a car gal with a new car every four years or so. Some of the best memories were in those cars. I still have my first car I bought 33 years ago.

Which is your most modern car? I have a ’95 Dodge Ram. The newest old one is a ’82 Lincoln Mark VI coupe. I think it’s a very pretty style with the triple pastel French vanilla paint. The leather seats are butter soft and it drives like a modern car. It gets about 20 miles to the gallon in town and 25 on the highway. Since it’s smaller — by old car standards — I can fly into a parking spot at warp speed and watch the hood ornament swing around without fear of totaling everything around me.

What do you like about your truck? It gives me the pulling power to haul almost anything that I need to. It’s the only new vehicle I have ever bought, and now it’s 15 years old, but still going strong. It looks good but not near as flashy as newer trucks. It never lets me down.

The best part about driving vintage cars is… It is the memories of family and events and the fun of being different. I like looking down a hood that’s a mile long. The wagons are great when I need to haul something like Christmas presents.

The worst? Pushing a car out of an intersection after it has just stopped running and walking home to get the truck to gather supplies to revive it.

Eesh. No thanks. You don’t want to have a wreck with one of these old cars. They are much more durable with stronger metal bodies and thick windows. A new car would fall apart if it hit any of these. Knock on wood that it doesn’t.

You must have some big stick shifts. Actually most are automatics — the only standards are the Studebaker, the Metropolitan and, of course, the 1963 Chevy firetruck which does have the largest stick.

That’s what I wanted to hear. What is it about cars today that doesn’t compare to the old ones? They have no flash or style. It’s hard to get excited about another 4-door sports sedan that looks like a two-week-old bar of soap.

There are some exceptions. The new Challenger, Mustang and Camaro are pretty fun.

Do you go to the throwback diners like Keller’s Drive-In? I have gone to two of the cruise nights at Keller’s. We rotate our monthly cruise events around the Metroplex to keep things interesting.

Do you play oldies music really loud while driving about in a classic car? I enjoy the tunes in the cars. They all have radios except for the Studebaker.  Most are AM-FM and some of the ’70s models even have working 8-track players. The ’74 Lincoln Town Car has an enormous sound system with a high power receiver, amps, speakers and dual 14-inch sub woofers that take up most of the trunk. That car will rock with the best. It plays classical music with a depth that is moving, but, of course disco sounds really good, too.

How do you maintain 30 vintage cars? If I let a car sit too long it gets cranky. They  develop leaks everywhere and it looks like your driving the Exxon Valdez around. I try to rotate all of the running tagged, insured ones so every few weeks they are driven. Twice a month, I drive to my storage in Canton to trade out a car and bring one back. The 60-mile trip helps keep the cars running much better.

Can I have one? In the last 25 years, I have only sold less than a handful of cars. There will be a time I’ll need to pass them onto someone else to enjoy, but not for a while. Anyone can have a vintage or classic car, but can you handle the care and upkeep that they demand?

No. If the question is, can you have one of those cars I have become the caretaker of, then the answer would be “not just yet.”

Dang.

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The big reveal: McLaren goes commercial

McLaren Automotive has been making cars for 20 years, but unless you frequent a racetrack, chances are  you’ve never seen one or even known where you could get one for a test drive. But starting next year, you need look no further than Dallas.

Park Place Motorcars is teaming with the British Formula One specialists to sell McLaren’s new production model. And it will only set you back $225,000.

The big reveal came about a month ago, when bigwigs with Park Place and McLaren pulled the sheet off the MP4-12C, an unwieldy title that reflects the company’s Project 4 carbon fiber model. And it is stunning.

The aluminum body, 2,866-lb. luxury sports car weighs 200 pounds less than rival models, with every gram being accounted for. A high exhaust system decreases drag by not allowing emissions to come out under the chassis. And the interior styling is comfortable and surprisingly roomy.

It’s certainly not a car for everyone — definitely not every pocketbook — but as car fantasies go, you can’t dream much bigger.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens