EXCLUSIVE: Uptown Players’ 16th season announced

Coy Covington BOWUptown Players, which opens the third mainstage production of its 15th season tonight, has lined up its 2017 slate of productions — as usual consisting of two plays, two musicals and a fundraiser show — but a few curveballs are headed this way as well.

First, the next season will begin at the Kalita Humphreys Theater this November (rather than in 2017), with their first-ever production of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches (Nov. 4–20). Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning reverie about the AIDS crisis is often considered one of the towering theatrical achievements of the 20th century. Cheryl Denson, who direct tonight’s show, It’s Only a Play, will helm it. Uptown Players co-founder Craig Lynch also assures me that the company plans on doing the follow-up, Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, the following season.

That will likely be followed in March 2017 by the latest incarnation of Broadway Our Way (March 3–5). The annual revue is a fundraiser for the company.

The next mainstage show will be It Shoulda Been You (March 24–April 9), a romantic musical that ran on Broadway in 2015. At a wedding, secrets are revealed, lesbian relationships unveiled, promises broken and more. The will be followed in the summer by the first-ever UP production of La Cage aux Folles (July 14–30), the flamboyantly joyous and colorful musical about a gay couple who own a drag club and their efforts to hide their business from their son’s conservative in-laws.

The final show of the season will be the regional premiere of Charles Busch’s comedy The Tribute Artist (Aug. 25–Sept. 10). Once again, Coy Covington, pictured, will take over the cross-dressing lead role as a female impersonator whose deception leads to chaotic hijinks.  (This production is slated for Bryant Hall on the Kalita campus, although it may move to the main building depending on the decisions made by the Dallas Theater Center, which retains right of first refusal over the space.)

Aside from the early start to the season, a few other specials emerge. First, Uptown’s Pride Performing Arts Festival will return (right after The Toxic Avenger), to coincide with Dallas Pride. Second,UP will once again team up with the Turtle Creek Chorale for a concert production of a musical — this time, Titanic (May 5–7). It will be performed at the City Performance Hall.

Finally, Lynch said there is “room on the calendar” for a Christmas show in December 2016 (following Angels), although one has not been selected yet.

Individual tickets are $25–$55, and season subscriptions are also available. Visit UptownPlayers.org for more.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stage review: ‘Psycho Beach Party’


It is a testament to the complete saturation of absurdism in a Charles Busch play that literally any female character can effortlessly be turned into a man in drag. In the original off-Broadway version of Psycho Beach Party, Busch himself played the ingenue teen; in the film, he created a new role for himself as a female detective; and in the latest incarnation — at Theatre 3 until July 10 — Coy Covington dons a dress to play the ingenue’s mother, the kooky over-protective Mrs. Forrest. The lesson? Men in petticoats = comedy gold.

As its name suggest, Psycho Beach Party is a spoof of the dumb coastal comedies of the 1960s like Where the Boys Are and Beach Blanket Bingo — inane, predictable, empty-calorie bites of eye candy. But Busch’s construct is more subversive: He combines that quintessential ’60s film genre with two others (Grand Guignol melodramas and lurid slasher films), throws in a substantial dose of homoeroticism and a Marilyn Monroe wannabe (Grace Neeley, stealing her scenes), and voila! A pastiche punch that exemplifies camp.

The secret weapon of PBP is that it cannot be over-played, as Covington proves in his over-the-top scenes. He twirls and mugs and winks like Bette Davis taking a bong hit from Joan Crawford’s LSD-laced cremains. And Jenna Anderson as the flat-chested teen with more psychotic personalities than Sybil plays the ugly duckling loser with as much gusto as the crazy alter egos. And you really can’t under-estimate the appeal of a quartet of bikini-clad musclemen (Jacob Lewis, Blake Lee, Heath Billups, Zach Valdez) shaking their moneymakers with a seductive innocence that raises the temperature in the theater.

Director Bruce R. Coleman doesn’t hold back, tossing in every kitschy music cue and outrageous dance move he can, though the pacing flails wildly from madcap to stagnant. Then again, so did those beach movies. …

Arnold Wayne Jones

Theatre 3
2900 Routh St.
Through July 10

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

This weekend is jam-packed full of events, several of them very worthy fundraisers to benefit AIDS charities around North Texas.

Hard to believe, but the Miss Leo Party is roaring ahead to its 25th annual event. A traditional fundraiser for the Daire Center and AIDS Interfaith Network, it gets underway at the Hidden Door on Saturday starting at 8 p.m. Expect to have a good time. Then on Sunday, scoot over to Bailey’s Prime Plus on Park Lane for a dinner, silent auction and music for the Be An Angel benefit for Legacy Counseling and Founders Cottage. Best of all? It’s just 40 bucks! You’d spend more than that on a meal at Bailey’s (which serves excellent food, by the way).

The Elizabeth Trail’rs, the LifeWalk team for Dallas Voice, will host a happy hour at Two Corks and a Bottle in the Quadrangle on Friday from 5:30 to 8. Ten percent of all sales will go to the ETs, so all you have to do is drink like you normally would on a Friday after work and you’re making a donation. But beyond that, you can win CDs and other swag and buy tickets to a 50/50 raffle. Come support a good cause. And while we’re talkin’ about LifeWalk, the Miss LifeWalk Pageant takes place in the Rose Room on Sunday, starting at 6:30 p.m.

The London Olympics start tonight, and apparently the athletes are very gay. Gay people of faith who don’t mind a drive have two opportunities to see the gay Christian music of Jason & deMarco this weekend: They will perform at a Saturday evening event and again at Sunday morning services at the Celebration on the Lake Church in Mabank.

Newly out (and incredibly cute) hip-hopper Frank Ocean’s new CD, Channel Orange, has dropped, and our music critic says it will send shockwaves — not because it’s so outre, but because it’s so good. But Ocean’s not the only gay rapper with a great new disc: Bisexual Azealia Banks’ EP 1991 is just as impressive.

The Festival of Independent Theatres continues at the Bath House Cultural Center, including a play with a lesbian and one by gay scribe Edward Albee. This is also the final weekend to see the critically acclaimed hit drag comedy The Divine Sister, from Uptown Players, with Coy Covington, Kevin Moore and the entire cast mining great comedy out of an unlikely source: The perky nun movie.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: Uptown’s hail Mary: “The Divine Sister” warrants prays

Charles Busch really deserves more credit as a master of playwrighting than he typically gets. Mamet steals the limelight for crafty dialogue, Stoppard is the king of intellectual wordplay, but in many ways, Busch has both of them beat. The difference is, Stoppard toys with Shakespeare, and Busch fools around with Debbie Reynolds musicals and Douglas Sirk films. It’s as if he’s being punished for having a gay sensibility.

Who needs acclaim, though, when a production as sassy as The Divine Sister, presented by Uptown Players at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, is doing what good theater should do: Make you laugh and think … although, granted, much of the thinking goes on between fart and dick jokes.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

The Thai lesbian film "Yes or No" screens Monday at AFFD.

The Asian Film Festival of Dallas launched last night at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre, and it continues through next week. Among the offerings are two gay films screening Monday: The Thai lesbian feature Yes or No, screening at 7:30 p.m., and the horror thriller I Am a Ghost from queer director H.P. Mendoza, screening at 9:45. There will even be a LGBT mixer (Mendoza in attendance) between both screenings on Monday night, at Malai Kitchen in the West Village. (We are giving away tickets to both show and the mixer, so stay tuned!)

Uptown Players is back in the Kalita after a long pause while the Dallas Theater Center used the space with Coy Covington again taking on one of Charles Busch’s drag roles in The Divine Sister. Two other outright farces are also continuing this weekend. Stage West is putting on the rarely-performed Joe Orton sex farce What the Butler Saw and Second Thought Theatre is just across the parking lot from Uptown with The Bomb-itty of Errors at Bryant Hall on the Kalita campus. Live The Divine Sister, both have tons of cross-dressing. That’s also true of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which continues until August, and Avenue Q at Theatre Three. Both are terrific summer shows with huge gay appeal.

Friday through Sunday is Taste of Dallas at Fair Park, with tons of vendors from La Madeleine to Tiff’s Treats to Pho Colonial, plus chef demos, beer and wine tastings and more. Once that’s over, Perry’s Steakhouse has a welcome way of celebrating the 4th of July all month — it’s called the 4 for 4 after 4 deal. Basically, there are four menu items that cover the waterfront: the Perry-tini lemon drop cocktail, a polish sausage app, an 8 oz. pork chop and a dessert … and each cost only $4 after 4 p.m., Mondays—Wednesdays. I mean, any time you can get something for four bucks at a restaurant, it’s a good deal, but Perry’s is a pretty high-end place with excellent food.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Applause: Don’t Ohlook away

Keep an eye out for Ohlook Performing Arts, a suburban theater company with an edge

Ohlook doesn’t offer your mother’s idea of community theater. Shows like ‘Debbie Does Dallas,’ ‘Vampire Lesbians of Sodom’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ (pictured) definitely give edge to the ‘burbs.

A conservative bedroom community like Grapevine, Texas,  isn’t the first burg you think of when you consider a hotbed of nightlife. Maybe you can get a nice dinner, do some shopping, even drinks. But late-night theater with vampire lesbians?  That doesn’t seem much like a suburban offering.

But almost defiantly, and with fascinatingly good reason, the folks behind Ohlook Performing Arts Center embrace the idea of edgy shows in the ‘burbs. And, as it turns out, the community seems to be following suit.

“I’m surprised that we haven’t had more of a backlash,” says producing artistic director Jill Blalock-Lord. “But we have a board that supports what we’re doing and hey, there are gay people in the ‘burbs, too!”

In recent months, Ohlook has produced some very queer shows that even urbanites in Dallas proper might drop their jaws at. They just came off a double-feature of Charles Busch plays — Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party — that ran back-to-back as part of Ohlook’s late-show adult series, as well as productions of Debbie Does Dallas and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.

All that begs the question: How are their neighbors in the GOP-friendly ‘hoods of Grapevine, Southlake and Colleyville adjusting?

“Well, the city hasn’t given us a lot of support, but they leave us alone,” Lord says. “We were worried with Trannie, but even in this community, we haven’t had any problems.”

Yes, Trannie.

In February, Ohlook debuted Trannie: A Musical written by Lord’s husband and Redneck Tenor founder Matthew Lord, about a cross-dressing prostitute who searches for the men who gave her up when gay couples were denied adoption rights. But the surprise was on Ohlook: People came out for the show.

Still, the company isn’t specifically gay-centric. In fact, Blalock-Lord says it’s really just been a coincidence — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“I don’t think gay content is the quantifying factor, but I tend to like the message [it] bears,” Blalock-Lord says. “Honestly, we’ll do anything out there because we will do any kind of edgy show.”

They took the gay-themed play Dog Sees God to the American Association of Community Theatre play festival in Rochester, N.Y., and won six awards for it, including best overall production.

Blalock-Lord clearly gets the unbelievable wackiness that her theater company has undertaken. But she wasn’t trying to necessarily step out of the box and be something other community theaters were not.

“Ohlook started as an educational program with student shows,” she explains. “As my kids were growing up, they wanted to be in more adult shows. And so actors that started with us as children are growing into adults in our shows.”

“That’s part of the reason we do those shows,” board member Julie Hahn adds. “We have some talented and serious young people and we offer quality training. These are the shows they wanna do.”

This next season, Ohlook plans to present three shows: The Who’s Tommy, Evil Dead and they’re deciding between Christmas Rocky Horror or Scrooge’s Groovy Christmas. There has been some difficulty in planning because Ohlook is looking for a new home.

“Yeah, we’ve been given our notice so we’re on the lookout,” Blalock-Lord says. “We’re hoping to stay in same area, but we have friends who say come to Dallas. Well, they got theaters in Dallas!”

With a fan base already set, they have every intention of staying close by and they will be in their original space for Tommy, even though it starts later than planned. (“We didn’t want it to open here and then close there,” she laughs.)

Regardless of their struggles, Blalock-Lord feels like Ohlook will always have its peculiar take on theater. And for gay audiences, including some of Ohlook’s students who have made their own self-discoveries, there’s always going to be a place for campy theater — even if it’s way up north.

“I noticed people came from all over to our shows,” she says. “We wanna do shows that bring in an audience and we have revenue from our classes that allows us to be more adventurous. It’s ideal. Part of theater is to educate, but you gotta have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

For more information about Ohlook, visit OhlookPerform.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Uptown Players sets line-up for 2012 season

AM BUSCH | Coy Covington (in ‘Die Mommie, Die!’) returns to his roots in drag acting by once again serving as Charles Busch’s surrogate in ‘The Divine Sister.’

Uptown Players begins its third season at the Kalita Humphreys Theater next year, with a lineup that numbers among its gayest ever.

“I don’t wanna say it’s more gay, but I definitely feel it has more gay aspects than some recent seasons,” said co-founder Craig Lynch.
As usual, the season includes a drama, a comedy and two musicals, plus several bonus shows.

The 11th season kicks off Feb. 3, 2012, with Take Me Out, gay playwright Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award-winner about the reaction when a professional baseball player comes out of the closet. WaterTower Theatre last produced the show locally in 2006.

That’s immediately followed by Broadway Our Way on March 16, the annual fundraiser that showcases musical numbers traditionally sung by men being sung by women and vice versa.

As with this season, Uptown will clear out of the Kalita for a few months while the Dallas Theater Center, which still holds the lease on the building, mounts two shows in the space: God of Carnage and Next Fall. In the meantime, the troupe will return to the stage of the Rose Room for The Silence of the Clams, another of its comic spoofs, again written by Jamie Morris (The Fact of Life: The Lost Episode). It opens April 27.

On July 13, Coy Covington returns to his wheelhouse performing in drag in the most recent Charles Busch comedy, The Divine Sister. This will be Covington’s fourth go as Busch’s surrogate for Uptown. “We saw it off-Broadway and met with Busch,” Lynch said. “His production of the play is touring but is not coming to Dallas, so we snatched up the rights.”

Uptown will then attempt what is arguably its biggest production to date when it tackles  Mel Brooks’ mega musical The Producers. It also happens to be one of the gayest mainstream smashes in the history of Broadway. National tours have come to North Texas, but this will be the first major local production. It opens Aug. 24.

The season will end on Oct. 5 with Hello Again, gay composer Michael John LaChuisa’s musical play about relationships through the decades. John de los Santos will direct.

It’s an ambitious season for the company that began soon after 9/11 in a 120-seat space off Stemmons but is now only the second troupe to be a resident company at the historic Kalita Humphreys. When they started, did they ever think they’d mount something as big as The Producers?

“Heck, no!” said Lynch. “We were debating whether to do The Producers for a year now but after doing research I see how it can work. We’ve learned some valuable lessons in the space. We know we need to scale back here and be more abstract there. We were used to a small space and small-scale thinking; now we times that by a hundred.”

— A.W.J.

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

—  Kevin Thomas