REVIEW: “The Frequency of Death!”

Pegasus Theatre’s Living Black & White production has become as much a holiday season tradition as A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, and like those, it relies heavily on the familiar: The characters you’ve grown fond of, the emotional reaction you’ve come to expect. Unlike those, however, Pegasus can mix up the show every season, with new settings, new casts, new plots. (Who would want to see Xmas Carol without Tiny Tim, or set on Mars in 2121?)

That’s its blessing and its curse: It allows Pegasus’ artistic director, playwright and leading actor,Kurt Kleinmann — who always plays clueless gumshoe Harry Hunsacker — flexibility, but it also makes each show a crap-shoot: Will it be as good as last year?

This year’s production, The Frequency of Death!, is better … at least in Act 1, which has a high percentage of laughs, some hilarious performances and a setting — the studio a 1930s-era radio drama — that permits a variety of action.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Carol’ charming

The lion, the ghost and the wardrobe changes of Carol-er David Ryan Smith

DTCs-The-Wiz

FROM OZ TO DICKENS | David Ryan Smith got a chance to work at both DTC home bases in 2011, playing the Cowardly Lion in ‘The Wiz’ at the Wyly, and now multiple roles in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Kalita. (Photos courtesy David Leggett and Karen Almond)

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

David Ryan Smith isn’t a Dallas native, he just seems to play one onstage.

The  New York-based actor has made the Dallas Theater Center almost a second home in 2011 — first playing the Cowardly Lion in last summer’s The Wiz (one of the triumvirate of friends of Dorothy, along with the Tin Man and Scarecrow, who stole the show), and currently in several roles, most notably the

Ghost of Christmas Present, in DTC’s annual revival of A Christmas Carol.

So what accounts for his sudden honorary Texan status? Even he doesn’t know.

“I’d never even been to Texas until this summer,” he says. He grew up in Asheville, N.C., before attending school in Indiana and later San Francisco; he moved to New York six years ago. But he “had a great time” here.

Really?! He liked spending a record-settingly sweltering summer in a furry lion suit? Well, yeah, kinda.

“I’m not a big musical-theater actor, but I’d always wanted to do The Wiz,” he says. He’d auditioned for the DTC before when the company held casting calls in NYC, but actor and part never quite clicked before. Still, he agreed to assist the casting director, helping read other actors for parts. Then the casting director suggested he would be right for the Lion. DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty agreed, and his Texas tour was on its way.

“The Theater Center is great — the facility and the people. And working with the Dallas Black Dance Theater was amazing, they are all so talented.” He even became friends with his Wiz co-star Liz Mikel, who is in New York right now preparing for her Broadway debut in Lysistrata Jones.

But Smith also wanted to work with DTC’s Joel Ferrell. “Liz and Cedric [Neal] told me, work with him if you can,” he says. So when Ferrell returned this year to direct A Christmas Carol again, Smith jumped at the chance.

It actually wasn’t his first experience with DTC’s annual holiday show — Smith had worked in San Francisco with former DTC associate Jonathan Moscone, who mounted a version of Christmas Carol in the 1990s. “He was really proud of that show,” Smith says.

So what’s it like staying in the holiday spirit 10 times a week since Halloween? Not as hard as you might imagine, Smith says.

“We do original music, not the same old Christmas carols you hear everywhere, so at least it doesn’t make you cranky,” he says. “And wearing those boots [as the Ghost of Christmas Present] takes you into a whole other reality. I see my job in that role as forcing [Kurt Rhoads, who plays Scrooge] into changing. Kurt’s a wonderful acting partner.”

An even better partner is Smith’s boyfriend of five years, Josh. How do they handle Smith being on the road so much?

“It’s part of the job,” he sighs. “Usually he comes to visit, but because of how the holidays fall this year, he won’t get down here, though he visited during

The Wiz. And actually it makes the time we spend together all the better.”

That’s the way to stay in the holiday spirit — especially for a man playing a holiday spirit.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Occupy Christmas!

That one-percenter Scrooge actually has a heart at DTC; a panto aims for the ‘Dick’

Theatre-Britain---Dick-Whittington---Publicity-Photo-2

VERMIN AND PEARLS | A rat queen (Kate Rutledge) terrorizes a cross-dressing Dick Whittington (Jad B. Sexton) in the latest panto from Theatre Britain.

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

Having seen A Christmas Carol at the Dallas Theater Center about a dozen times now, which plays for a full month every December, the thing I can never quite wrap my mind around is how, during the other 11 months of the year, folks don’t see crotchety ol’ Ebenezer in themselves — at least, the ones running for the Republican presidential nomination. Scrooge is a right scourge (c’mon, don’t tell me that never occurred to you?) of the poor. In the opening moments, he rejects the idea of giving money to charity.

“Isn’t that what the workhouses are for?” he cruelly asks.  Why don’t the poor do us all a favor and die, he rhetorically wonders, “and decrease the surplus population?” It’s the transformation at the end — the transition from starting as Gingrich (or is that Gin-grinch?) and ending up as Obama, all yes-we-can and full of hope — from which the beauty of the story emerges. And he gets there entirely via some ghosts, not with the assistance of Occupy Hyde Park.

The Theater Center has been roasting this chestnut since the Carter administration, but to be honest, there’s almost always something new to enjoy with it. The surprise this year (other than the absence of both Denise Lee and Liz Mikel — the first time in my memory at least one has not be in it) is how the director, Joel Ferrell (returning to the show after taking a break last year), has brought out both the humor and the horror of this most famous of ghost stories.

The play begins as it never has before: With a flashback. We see Jacob Marley (Jonathan Brooks) on his death-bed years earlier, writhing in such agony you can imagine the horrors of wandering through limbo the better part of a decade before he finally manifests in Scrooge’s chambers to warn him to change his ways. That appearance is equally frightening, as is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, looming 10 feet tall, scratching the outline of Ebenezer’s grave on the ground like a fingernail on a blackboard.

But the moments of levity are more buoyant than before as well. Brooks and Steven Walters, as ghoulish and plainly gay businessmen who foppishly snipe at the dead man whose funeral has been long overdue, give a sassy bitchiness to the scene that’s never been there before. Brian Gonzales’ brogued-out Fezziwig has the twinkling airiness of a leprechaun.

The only weakness, if you can even call it that, is Ebenezer himself.

The part this year is played by Kurt Rhoads, who has a long history with the DTC since the 1980s and has certainly seen his share of Carols. He’s a brittle ol’ fussbudget in Act 1, but Act 2 is where the magic really happens — that’s where Scrooge finally develops the Christmas spirit and reminds us all not to be as cynical and hatemongering as the Michele Bachmanns and Rick Perrys and FoxNewses of the world … that, indeed, the one-percenters can be real people, too.

Rhoads gets there, but the transition lacks the warm-n-fuzzies you look forward to every year. Maybe it’s because his makeup is too good: Stringy white hair, a sallow, mottled complexion, angular, hard features. He looks the same before and after — a bit of rouge might have softened and warmed him, giving Scrooge human coloring at least.

Not that it matters much. The point is, in the end, the season has made a better person out of a rich guy. Hey, that’s why we go to the theater: We enjoy the fantasy.

DTCs-ACC-11---David-Ryan-Smith,-Marlhy-Murphy,-Drew-Favors,-Kurt-Rhoads---by-Karen-Almond

GOD BLESS US | The Ghost of Christmas Present (Kevin Ryan Smith, left) shows Scrooge (Kurt Rhoads, right) what his behavior hath wrought in DTC’s ‘Christmas Carol.’ (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

The character of Dick Whittington doesn’t have quite the resonance this side of the pond as Ebenezer S. does, but in England, he’s a staple of history (once lord mayor on London) and the comic stage, with his cat as well known as he. So it was about time Theatre Britain turned Dick Whittington into one of their annual Christmas pantos.

If you haven’t seen a panto, they are difficult to describe without sounding slightly batty. They are children’s theater, but they also have a lot of drag characters. They have broad slapstick comedy and simple plots among the dirtiest fast-paced jokes this side of Judd Apatow. They have sing-alongs and ghosts and lots of corn-dog gimmicks. In short, they are for every taste, even if you don’t know it.

For instance, having a main character called “Dick,” you’re likely to be assaulted with a barrage of, ahem, “dick” jokes: “What’s your name?” “Dick.” “I like you already!” Or: “We have three minutes to find Dick.” “You can’t find dick in three minutes.”

There! That chuckle, that grin you just allowed yourself? That’s panto.

The newest show is a naughty charmer with some of the raciest humor this side of Russell Brand. There’s Dame Overeasy (James Chandler), a guy in a dress all tarted-up, she obviously works in a tart shop (that’s part of the hidden gaggery of a show like this). Dick (played by a woman, Jad B. Sexton) brings along his cat Tom (Jean-Luc Hester, a great pantomimist with feline moves and purrs) to defeat  the rats, led by a queen (Kate Rutledge), who looks like Julie Newmar switching alliances, inviting hisses from the audience.

The pop culture references — from Titanic to Beyonce to a trio of Disney-esque gangster rats (the best of whom, Chris Sykes, looks like he actually grew up in a sewer — and I mean that in the best possible way) who seem to have stepped out of a lost reel of Ratatouille — are plentiful for the adults, the physical humor over-the-top kid-friendly. It makes for good, not-so-clean family fun.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: ‘Rockin’ Christmas Party’

Denise Lee and Markus Lloyd in 'Rockin' Christmas Party.'

If a musical revue featuring a six-person ensemble and no real plot can have a star, then the star of Rockin’ Christmas Party — returning to WaterTower Theatre a decade after it first began a run as a holiday standard — is Markus Lloyd. Lloyd belts out Motown hits, croons on carols like “What Christmas Means to Me” and moves better than James Brown on “I Feel Good,” “Brickhouse” and “Love Shack.” With his deep voice and infectious energy, he puts the “rockin’” in the title — enough so, that you might not notice that the show itself is too cheesy by half.

Dave Steakley’s musical tour of the latter half of 20th century music with a seasonal theme has been a regional favorite for ages, and like similar shows — Forever Plaid comes to mind, as well as A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker — it represents a tradition perhaps more honored in the breach than in the observance: Going might just be the thing to get you in the holiday mood, but it feels more like a routine than an inspiration.

This production plays to the actors’ strengths, although in that way, it’s predictable, even a bit dull. Jenny Thurman has played Patsy Cline many times; having her perform a medley of country songs with a Patsy twang is, at least, uninspired. (The songs selected are puzzling as well; story-ballads like “Harper Valley, P.T.A.” and “Ode to Billy Joe” have actual plots, so doing mash-ups that delete large parcels of lyric is a failure. It makes no sense to sing about “the day my mama socked it to” the P.T.A. without hearing what she did is ludicrous.)

Gary Lynn Floyd’s smooth tenor is a perfect match for the comforting sequence of TV Christmas special-like songs, and the theater rocks with gay pride during the disco sequence, which includes “I Will Survive,”  ”YMCA,” ”I’m Coming Out” and “It’s Raining Men” — it might as well have a drag queen leading the way. But that also raises a question: What about those songs says “Christmastime” to you? Only about a quarter of the musical numbers are actual carols — the rest are just retro doo-wop and rock songs. Fun, yes, but not really overflowing with holiday cheer. (How does “Movin’ On Up,” the theme from The Jeffersons, belong within three miles of this show?)

Neither do the costumes. Despite red and green velvets conjuring Santa’s elves, these creations, paired with unattractive wigs, detract from the spirit of the season more than complement it.  Thurman is clad in a petticoated prom dress that makes her look like a drag version of Lisa Lampanelli, and Sara Shelby-Martin comes out near the end in a get-up (including hat) that looks like a Pan Am stewardess wearing a sombrero designed in the Land of Oz.

None of that, of course, affects the singing, which is excellent. (On opening night, Amy Stevenson, one of the biggest-voiced of big-voiced singers in town, was clearly off her game, barely getting her songs out above a whisper.)  Rockin’ Christmas Party ends up as a show better listened to than watched — just like all those Andy Williams/Perry Como TV specials.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Applause: Joel Ferrell is the hardest working man at the DTC (Sorry, Kevin!)

Over a 30 year career, Joel Ferrell has gone from journeyman actor and dancer to one of the driving creative forces at the Dallas Theater Center

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Joel Ferrell gets a brief respite from his busy schedule with the Theater Center, and gets to sit where the audience does for a change: In the lime green seats of the Wyly Theatre

CLICK HERE FOR MORE STORIES FROM APPLAUSE: THE DALLAS VOICE VISUAL & PERFORMING ARTS GUIDE 2011

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Applause Editor

Joel Ferrell is the first one to admit that he “[doesn’t] do well in giant windowless buildings,” so when Kevin Moriarty tapped him to join the Dallas Theater Center staff as an “associate artist” —basically the No. 2 on the artistic side of the venerated troupe, tasked with directing about a third of the shows there and helping to produce others — he might have balked. Ferrell, like a lot of theaterfolk, has a gypsy’s nature: He likes to move around, trying new things, exploring different theaters and companies and stages. It’s how he’s made his living for 30 years.

But the call from Moriarty came with more than the promise of a steady paycheck and a corporate title. It came with the opportunity to help reinvent how theater could be done. And though he would surely dispute it, almost as much as Moriarty, Ferrell has been instrumental in testing the limits of the Wyly Theatre and bringing the DTC to national prominence.

Ferrell could fairly be called the hardest working man at the DTC, if not in all North Texas theater.

“I don’t know about that — Kevin works much harder,” he says demurely.

But look at the facts: This past season alone, Ferrell produced the acclaimed sell-out comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at the Kalita, and directed the DTC’s best shows back-to-back: The Horton Foote comedy Dividing the Estate, immediately followed by his staggeringly complex and affecting revision of the musical Cabaret, which he also choreographed. He’s also the man responsible for conceiving (and directing and choreographing most productions) of DTC’s holiday staple A Christmas Carol, a task he returns to this winter in addition to helming the regional premiere of God of Carnage.

In some ways, this is a cakewalk compared to the pace Ferrell maintained in his five seasons with Fort Worth’s Casa Manana, where he directed and/or choreographed more than three dozen musicals. It was great experience, Ferrell concedes, but not a fulfilling one.

“I was always a square peg in a round hole there,” he says. “What we did was in essence summer stock, with me playing producer, directing the designers, deciding whether to rent costumes. I was fighting to make Casa an arts organization that did art from the ground up. After years of poking my finger in that bear I gave up. It was invaluable and energizing and I wouldn’t trade it at all, but I’m so glad I’m not doing it now.”

What he wanted was what all artists crave: Freedom to experiment with the limits of their imagination, and “this place has done that for me, with me, to me … in spades,” he says.

By “this place,” Ferrell is referring both to the Theater Center itself and its new home in the Wyly Theatre. The building has not been without its critics: An overly steep entrance, uncomfortable chairs (recently, and expensively, updated last year), confusing and crowded accessways … and that’s just from the audience’s perspective.

“There’s no typical backstage where a director can stand and pace when you’re watching the opening of your new show,” Ferrell notes about the configuration. But he’s adjusting.

“It took significant getting used to because it is unlike any theater building I have been in,” he says. “There have been hiccups, but I have to say — having bopped around the country working at a number of theaters — lot of things are fantastic. But probably the luckiest thing is that Kevin Moriarty was the first artistic director to move into the building.”

Ferrell credits Moriarty with encouraging his creative team to make inventive use of the stage. “This is not a place for directors who want a proscenium,” Ferrell cautions. “I really like working in the theater that is so flexible and with very few limitations about how you can create your space.”

For his part, the depth of that creativity came with Ferrell’s radical staging of Cabaret earlier this spring: Working with his set designer, he turned part of the Wyly stage into the floor of the Kit Kat Klub in the 1930s, complete with café tables, tea lights and beverage service. It was a far more complicated undertaking than merely coming up with an idea.

“You had to be aware of where it would be coherent to have tables, what the number of seats to be sold could be, the safety, ADA compliance. The decision just where to put the service tables for the waiters was a big one. I worked a supper club theater in New York years ago and it was a lot of work. Very quickly it became understood it took a lot of departments working together to make it work. It is a great collaborative process here working with an evolving building.”

Ferrell is quick to share the credit with all the people who help make a show come together.

“I have been lucky to have such astonishing designers working with me — there’s no need for me to lead them by the nose. During tech week on Dividing the Estate someone told me she was in awe of the process, mesmerized by the speed at which the [artists] work. Someone said to me, ‘I don’t know when you sleep!’ During tech week, I don’t sleep.”

His generosity of spirit probably comes from starting out as an actor (he became a member of Actors Equity 30 years ago, he crows) before moving into choreography and eventually directing. He first worked at the DTC when Richard Hamburger, the former artistic director, hired him for a new production of A Christmas Carol in 1991.

“Then about eight years ago, Hamburger hired me to choreograph My Fair Lady — the last show performed at the old Arts District Theater. That was the most collaborative I have even been with Richard,” he says.

Ferrell decided to take a breather when in 2008 he received a call from Moriarty, who had only recently been appointed the new A.D.

“He asked, would I choreograph The Who’s Tommy. It became very apparent he was testing the waters with me, to see if it made sense for me to be connected with the Theater Center. Even still, coming on staff? I did not see that coming.”

Ferrell thinks Moriarty has been instrumental in “making the Theater Center more relevant to Dallas than it had been in a long time, arguing that it should be doing innovate stuff and regain a national footprint. It feels like we’ve made some great progress in that way,” he says.

As for Ferrell himself, he’s still excited about his new role in shaping the North Texas theater scene, and has found a sense of serenity.

“There was a time when I thought the amount of shows I did was the barometer of my success,” Ferrell admits.

Not so much anymore. He’ll take quality over quantity any day. If only he could just slow down.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

On Second Thought: Actor-director Regan Adair returns to Dallas for one last gig

END OF THE REGAN ERA | Regan Adair recently moved to New York, leaving Dallas theater without one of its busiest and most versatile talents.

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

Regan Adair was born to be in theater. But it took him a while to get there.

If you’ve seen good theater in Dallas over the last 10 years, chances are you’ve seen Adair’s work, either as an actor or director. He started with ingenue roles in community theater productions like You Can’t Take It With You, and gay comedies like Cowboys. Over the years, he amassed an amazing resume of shows, playing a blind man in Love! Valour! Compassion! at Uptown Players and the lead in the dark David Mamet urban horror Edmond at Second Thought Theatre.

He directed one of the best shows of 2009 (Talk Radio), teasing out a performance by Elias Taylorson that nabbed him the Voice’s Actor of the Year citation; in 2010, Adair received the honor himself, largely for his work with the Dallas Theater Center. (Adair was a staple at the DTC for so long — from Rosencrantz in Hamlet to Bob Cratchit in the latest incarnation of A Christmas Carol — you might have thought he was one of the members of the Brierley Resident Acting Company, but he remained independent.) For one season, he was even the artistic director at the Richardson Theatre Center. He’s been a gem of the Dallas theater community.

Only he’s not Dallas-based anymore. Earlier this year, Adair moved back to New York with his partner, whose job moved. With all his successes, it might seem surprising that it took Adair so long to get to New York. But in fact, it’s déjà-vu for him.

The first time Adair lived in New York City, he was not prepared for it. He was 21 and had just won a national fashion design competition with prize that included an internship with Cynthia Rowley. He was on the rise — young and cute and talented in the city where, if you can make it, you can make it anywhere.

But it wasn’t right for him.

“New York was just so overwhelming,” he says over a latte in Dallas. “I was so lonely, I couldn’t get out fast enough.”

While he was there, however, Adair was the subject of an E! documentary. The host asked him a question that stuck with him: “Have you ever done any acting before?”

“When she asked, I thought, ‘Are you saying I’m not good enough at fashion to make a living at it?,’ because that’s where my mind goes. The thing was, that was what I was gonna do with my life.”

Like a lot of gay men, Adair struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his religious upbringing.

“I didn’t know anyone there and I was not remotely comfortable with myself and being gay,” he says. “I took my bible to work with me and hid behind it.”

New York was — is — a city of temptation for someone discovering who he is; now that he’s more settled, more sure of himself, he feels more better adjusted to deal with that.

It might be that early search for identity that attracts Adair to complex stories about despair and the need to find something to fill our lives, which describes the play Red Light Winter to a T.

“I absolutely love this play,” Adair gushes over the Adam Rapp drama, a Pulitzer Prize finalist getting its regional debut at Second Thought under Adair’s direction. “I don’t know how it will be received by people due to its graphic nature, but I love it.”

And he means lots of nudity. And sex. Lots.

“The scope of the play is sexual intrigue, but on a much deeper level it’s about the need for love and mutual fulfillment. It’s not just about nudity — at the end of the first act, the sex is really about making love; it’s beautiful. In the second act … well, let’s say it’s the complete opposite of that. It’s such a human play.”

Adair first encountered the Red Light Winter when he directed a staged reading for the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival two years ago. Then, while appearing last fall in Henry IV, his castmate Steven Walters mentioned he was producing the show for Second Thought.

“I told him I had to direct it,” Adair says. He came back to Dallas expressly to direct the show — and to bid his farewell to Dallas.

It’s a ballsy way to goodbye. One of Adair’s decisions was to configure the stage in basketball-court fashion, so that audience members can see each other across the stage, something that is bound to make people uncomfortable, especially given the subject matter.

“It’s like when you put on porn in a room with other people in it,” he explains. “You wonder, are they watching it or watching you watch it?”

The risk is great for a show like this, but Adair says he’s never been prouder of a show or a cast, either as an actor or director. And if people don’t like it? Well, that’s OK, too.

“I’m attracted to despair,” he says. “People want a happy ending. Not me. My favorite movie of all time is Chinatown. If life takes you in a different direction, so be it.”

That’s a perfect attitude for someone making a living in New York as an actor.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Christmas presence

Satiric ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ succeeds with intimate setting; DTC freshens up its annual ‘Christmas Carol;’ and who’s being a Scrooge about ‘Santaland Diaries?’ We are

ON THE BOARDS
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
at the Kalita Humphreys Theater,
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Dec. 24.
DallasTheaterCenter.org.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
at Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through Jan. 9.
Theatre3Dallas.com

THE SANTALAND DIARIES
at Greenville Center for the Arts,
5601 Sears St. Through Dec. 23.
ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com

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MUSICAL OF MUSICALS | TV talk show host Rob McCollum, left, makes a hilarious narrator in Theatre Three’s intimate, well-paced production of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone.’

Chaperone: Rousing drowsy

There are some shows that seem nearly impossible to translate to the challenges of theater-in-the-round, but Theatre Three’s extravagantly staged production of The Drowsy Chaperone not only succeeds, but perhaps becomes better.  Now, much like the show’s narrator, the audience becomes surrounded and engulfed by the action.

The show’s conceit is that a brittle theater geek (Good Morning Texas’ hilarious Rob McCollum) is alone in his apartment, waxing nostalgic about his favorite musical of all time, The Drowsy Chaperone. He pulls out an LP (“yes records” he snaps), puts it on the turntable and as the cast recording plays, the musical comes to life in his living room.

Part loving homage, part brilliant satire, the musical that unfolds is a classically constructed Broadway hit about a woman leaving her glamorous career in showbiz to marry a man she met on a cruise ship. Is it true love or is she just interested in his father’s oil holdings? To keep the bride-to-be from seeing the groom prior to the wedding, she is assigned a chaperone, who’s constantly drunk (“drowsy,” as she calls it) despite it being the height of Prohibition. As the wedding day approaches, plenty of obstacles are thrown in the path of the happy couple, building to a rousing climax.

There are plenty of colorful characters, including an aviatrix (which we’re told is code for “lesbian”), a womanizing Latin lover, rat-a-tat gangsters, ditzy socialites and an even ditzier chorus girl. All the machinations and musical theater clichés are present and accounted for, from tap-dancing showdowns to jazz hands and high-kicking chorus lines, all combined with self-referential jokes that frequently break down the fourth wall.

Theatre Three’s casting and production is spot-on, including McCollum, the always enchanting Arianna Movassagh as the moll Kitty and a tipsy turn from Marisa Diotalevi as the title character. The Drowsy Chaperone, in all its laugh-out-loud extravagance, is a wonderful alternative to the holiday fare on other stages around town, and every bit as merry and bright.

— Steven Lindsey

stage-1
BAH, CRUMPET | Nye Cooper returns to the island of misfit toy-sellers in the bitter comedy ‘The Santaland Diaries.’

Santaland: Angels we have heard on Nye

By the sounds of it, I may be one of the few left in these parts that had not seen The Santaland Diaries, the stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ droll essay about debasing himself for part-time work at Macy’s. Over the years, the local production has become a holiday tradition with Nye Cooper donning the elf cap. He channels Sedaris with the appropriate wit, but as a first timer at the one-man show at the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, it seems that the show, while fun, needs some oomph.

The play recounts Sedaris’ travails working as Crumpet, an elf in New York’s famous Santaland display over one Christmas season. Bratty children and even brattier parents are all stars in Sedaris’ story and Cooper succeeds in stepping into that skin. He should: He’d done it more than half a dozen times. With such familiarity, he embodies disgruntlement to the nines, but also a certain amount of heart to take the audience from disdainful diatribes to a tender epiphany.

Despite the show’s institutional standing, it plays just shy of greatness. Cooper can deliver a punchline, but you can also tell it’s been delivered before… and before that. Diaries is ideal for the driest of humor, but he held back a bit here and delivered Crumpet as just kind of a friendly sass.

Nonetheless, Sedaris’ clever writing mixed with Cooper’s rubber face and sad eyes is a match made in heaven. And the payoff isn’t the sweet realization he comes to. It’s Crumpet saying all those things to holiday shoppers you wish you could say yourself. Hearing those alone makes it a worthwhile see.

— Rich Lopez

HUM BUGGERY | The Ghost of Christmas Past (Cedric Neal) visits old Ebenezer (Chamblee Ferguson) in DTC’s slightly retooled version of ‘A Christmas Carol.” (Photo courtesy Linda Blase)

A Christmas Carol: A turn of the Scrooge

After five years of listening to other actors humbug their way into audiences’ hearts as Scrooge, the Dallas Theater Center has moved its perennial Bob Cratchit, Chamblee Ferguson, into the lead role in their annual A Christmas Carol, and the move ends up being one long overdue.

Ferguson is tall and slender, and in his tight-fitting black suit, Ichabod-like. That’s a very different tale from the same era (and across an ocean), but it draws together an odd thematic unity to the idea of the ghost story: Real or imagined, sometimes you need to look at the world anew.

Which is pretty much what this production’s new director, Mathew Gray, has done within the limitations of the same script and set that has been trotted out ever since they tore down the Art District Theater to build the Winspear and the Wyly. The show is solid, and it has succeeded (more or less) over the past few years with some tweaking here and there, but this may be the biggest overhaul yet: New Marley (Liz Mikel, looking like the scary spirit of Harriet Tubman), new Christmas Past (Cedric Neal, his skin seeming almost iridescent), new Christmas Present (J. Brent Alford in an unfortunate hippie-dippie robe that makes him look like Jesus and his amazing Technicolor dreamcoat, chillin’ on a commune circa 1968), and the most adorable kids — Little Ebenezer/Tiny Tim (on press night, played by a girl, Marlhy Murphy) and Edward Cratchit (Aidan Langford) — in memory.

But it’s Ferguson and Regan Adair (stepping in as Cratchit) whose performances really transforms the show. There’s great chemistry here: Ferguson, a lanky and sharp Mutt opposite Adair’s sad-sack, flustered Jeff. There’s more of a comic sensibility between them, with Adair spinning a modern twist on the familiar victim of Scrooge’s discourtesy. The Cratchits’ dinner scene is as tender as it’s ever been.

If the comedy is played up well, so is the schmaltz (it’s easy to tear up by the end), but Gray also imbues the ghost visits with a Twilight Zone quality. There really is a sense for the bizarre and the supernatural now.

And also a sense for the message. During a rough economy, Dickens’ social engineering — looking after the poor, the greed of the privileged, etc. — take on heightened meaning. It redirects the emphasis of A Christmas Carol from personal growth to a call for systemic compassion for those in need. It’s good to be reminded of that in an effective way that also entertains.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Note: As it has for the past two years, the Dallas Theater Center will be raising money for the North Texas Food Bank to help feed the underprivileged living in North Texas. Donations can be made at every performance.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens