Grow up!

‘It’s Only Life’ is a cabaret, ol’ chum

STAGE

SING A SONG | The cast of ‘It’s Only Life’ brings actors’ ideas to a delightful musical revue.

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

The DMA isn’t the only Dallas institution that has Jean Paul Gaultier on its mind: Over at Theatre Too, Jeffrey Schmidt’s set for the song cycle It’s Only Life is dominated by a wall of coned newspaper that looks like it could put out a lot of eyes. If there’s some metaphorical meaning to this design, it escapes me. This is, after all, a revue of sprightly songs by the composer John Bucchino, not a book musical telling a story that needs to be interpreted visually.

That’s its blessing and its curse, though mostly a blessing. Broadway songs (and country music) are about story; pop songs are vignettes of emotional abstraction, capturing a moment, not a tale. The versatility of cabaret that is it brings a storyteller’s approach to pop — it’s like acting in a vacuum, and writing songs that support that ethic is a Bucchino specialty.

But the cast here is almost too good, creating tiny characters for three minutes, only to abandon them for the next one.  But there’s no follow-through — there’s not meant to be. On novelty songs like “Painting My Kitchen” and “A Contact High,” Bucchino’s Sondheim-esque wordplay and the lightning-fast emotional modulations by Seth Grugle and Angel Velasco, respectively, draw us instantly into a story, but sometimes a plot seems to be shoehorning its way where none belongs.

All that is really required to enjoy it, though, is a change in mindset: Think of It’s Only Life not as a play, or even as a revue, but as a concert loosely orbiting around the idea of finally growing up. It starts with “The Artist at 40,” a confessional worrisong about the creative process that sets the tone for what follows: I’m so busy making art / That there’s no time to live / The life the art is imitating is the wise refrain.

After that, it’s just a question of immersing yourself is Bucchino’s playfully syncopated melodies that insert luscious phrases and unexpected lyrical bombs, delivered wonderfully by the cast of five. Darius-Anthony Robinson has a great R&B pop voice that’s actually suited to the revue format of playlets in song form, especially on the centerpiece solo “Grateful;’ then, with a quick turn, his comic energy serves him on songs like “A Powerful Man.” Erica Harte has a quirky Broadway style that always catches the ear, and Jennifer North shines on torch songs.

It’s Only Life is a regrettably generic name for a musical of distinctive pleasures. Then again, don’t think of it as a musical; think of it as an evening of song-filled entertainment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Village comes to Big D

ECLECTIC BOUTIQUE | Designer Tom John shows off some of the ‘retro, vintage chic, eclectic’ items for sale in his new shop Bryan Street Traders. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Store features an eclectic array of items from art to clothing created by owner Tom John

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

When clothing designer Tom John moved to Dallas, he found himself missing his Greenwich Village hangouts. So he decided to recreate that Village atmosphere here in Big D, and thus was born John’s new Bryan Street Traders in East Dallas.

John’s career as a designer started back in the 1970s in Mexico where he designed jewelry and swans made of papier-mache and wood that he sold to upscale galleries in Manhattan.

Then he started designing clothing made from hand-woven cotton found only in Mexico, turning peasant designs into high fashion and creating a clothing line that was an instant success. In the 1980s, his clothing was featured in magazines such as Exercise for Men Only.

John ended up in Dallas because the area’s airport allowed him to commute easily between Guadalajara and New York. And since 1990, he has manufactured his garments here. Although the wholesale cost, he said, was a few dollars more than producing in Mexico, he saved in shipping and travel costs.

In describing his creative process, John explained, “I see it in my head and an artist draws the pattern.” Then the pattern is cut and sewn into a test garment and John uses that to decide if that was what he had in mind.

Changes are made if necessary, and then the pattern is sized. John’s new store features his shirt designs that run in sizes up to 5X.

From his women’s rack, John pulled one dress that he said comes from his very first design — a cream-colored dress that he said he based on a design from a 1951 Sophia Loren film.

But Bryan Street Traders is more than clothing. John described the array of items as “retro, vintage chic, eclectic.”

The offerings range from art to jewelry, from furniture to an array of household items.

“I have ‘pickers’ who find things,” John said, describing how he assembled his assortment of merchandise, “But we don’t buy off the street.”

One customer in the store brought a straight-edge razor up to the counter.

“The razor is from Sheffield, the oldest metalworking factory in the world,” John explained and with a magnifying glass found identifying marks on the piece.

“Everything in the store is authentic,” he said.

The store is located just off Peak Street in an area just being redeveloped with new restaurants. on the corner and apartments on the block.

Bryan Street Traders, 4217 Bryan Street. Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m. BryanStreetTraders.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright