DSM, Bass theater series announced

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Broadway’s ‘Kinky Boots’ will play in Dallas and Fort Worth in 2015

Dallas Summer Musicals (which performs at Music Hall in Fair Park) and Performing Arts Fort Worth (which performs at Bass Hall) announced their upcoming 2014-15 series last night, and there are some hits in the mix.

DSM’s current season ends, for the first time in decades, before the State Fair, and will pick up again in time for the holidays with last season’s Broadway musical stage adaptation of A Christmas Story, co-written by gay composer/lyricist Benj Pasek (Dec. 2–14). The season picks up in 2015 with the North Texas premiere of the transgender smash Kinky Boots (Feb. 24–March 8, 2015), which DSM’s Michael Jenkins co-produced on Broadway. That will be followed by The King and I (March 20–April 5), then a magic show called The Illusionists (April 7–19).

The “summer” in Dallas Summer Musicals arrives in June with a quick succession of three shows. First will be the still-running hit Rodgers+Hammerstein’s Cinderella (June 9–21), which has a new book written by gay scribe Douglas Carter Beane. It is immediately followed by a stage version of Dirty Dancing (June 23–July 5), and finally the Tony Award-winning revival of Pippin (July 7–19).

Performing Arts Fort Worth will welcome some of these shows, as well. Cinderella will move straight from Dallas to Bass Hall (June 23–28, 2015); Dirty Dancing will do the same (July 7–12) as will Pippin (July 21–26). You can also see Kinky Boots in Cowtown if you miss it in Dallas, though you’ll have to wait until the fall (Oct. 27–Nov. 1).

Before that, PAFW begins the holiday season early, with Elf (Nov. 18–23, 2014), followed by Beauty and the Beast (Jan. 14–18, 2015), the eight-time Tony-winner Once (Feb. 18–22) and Chicago (April 3–4).

You can learn more about season tickets here and here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: ‘Evita,’ ‘Spunk’

caroline bowman as eva peron with CheFor many, Evita was the show that won over musical theater fans to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s side before he became the bombastic hit-monster of Cats and Sunset Boulevard. In some ways, it’s the most unlikely of musical subjects: The machiavellian machinations of the former first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, who was long-dead by the time the show opened. And yet, it’s a compelling piece of operatic theater, a kind of political tragedy where Lady Macbeth never has second thoughts.

The original production made stars out of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (Madonna made the movie version 17 years later). The version now at Fair Park Music Hall, courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, doesn’t reach those legendary heights, but it’s a reminder of how solidly entertaining and innovative Evita has always been.

It’s the day Eva (Caroline Bowman) has died, and a disgruntled Che Guevara (Josh Young) seems alone in his lack of sentiment. Was she a devil or a saint? Madonna or whore? Is it possible to be all of these things? Through flashbacks, Che narrates her calculated rise from rural nobody to radio star to wife of military hero and eventual president Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin).

This is the national tour of the recent Broadway revival that starred Ricky Martin. Ricky doesn’t she-bang in this one, but with Tony Award nominee Josh Young in the role of Che, it doesn’t matter much — he has a powerful tenor and a fierce indignation (especially evident in the fantasy number “Waltz for Eva and Che”).

He’s not the only strong performance, though — indeed, of the many productions I’ve seen of Evita this is the first where all five man roles are equally well played. Bowman’s transformation from girl-from-the-sticks to trashy actress to steely political wife to, eventually, a frail and cancer-ridden ghost, is endlessly convincing. MacLaughlin is a strong, sexy Peron, and even Christopher Johnstone, as the cheezy singer Magaldi and Krystine Alabado as Peron’s former mistress do excellent, detailed work. Michael Grandage’s direction keeps the show moving effortlessly, and despite a few missed opportunities for irony and character development, it’s a stellar show, not revived often enough.

KA2_8128Up at the Addison Theatre Centre, WaterTower Theatre has its own stellar musical on the boards. Based on three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Spunk is a jaunty little 90-minute show that has the smoky appeal of a Lenox Avenue speakeasy in the 1930s.

Liz Mikel is this show’s Che, a kind of narrator who escort us through three unrelated scenes by one of the few female voices to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance. The stories are largely unrelated both in tale and tone, but Hurston’s clear, precise style bursts through each of them. In one, a woman (Tiffany D. Hobbs) in the rural south endures the abuses of her drunken husband … until an opportunity presents itself that may free her. In another, zoot-suited dandies throw more shade than a drag queen at noon as they try to woo a liberated woman in post-War NYC. In the third, a loving family man deals with the anguish caused when his wife cheats on him in a weird twist on The Gift of the Magi.

This is toe-tapping theater, full of energy and dark beauty, magnificently lighted by Jason C. Foster (who imbues the Art Deco, Gatsby-inspired set with fire and mood) and performed by a gifted cast. Just try not to have a good time.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Summer Musicals announces uber-gay 2014 season

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Joe DiPietro is back in Dallas with ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It.’

Dallas Summer Musicals announced its 2014 season at an event Tuesday night, showcasing a larger eight-show mainstage season, as well as two special events. And boy! Is it ever a gay season.

The series kicks off, as already announced, with the holiday show Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Dec. 17–29. That will be followed in the new year by Ghost: The Musical (Jan. 28–Feb. 9). Then the gay heats up.

Next up is The Little Mermaid, written by gay Dallas native Doug Wright (Feb. 13–March 2); We Will Rock Youa London hit featuring the music of glamrock band Queen (March 4–16); the return of the Friends of Dorothy — not in Wicked, but in The Wizard of Oz (March 18–30); the new production of Webber & Rice’s Evita, the recent B’way hit that starred Ricky Martin — but don’t expect Martin on the tour (April 15–27); the return of the uber-gay ABBA jukebox musical Mamma Mia! (June 3–15); and finishing up with Nice Work If You Can Get It, featuring the music of the Gershwins in a new story by gay writer Joe DiPietro, pictured (Sept. 2–14). 

Interestingly, the season does not include the announcement for the State Fair musical, which typically plays for much of the month of October. It may be a pipe-dream, but DSM head Michael Jenkins is one of the producers of Kinky Boots. DSM is also a producer of the recent Tony favorites Rodgers+Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Matilda The Musical, though they may be, like Kinky Boots, a few seasons away.

UPDATE: Apparently, DSM’s contract with the State Fair ended, and so there will not be a State Fair musical next season — and, possibly, far beyond.

In addition to the mainstage shows, there are two special events as well. First is Lord of the Rings In Concert, which features the music of the massive show played by the Dallas Pops Orchestra (Nov. 8–13, 2013), then the Beatles tribute show, Rain (Nov. 23–24, 2013).

All performances will be at the Fair Park Music Hall. Tickets can he purchased here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

STAGE REVIEWS: ‘One.Man.Show.’ at The MAC, ‘Sister Act’ at FP Music Hall

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Tim Johnson goes bananas in ‘One. Man. Show.’

Tim Johnson comes onstage at The MAC as his cabaret act One. Man. Show. opens, playing a cross-dressing lounge singer who’s equal parts Courtney Love, Jackie Rogers Jr. and Janis Joplin. It’s in-your-face and disconcerting, and it’s not half of what’s to come in this brilliant confessional (which, if it gives you any indication, is not in fact a one-man show.)

Performance art like this can be aggressive — not primarily in the physical interaction with the audience, but the confrontational nature of owning up to your life. Johnson’s is almost Dickensian, if it weren’t so modern: A pawn in his parents’ divorce (including multiple kidnappings); drug addiction; mental illness; contracting HIV. And there’s more big stuff to come.

Johnson’s 75 minutes involve multimedia presentations (how strange a close-up feels in live theater!), re-created moments from TV, delivered verbatim (especially the Oprah show) and Vaudeville-like slapstick, all without a seeming purpose but really just fleshing out the random, pinball brain of a middle-aged man not sure how to look backward or forward. Brilliantly, it’s not self-indulgence run amok but searing self-examination. Daring theater like this is what Kitchen Dog’s New Works Festival was meant to encourage. See it. (Wednesday at 8 p.m., Thursday–Saturday at 9:30 p.m.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Priscilla’ — queens on the verge of a nervous breakdown

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The queens of ‘Priscilla’

It is a small perturbation that the two longest-running Broadway musicals about drag queens — La Cage aux Folles and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, now playing at Fair Park Music Hall — involved plots where gay men have ill-advised sex with women and produce sons, only hoping not to embarrass their offspring. My guess is, this is done intentionally, to remind mainstream hetero audiences that gay or straight, we are all basically the same (as if showing our emotions weren’t already enough).

Still, you can practically hear the jaws drop inside the auditorium during many of the numbers of Priscilla, which makes La Cage look like a church social by comparison. Its outrageousness is less offensive and shocking than merely unbridled: It’s out-and-proud about its camp factor, and you’d better adjust or stay away.

Adjust. Do, do adjust, because Priscilla is a hoot, as glamorously trashy and enjoyable as the best drag show you’ve ever seen. Some people didn’t stay through Act 2; that was their loss.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Priscilla’ contest winner drags it up

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Brandon Simmons

Last week, we held an online contest to win tickets to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the winner was Brandon Simmons, who got the chance to attend opening night at Fair Park (courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals) with three of his friends. And Brandon had a blast.

The show, about three drag queens traveling the Australian Outback in a rickety bus (which they dub Priscilla), is about as gay as a musical can get … and that’s saying something. “We had a great time!” says Brandon about the experience. “The show is really fun and entertaining. And I think it’s great getting to see something that is bold and very ‘in your face’ … and probably a bit shocking for many DSM subscribers!” In continues through May 26, and you can get tickets here. But you can also meet folks with the show at the official cast party. On May 24, Luxx Night Club on Pearl Street will host the cast and guests from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. with a glittering disco-themed party. The 21-and-over event offers free admission and valet to those with a ticket stub and those who RSVP in advance to Michelle@iegnation.com. You can learn more about it here.  

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—  Arnold Wayne Jones

STAGE REVIEW: ‘Mary Poppins’

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There’s a spoof video on YouTube where the original trailer of Disney’s 1964 film Mary Poppins has been re-edited as Scary Mary, a slasher movie. The thing is, it’s not far from the truth: Looked at soberly through adult eyes, Mary Poppins is less benevolent nanny who twitches her nose like a guest star on Bewitched, and more a mysterious immortal with telekenesis — Carrie White after menopause. She’s like Glinda the Good Witch: magical, but not to be trifled with. There are elements to P.L. Travers’ book series that recall Harry Potter, though it’s all basically a harmless fantasy-adventure series, with loosely related vignettes that don’t tell a cohesive story like Rowling does; the structure most of us are familiar with came with the Disney movie.

The stage version of Mary Poppins, now at the Music Hall for a two-week run courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, is less an adaptation of the movie musical than a hodgepodge of elements from the first three books, plus songs from film, plus eight new songs. As a result, it’s not quite loyal to any one source, picking through the scraps in the fossil record like a magpie. Gone are some songs and plot-points from the film (“I Love to Laugh” and the tea party on the ceiling; “Sister Suffragettes” and the entire political subplot about women’s independence, etc.), and added are more numbers, some of which slide surreptitiously under the radar, evocative of the original score (“Being Mrs. Banks,” “Practically Perfect”) and some of which do not (“Brimstone and Treacle,” “Temper, Temper”). The result is that the stage version is neither fish nor fowl — not a musical for purists of the books or the film. If you go in expecting one or the other, you’ll leave unsatisfied.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: ‘Anything Goes,’ ‘Catch Me,’ ‘The Chairs,’ ‘The Lucky Chance’

Anything GoesStephen Sondheim Theatre (formerly Henry Miller's Theatre)

It’s a busy season for theaters, with opening and closing coming fast and furious. Few things, though, as as fast and furious as the tap-dancing in Anything Goes, which continues its run this weekend at the Winspear Opera House. The national tour of this Tony Award-winning revival is part of the classic strain of American musicals where quick-witted people end happily while dancing their asses off, all the the tunes of folks like Cole Porter. There are more hits in this score than during a Mafia wedding: “Friendship,” “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “It’s De-Lovely” and, natch, the title tune. If hearing the sounds that make up the foundation of the Great American Songbook, belted out like Merman on speed, isn’t your idea of a fun night of theater, there’s something wrong with you.

Rachel York leads the cast as Reno Sweeney, the sassy cabaret star who’s chasing after a boy who has eyes on another girl, who is engaged to be married to a British lord, who doesn’t care much about marrying her …. Oy. Plot is not its friend. But jaunty one-liners, sexy men in sailor suits and timeless songs are. Even 80 years after it opened, the energy is as fresh as morning glory. (Through Sunday.)

How, then, can Catch Me If You Can at Fair Park Music Hall, which is just two years old, feel so much more dated than Anything Goes? Scored by the team that did Hairspray (partners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and written by Terrence McNally, it’s also set in the 1960s and based on a hit movie. And that’s where the similarities cease.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GIVEAWAY: VIP tix to “Million Dollar Quartet”

Thanks to the Dallas Summer Musical peeps for offering Dallas Voice readers the chance to win VIP tickets to the opening night of the musical Million Dollar Quartet. That’s a sweet package of first-orchestra seats and an invitation to the cast party after the show. How many people can now say they are gonna schmooze and mingle with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins? OK, sorta. MDQ is based on the recording session in which all these legends collaborated and never again. From Dallas Summer Musicals.

On December 4, 1956, these four young musicians gathered at Sun Records in Memphis for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions ever. Million Dollar Quartet brings that legendary night to life, featuring a score of rock hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more.

This thrilling musical brings you inside the recording studio with four major talents who came together as a red-hot rock ‘n’ roll band for one unforgettable night. Don’t miss your chance to be a fly on the wall of fame… at Million Dollar Quartet!

For tickets, just drop us an email here with you and your guest’s name (for the cast party list) and phone number (to notify winners) with “Gimme a Million” in the subject line. Winners will be randomly selected on Tuesday.

MDQ runs March 6–18 at the Music Hall at Fair Park.

—  Rich Lopez

Teenage wasteland

P.R. FLEX | Disenfranchised Puerto Ricans Anita (Michelle Aravena) and Bernardo (German Santiago) burn the floor in a re-imagined revival of ‘West Side Story.’ (Photo courtesy Joan Marcus)

Hormonal youth meet fatal consequences in ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Awakening’

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

There aren’t many musicals that are about things. Andrew Lloyd Webber, with his bombastic shows concerning felines and toy trains, may have lowered the bar, but the “serious” musical has always been an uphill battle. Even a show like Hairspray, which touches on racism, is more concerned with a punchy ‘60s-pop sound than social change.

Two musicals that break the mold are West Side Story and Spring Awakening. There’s very little hope in either one. But the message of teenagers crazed by hormones, and the tragedy that results, have made them classics, even coming 50 years apart. Seldom has the reality of adolescence been more acutely wrought.

The new production of West Side, at the State Fair courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, was re-imagined by the show’s original writer, Arthur Laurents, with the addition of Spanish dialogue and lyrics (from Lin-Manuel Miranda) for the Puerto Rican street gang the Sharks, as well as a timely design: Although a product of the ‘50s — especially evident in Leonard Bernstein’s still-relevant jazz score and dialogue resplendent with daddios talk of hoodlums — this version could just as easily take place today. The Jets, usually so easy to mock for their balletic street fighting, are by-and-large beefier here, more threatening. They may plie like Nureyev, but you sense they’d beat the living crap out of you for making fun of ‘em.

This West Side also has something sorely lacking in almost every prior production: A Tony with true sex appeal. You believe the spark between him (Ross Lekites) and Maria (Evy Ortiz, whose soprano is astonishing) as they Romeo-and-Juliet it on the balc… er, fire escape. Young love onstage usually seems hokey; here, it feels primal.

There’s power in this doomed romance, from the haunting, bloody finales of both Act 1 and 2 to the near rape of Anita (Michelle Aravena) that elevates it — not just to the realm of tragedy, but to the scope of a true American opera.

At least, that’s the sensibility conveyed by this production, the best yet in DSM’s 2011 season. West Side Story hasn’t felt so fresh in ages, abounding with energy (although some of the dancers aren’t in perfect step) and a new air of sexual ambiguity (especially with tomboy Jet wannabe Anybodys and some gang members that seem a little too chummy). This has never been a feel-good musical, but its dark outlook feels earned this time.

THE BITCH OF LIVING | Sexually repressed teens give motion to their libidos with John de los Santos’ choreography in WaterTower’s production of ‘Spring Awakening.’ (Photo courtesy Mark Oristano)

We live in a state whose governor preaches abstinence-only sex education while the teen pregnancy rate is among the highest in the nation. If that kind of dunderheadedness infuriates you, you’re in for a frustrating two hours with Spring Awakening. Based on a German play written more than a century ago, this rock musical explodes with paternalistic hypocrisy, as parents and teachers scrupulously avoid their responsibilities toward children in order to preserve some mythical idea of “proper” society. Teenaged girls wanna know where babies come from and are given a non-cock-not-bull story about storks — is it any wonder they wind up pregnant and on Jerry Springer?

From the first haunting strains of Duncan Sheik’s plaintive rock score, Spring Awakening oozes sex. And not just pure, puppy-love romantic sex. These kids fantasize about their tutors and their classmates; they jerk off to poetry; they explore sado-masochism and fetishes and drug use. Welcome to the real world of teenhood, Gov. Perry.

WaterTower Theatre is mounting the first local production, and if you haven’t seen it, do. The show itself is arrestingly modern, even though set generations ago, and the music and lyrics (by Steven Stater) are wonderful both for their abstract imagery and the immediacy of the emotions.

But there’s also something slightly off. Maybe it’s the sound, which was spotty on opening night, but it feels more like the singers themselves. Mind you, the cast — made up largely of young comparative newcomers — all sing well, but you want them to do more: You want them to get loose.

Director Terry Martin gives them the opportunity, with onstage masturbation, same-sex kissing and dark discussions of sex sure to make a few blue-hairs squirm. John de los Santos’ stylized choreography gives them a lot to do, bringing a sense of motion to the internality of libidos gone mad, but they need to shout a little. It’s impossible to be too loud doing Spring Awakening — it is a rock musical, after all. With songs titled the likes of “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk” and “Totally Fucked,” this stage is no place to play it safe.

Among the cast, Adam Garst as the tortured Moritz is a standout, as is Kayla Carlyle as the free-spirited Ilse, but each of them embodies an aspect of adolescence that rings true. Spring Awakening resonates not because it feels so remote, but because it lives inside the mind of everyone who recalls first lust.

—  John Wright