DSM, PAFW announce 2015–16 seasons

THE-PHANTOM-OF-THE-OPERADallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth, which this season teamed up to present several shows together (first in Dallas, then in Cowtown), chose a few hours before the Tony Awards to announce their upcoming 2015-16 seasons, which will again have several cross-over shows.

DSM’s season will kick off with a new version of The Sound of Music (Nov. 3–22), followed by the Christmas show Elf (Dec. 8–20), The Bridges of Madison County (which last year won the Tony for its score, Feb. 2–14, 2016), the return of The Little Mermaid (March 11–27), Ragtime (May 24–June 5), the recent Bullets Over Broadway (June 14–26), 42nd Street (June 28–July 10), plus a bonus presentation of Wicked (April 20–May 22).

PAFW begins its season with The Book of Mormon (Dec. 1–6), Motown (Jan. 13–17, 2016, which will play in July at DSM), a new production of The Wizard of Oz (June 7–12) and Phantom of the Opera (Oct. 20–30). It will co-present Little Mermaid (March 29–April 3, right after DSM’s run), 42nd Street (July 12–17. after DSM) and The Sound of Music (Aug. 17–21) with DSM. Add-on productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Sept. 18–20), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Nov. 24–25), Blue Man Group (Feb. 19–21, 2016) Mamma Mia! (May 20–22),  and will also be in the line-up.

In addition, Performing Arts Fort Worth has two shows at the McDavid Studio, one of which we exclusively broke earlier this year: Dixie’s Never Wear a Tubetop While Riding a Mechanical Bull (and 16 Other Things I Learned While I Was Drinking Last Thursday) (Nov. 11–22, 2015) and Back to School Catechism: The Holy Ghost and Other Terrifying Tales (Oct. 5–9, 2016).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Review: ‘The Illusionists’

Jeff Hobson - The Trickster - Photo Credit The Illusionists

The Trickster

There are two irrefutable facts about magic shows: 1) They are cheesy; 2) when they are good, they are  a whole helluva lot of fun. The Illusionists is a whole helluva lot of fun.

In some ways, magic has been ruined for me by Gob Bulth from Arrested Development, who never failed to walk into a room without doing jazz hands to a prerecorded fanfare and dropping a playing card. There are a lot of jazz hands, a lot of silk shirts and moving fingers in The Illusionists. There are even two jokes about Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s the cheesy part. But it’s also an element of its charm. Magic is as much about showmanship as mystery, as much about a good time as misdirection. Seven magicians, all with different skills sets, populate the cast, each bringing a different energy to the show. The Trickster, a Liberace-esque comedic-magician, has a gay ol’ time playing with sexuality as much as a deck of cards. The Escapologist, a half-naked Italian, does an actual bit of legerdemain underwater when, over the course of three minutes — and right before our eyes — he extricates himself from a tank while shackled. The Anti-Conjuror, a wraith-like steampunk dude covered in tattoos — he looks as if Iggy Pop and Lance Burton had a love child — performs some uncomfortable bits of physical magic, such as putting a piece of dental floss under his skin and popping things out of his body.

Andrew Basso - The Escrapologist - Photo Credit The Illusionists

The Escapologist underwater

It’s a great hodgepodge of styles and techniques, from simple coin tricks to elaborate mechanical illusions, and some work better than others. But the trick to enjoying The Illusionists as much as I did is simply to let yourself go. Allow the indescribable sleight-of-hand of The Manipulator to take you back to a time when magic was real and everything was possible. It’s like being a kid again.

At Fair Park Music Hall through April 17.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Harvey Fierstein: The gay interview

As Kinky Boots opens in Dallas, the flamboyant theater diva opines on Johnny Weir, Robin Williams and why we hate ourselves

Harvey Fierstein by Bruce Glikas

“I’m sorry,” Harvey Fierstein growls in his unmistakable Brooklyn gravel, “I gotta go on with my life.” And so, after our insightful 40-minute chat peppered with Fierstein’s true-to-form frankness, he does.

But for Fierstein, a revered Broadway legend known for an iconic writing répertoire that includes Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles and, most recently, Kinky Boots, which opens tonight at Fair Park Music Hall courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, this isn’t just the Tony Award winner’s blunt way of concluding our extensive conversation. It’s a way of life.

Fierstein reflects on the past—  up for the “sissies,” what he calls his “legendary disaster,” and how his own “12 steps of happiness” inspired his latest Broadway smash — but the 62-year-old’s very much living in the present, and for the future.

And look for our one-on-one interview with Fierstein’s Kinky collaborator, Cyndi Lauper, in Friday’s edition, in print and online!

— Chris Azzopardi

Dallas Voice: I’m certainly not the first person to tell you that Kinky Boots is a massive hit. When you first began writing the musical, did you imagine it would become as successful as it’s been?  Fierstein: You know, you don’t. I’m really old. I’ve been around a really long time, and I’ve had — knock wood — an unbelievable run of hits, and I’ve had some horrible misses and a couple of in-betweens, but you go into all of them with the same heart.

I’ve done a couple for the wrong reasons. I did one to try and make money, which is really a very bad reason, and you make no money doing it that way. I’ve learned that lesson, and I would never do that again. But you basically go in for the right reason because you’re gonna spend years of your life involved with these characters, with these collaborators. And it’s not something you take on lightly if you’ve ever done it because, well, Kinky Boots took almost five years to write.

It’s clearly been a labor of love for you.  They have to be. That’s exactly why they have to be a labor of love, because from sitting down and starting work, which was a year or more before I even called Cyndi [Lauper, who wrote the music and lyrics], to the opening in Korea [last December], we’re now up to seven or eight years. It’s part of your life for the rest of your life.

Jerry Herman and I wrote La Cage 30-something years ago and we are still the parents of that show. We still have to talk about it all the time. So, to say, “Did you know it was gonna be a big hit?” No, you don’t know. You go in with the best hopes and the best intentions of doing something that will entertain, which is our number one job.

What’s a project you did for the wrong reasons?  Legs Diamond. I had a friend who was directing it. Peter Allen had AIDS and his best friend who was writing it for him, who was not a writer but a clothing designer, had AIDS dementia. My friend Robert [Allan Ackerman] called me up and said, “Look, will you come in on this? I know it’s a terrible idea — Peter Allen as Legs Diamond — but all we have to do is get Peter out there, let him shake his ass, sing a couple of numbers, and we can just cash the checks.” And I drank the Kool-Aid.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DSM, Bass theater series announced


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


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


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.  


—  Arnold Wayne Jones

STAGE REVIEW: ‘Mary Poppins’


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