DTC postpones ‘Dracula,’ adds Oscar and Felix

One of the more anticipated debuts this season of theater was going to be The Dracula Cycle, a play by gay Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, debuting at the Dallas Theater Center in the spring. Well, it’s been placed on hold, according to a release from the DTC this morning. In its place: The Odd Couple, which will run March 15–April 14.

Hmm… from a bloodsucker to a neat freak.  I kinda see it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: DTC’s “Joseph,” T3′s “Ave. Q”

Sydney James Harcourt as a buff Joseph. (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

The problem with the Webber and Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has always been its roots as a kids’ Sunday school pageant. It was written to be 20 minutes of Bible education set to music; when they decided to expand it, you could tell where they were padding. The result is tuneful, light enjoyment — 70 minutes of anachronistic songs about the Old Testament. But there’s never been a lot of meat to it; it’s a sing-along show with a Broadway attitude.

Or at least it used to be. Joel Ferrell, who directs and choreographs the version now playing at the Dallas Theater Center, has found a way around Joseph‘s weaknesses. First, the DTC has licensed the extended score, including a mega-mix curtain call medley that reiterates the entire score in digest form.

Second, he’s given a shape to the story it has always been in desperate need of: Instead of the show just being what it is, we now have a reason for it. A group of school kids trudge through a museum with a stern security guard (Liz Mikel). One of the children is fascinated by a copy of the Torah, and the guard takes note. She tell him the story of Joseph and his 11 brothers, and as she does, the stage opens into a Pee-Wee’s playhouse of colorful stagecraft; the kid even imagines himself as the baby brother in the tribe. This conceit does more than bookend the play: It explains to hip weirdness the show has always wrestled with, specifically, songs (and some characters) that seem unexpectedly modern. Why is Pharaoh be portrayed as Elvis? It makes sense if a 21st century child projects his ideas onto a story. And it gives Ferrell the chance to ratchet up the disconnects. The brothers now are skateboarding iPod junkies in baggy shorts and ball caps.

The change does two important things: It raises the energy level of the show, and it allows Ferrell to mount one of the gayest family musicals you’ll ever seen. (Maybe those are the same thing.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

EXCLUSIVE: Inside the shocking comic moment in DTC’s “God of Carnage”

Ask anyone who has seen Dallas Theater Center’s production of God of Carnage what the most memorable moment in the play is, and you will get a chorus of unanimity — guaranteed. If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t, spoiler alert!

It comes about 20 minutes in. A graceful socialite, played by Sally Nystuen Vahle, announces she’s feeling queasy. Then, with almost no warning, she blows chunks. Throws up. As in projectile vomiting that seems to go on forever. And is milky. And has big pieces in it (apples and pears, if you follow the dialogue). And it gets everywhere.

Nasty.

And fucking hilarious.

The process of making the scene work was a confluence of Vahle’s stagecraft and the efforts of John Clauson, the props designer, and his team. And it took a lot of trial-and-error.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: WaterTower’s (very gay) new season

Addison’s WaterTower Theatre released the schedule for its 2012-2013 season, and the line-up is among the gayest for the company in recent memory.

• The season begins in September with The Mystery of Irma Vep, experimental gay playwright Charles Ludlam’s hilarious send-up of melodramas revolving around the strange goings-on at a spooky estate. (Sept. 28–Oct. 21.)

• The holiday show will be It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. This is a new concept for WTT, which typically stages a musical comedy or revue with a Christmas  theme. This production will transport the beloved film to the studio of a 1940s-era radio station for an authentic recreation of the old-school radio play. (Nov. 24–Dec. 16.)

• The season picks up again in January with Putting It Together, a musical revue featuring the music of gay composer extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim. Diana Sheehan, who played Big Edie in WTT’s Grey Gardens, stars. (Jan. 11–Feb. 3.)

• This past year, WTT’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival was super-gay — it often is. Next year’s line-up won’t be announced until early next year, but you can always count on odd and engaging new works. (March 7–17.)

• WTT’s gay artistic director Terry Martin, who recently starred in the Dallas Theater Center’s production of Next Fall, pictured (Martin’s on the right), will direct Frank Galati’s award-winning adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath, about the Joad family’s journey from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to the fields of California in the 1930s. (April 5–28.)

• Prolific playwright A.R. Gurney, who mined the field of WASP culture in plays like Love Letters, tackles the formal wedding toast in Black Tie, a comedy about a father trying to maintain some dignity at his son’s upcoming nuptials, only to have his own late father appear as a ghost, offering advice. (May 31–June 23.)

• The season ends next summer with one of the gayest musicals ever conceived: Xanadu. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s hysterically campy adaptation of the godawful 1980s movie musical, released in the waning days of disco, inserts pop music into a revised plot about the establishment of a roller disco. (July 26–Aug. 18.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DTC screens “Joseph” sing-along Tuesday

The Dallas Theater Center’s summer musical is, as usual, a family friendly show, and this time, it’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It doesn’t open until June 22, but you can get a preview of DTC’s version, followed by a screening, tomorrow evening. For the second year, DTC has paired up with Studio Movie Grill on 75 and Royal for a meet-and-greet Q&A session, where you can visit with the cast of DTC’s production (including recent B’way veteran Liz Mikel, pictured) and then watch the filmed version of the show, starring Donny Osmond, in a sing-along. And all of it is free. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. on June 5 to meet the players, with seating at 7:10, Q&A at 7:30 and the movie at 7:45.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DTC announces 2012-13 season

The Dallas Theater Center’s fourth season at the Wyly Theatre continues to extend performances into the Kalita Humphreys space where Uptown Players calls home, but this will officially be the last year A Christmas Carol is performed there. The upcoming season itself claims lots of new works or regional premieres in an eclectic season of comedy, professional wrestling, flying men and musicals with the word “fly” in the title.

See the schedule of shows after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theater troupes to release seasons, but we already know one by the Bard

It’s that time of year when theater companies begin to unveil their seasons, and nowadays, they like to make it a show. Tonight, the Lexus Broadway Series will reveal its third season at the Winspear (look here on Instant Tea this weekend for an update!) and next week, the Dallas Theater Center and Theatre 3 both have ceremonies to announce their seasons.

We already know one of the plays on the Lexus slate: The Tony-winning War Horse, pictured, which was revealed last year. But we also know one of the DTC’s upcoming shows.

This fall will mark the start of the company’s fourth season at the Wyly, and artistic director Kevin Moriarty has always opened his season with a Shakespeare play: The comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the history Henry IV (Parts I and II) and the romance The Tempest. That only leaves one of the major tragedies (Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear), and smart money has always been in Lear: It’s less performed than all the others except Othello, and so the production would be pretty fresh. The question was, who would tackle the lead?

Now we know. The DTC may not have released its schedule yet, but Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I. — with which Moriarty has had a long affiliation — has. It released its 2012-13 season brochure a few weeks ago, which I happened upon online, and here’s what it says:

King Lear [Sept. 13—Oct. 21] Our resident acting company joins forces with the acclaimed Dallas Theater Center for a co-production of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. … In the winter, Trinity Rep’s actors will venture to Dallas to remount this thrilling co-production. Resident acting company member Brian McEleney stars as Lear.

It looks, then, like Shakespeare will not kick off DTC’s season for the first time at the Wyly, but will wait until early 2013, following DTC’s annual presentation of A Christmas Carol … another show Trinity Rep is also doing. Might there be other convergences on the two schedules? We’ll find out next week!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Column Award theater nominations announced

Uptown Players' 'Next to Normal' is a major nominee in the Column Awards.

The Dallas Theater Center and Uptown Players are head-to-head with the most Column Award nominations for Equity theater companies with 39 and 28 respectively. But that’s nothing compared to the Non-Equity winner, Artisan Center Theatre, with 52 nods. (As always, tons of gay folks are nominated.)

Now that the Dallas Theater League’s Leon Rabin Awards don’t exist, the Columns are the only non-critic awards in town for local theater. Eligible theater professionals (and, actually, me) will now vote in the final round. The  winners will be announced at the Column Awards gala on Feb. 27 at the Patty Granville Performing Arts Center in Garland.

The complete list after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“Giant” today at the Wyly

Bigger is better

Any true Texan has likely seen Giant, the movie. It’s a thing, here. But now the story gets the stage treatment with musical numbers by Michael John LaChiusa ad directed by three-time Tony nominee Michael Greif. The Dallas Theater Center goes way big for this epic story of love, redemption and acceptance on the backdrop of the Texas flatlands and the booming oil industry.

DEETS: Wyly Theater, 2400 Flora St.2 p.m. $15–$85.DallasTheaterCenter.org

 

—  Rich Lopez

COVER STORY: So big

Making a stage musical of ‘Giant,’ Edna Ferber’s iconic novel of Texas, has been a mammoth undertaking, but a powerhouse team resolved to bring this premiere to the Dallas Theater Center

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MAJOR PROPS | After almost five years, all the elements of the musical adaptation of ‘Giant’ have come together, from the final orchestrations of composer Michael John LaChiusa, pictured, to the massive set, dominated by a huge water tower. (Photos courtesy Karen Almond)

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

Let’s get this out of the way up-front: Giant is the gayest Hollywood film of all time.

No really, think about it: Rock Hudson, Sal Mineo and James Dean (all oiled up and rolling around), with Liz Taylor playing beard to all of them while Mercedes McCambridge lurks in the background? Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Why, it’s a wonder no one has made a musical about it already.

And now, they have. And you can thank the gays. Again.

“I never thought about that,” says Michael John LaChiusa, composer and moving force behind the new stage adaptation of Giant, which began previews at the Wyly Theatre this week. “There’s no getting around it. There were lots of butt shots in it. And they were damned sexy.”

Everyone can agree on that. Indeed, for Texans gay and straight, Giant — the film — has always been a unifying experience. Covering more than 30 years in the lives of old-school wildcatters, it has fame, fortune and failure; love, requited and un–; boom and bust; death and intrigue; big parties, sweeping landscapes and drunken oilmen.

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OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE | Dee Hoty is playing the character least like herself in ‘Giant’ ... and she likes the challenge.

There’s even a gusher scene that forever created the myth of the “big strike.” That’s a lot to be proud of. Giant was Dallas before anyone heard of J.R. Ewing.
The movie, at least.

Today, the book doesn’t enjoy anything near the reputation of the film, even though author Edna Ferber was one of the most popular novelists of her day. Like Booth Tarkington and Pearl Buck, audiences and critics acclaimed Ferber’s work in the first half of the last century, but her works simply haven’t endured as literature. Though maybe they should have.

“I intentionally did not read the book [before seeing a reading of Giant] so I could go in without any preconceived notions,” says Michael Greif, the Tony-nominated director helming the massive new production. “After that, and the real excitement about moving forward with the show, I finally read the novel. It was an unbelievable treat — just a great read.”

In fact, in adapting the story to the stage, LaChiusa and librettist Sybille Pearson made the decision to follow the book, not the movie. That’s a daring move for a million-dollar-plus musical set to make its official world premiere in Texas.

“It’s a remarkable book that captures the beauty and sometimes cruelty of this great state,” says LaChiusa about that decision. “It spoke to me — the story of a marriage over the course of 25 years, and the oil [culture] and Mexican immigrants and who owned the land. I realize the iconic nature of the movie, but if people are gonna come to see the show and expect 10,000 heads of cattle [onstage], they aren’t gonna get that.”

Which itself raised an issue: How do you take a book (or a movie) with a name like Giant, renowned for its scope and ambition, and put it within the confines of a stage?

Certainly its length — at least initially — echoed its title. When LaChiusa first accepted the commission more than three years ago, the production originally mounted in Northern Virginia clocked in at close to five hours — even Hamlet has more down time.

“We’ve shortened it vastly,” LaChiusa says. “When I first dove into it, we went in without any restrictions. After that, we thought we wanted it to have a future life — a four-and-a-half hour musical with two intermissions appeals only to a certain audience who have time to invest in that.”

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TWO GENERATIONS | ‘Giant’ is so sweeping, Dallas native Miguel Cervantes plays two characters — a man and his own son — in the musical. (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

It now runs closer to three hours (a 90-minute first act and 75-minute second act, plus just one 20-minute intermission), but LaChiusa doesn’t think it has suffered any loss.

Rather, he says it has been streamlined in terms of story and music. “It still maintains its epic nature and the sprawl is still intact,” he promises.

For actor Miguel Cervantes, in fact — who plays Angel (the Sal Mineo role for the film) and his father — the changes over the course of the nearly five years he has been associated with Giant have felt organic.

“Five or ten of us have been with it from the beginning and we just look at each other thinking, ‘Wow, it’s incredible how this thing has changed,’” he says.  “But I have the same lines basically since the beginning — well, there was another verse in some of the songs but my arc has stayed pretty much the same.”

Cervantes, a Dallas native who has worked in New York for about a decade, was not familiar at all with Giant — the book or the film — until the first audition for a workshop of Giant before it opened in Virginia (he was not in that actual production due to another commitment). It wasn’t until last week, however, that he’s heard the music with full orchestra, which will no doubt really impact his perception.

“Michael John has always talked about what an enormous part the music has to play,” Cervantes says. “You can’t put this huge sweeping land onstage so you have to do it through the music, and I’ve never really heard it! I can only imagine how it’s gonna change then.”

That’s one thing everyone seems to be in agreement on.

“The difference between a stage musical and a movie is that in theater, the [movie] close up is the song,” LaChiusa says. “The song provides the internal life of what the characters are expressing.”

In the case of Giant, though, it has to convey the vastness of Texas itself as well.

“Through the score, I can evoke that sky and the plains as well as the internal life of those people,” LaChiusa says.

“I think the grandeur is taken care of a lot by the incredible score,” adds Greif. He knows something about incredible scores: He directed the original Broadway productions of Rent and Next to Normal. LaChiusa “has written a spectacularly epic score that is about enormous emotions and expressions. It really takes care of that.”

As a director, it was when Greif started working with the designers that he knew he’d need to bring sweep as well. A huge water tower makes up a major set piece, and backdrops convey the breadth of the land. But ultimately, it’s the music that sells it.

“As an audience, we understand the epic nature and the importance of the land not from a visual depiction of it but through the characters’ perspective: The size of that struggle and the size is appropriate to that epic scale. This really feels like a great classic American musical — it really is in that canon,” says Greif.

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THE ORIGINAL J.R. EWING? | Broadway veteran Aaron Lazar plays Bick, a budding land baron and oil tycoon, in DTC’s ‘Giant’ musical, which is in previews until its world premiere official opening Jan. 27. (Photos courtesy Karen Almond)

But will Dallas audiences be convinced about the story’s essential Texas character? It’s a concern for many involved.

“I’ve always known we were coming here to open this,” says Aaron Lazar, a Broadway veteran who plays Bick (the Rock Hudson role). “When I did Light in the Piazza, I knew that if Italians come and see the show and don’t think I am Italian I’m not doing my job. So there was certainly an awareness on my part that we step it up and tell this amazing Texas story.”

Although they only got to town after the new year, Lazar says many of the cast have already sought out “a real Texas experience while we’re here.”

It’s the music, though, upon which the success of the show will likely hinge.

“Michael John is a genius and I don’t throw that word around lightly,” says Lazar. “There are very few people who can do what he does and this score is one of his absolute best. I’m so excited for him.”

LaChiusa himself is understandably more trepidatious.

“I can definitely say I’m nervous because it is such a story Texans take to heart. And I’m prepared to face that trial by fire from audience and the likes of you,” he jokes.
Still, he’s had plenty of time to prepare over these many years. But significantly, it all comes down to opening night.

The Giant Dallas audiences will see is very different from the one that started three years ago, but also different from what it was just three months ago. The process of mounting a show always poses its own challenges.

“Because we have actors and staging, those are all creative people who add their own element to the stew,” LaChiusa says. “If you can tell something with a gesture or bit of lighting, we can take away [a line or a lyric] or change the key to fit an actor’s voice better. You tailor the show for those things.”

Especially when you have actors of the caliber of Dee Hoty, a three-time Tony Award nominee at home in the American Southwest: She originated Betty Blake in The Will Rogers Follies and had the lead in the ill-received The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. She was especially aware that Texas audiences would be looking for authenticity.

“Because of this iconic movie, I wanted to look at [Giant] but didn’t want to look at it too soon. The first thing I did was read the book, which was pretty spectacular. I got a sense for how huge it all really was. My character [played by Mercedes McCambridge in the film] is kind of an enigma: She’s the boss, but she’s not. She’s older and a maternal figure, but not [Bick’s] mother. It’s probably the most different role I’ve ever played from me — she is so contained. I am not in my comfort zone for this one,” she says.

Time for worrying is pretty much over now. After about a week of previews, the official opening night is Jan. 27, and everyone will see how the years of work have paid off, and if the scrappy Wyly Theatre can convey the hugeness of Giant. But LaChiusa is sure of at least one thing that will leave bigger than it started: Him.

“You have such good barbecue here,” he says. “I’m gonna gain like 10 pounds.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas