ACTOR OF THE YEAR

N2Narnold1Stage, it is said, is an actor’s medium, and that is true with the local theater community, who did excellent work last year. Pam Daugherty and Jerry Crow breathed comfortable authenticity in Theatre 3’s contribution to the Foote Festival, The Roads to Home; seven months later on the same stage, Sally Soldo and Sonny Franks transformed the domestic musical A Catered Affair into a kitchen-sink master class in acting for the musical genre.

Larry Randolph, in the nearly-one-man show The Madness of Lady Bright, was a dazzling tragic tour-de-force of a drag queen in winter, nearly matched by Barry Nash’s entirely-one-man show Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of the Self, both running at the Festival of Independent Theatres — Bright from 1:30 Productions, Birdnow from Second Thought Theater. Second Thought was also represented by the threesome of Drew Wall, Natalie Young and Alex Organ, in the most compelling drama of the first half of 2011, Red Light Winter; Organ scored again (at comedy) in WaterTower Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, stealing the show in several roles.

The men offered the “wow” factor to DTC’s The Wiz, with Scarecrow James Tyrone Lane, Lion David Ryan Smith and Tin Man Sydney James Harcourt buoying that production. Oozing charisma, Wade McCollum’s sinewy, villainous M.C. in Cabaret turned a part often played for androgyny into a testosterone-laden sex show. Max Swarner oozed something different — goofy likeability — in ICT’s How to Succeed.

Comic women shone at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, with Emily Scott Banks and Catherine Wall standouts in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, while Shannon J. McGrann plucked her way through Bad Dates. The entire cast of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Kitchen Dog Theater “got” the humor in a sickly perverse comedy. Angel Velasco’s brain-dead beachcomber was a comic hoot in Level Ground Arts’ camptacular musical Xanadu.

But a trio of actors at Uptown Players made 2011 special. First Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd, pictured, turned the quasi-opera Next to Normal into Uptown’s best production to date, exploring music, family life and mental illness with tenderness and strength.

If I had to pick one performance I can’t shake all these months later, it would be Lulu Ward in, of all things, the Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century. Over a 25-minute monologue as the craft-happy mother of a son with HIV, she delved into the quirky charms of a kitschy Southerner to the depths of pain a mother feels watching her child die. Between fits of uncontrollable laughter was a cascade of tears from the audience as she choked back hers. You couldn’t walk away from what seemed like a frivolous comedy without feeling transformed by Ward’s performance. That’s what made her the actor of the year.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘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