William Blake returns for cabaret show with Denise Lee

Blake LeeFull disclosure, here: Both William Blake and Denise Lee love me. I know, cuz they’ve said so. Will something come of it? Never say never.

To say I love them, though, would be superfluous — everyone does. Denise, the sultry powerhouse; Blake, the lilting crooner. Blake’s a local, but has spent much of the last decade tearing up the cabarets on NYC. He’s back home, though, for a one-night-only performance with Lee at the Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie on Tuesday called, natch, My Baby & Me. In addition to great songs, you’ll hear awesome stories about their careers and even get to much on some appetizers. But nothing is more appetizing that hearing these songbirds.

Get your tickets here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: New JCPenney Black Friday commercial with Dallas talent

Recognize any of the folks in this ad? You should. I spotted at least three: Doug Miller (far left front), Denise Lee (next to Doug) and Bruce DuBose (right rear). Of course, it’s also for one of our favorite retailers, JCPenney, which is not only local but gay-friendly.

Check it out after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lee, Floyd perform at PhD Friday

Denise and GaryLast week, I wrote about the new gay-owned sports bar in Oak Cliff, PhD — it stands for Pour House Dallas — and how the bar had instituted live music on weekend nights. Well, one of those nights is this Friday! Best buds Denise Lee and Gary Lynn Floyd will perform together from 8–11 p.m. So enjoy some wings and beer, and maybe watch a game, while they treat you to some music. (They’ll also be the featured entertainment at the Bloomin’ Ball on Saturday.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: Denise Lee’s ‘The Divas of American Music’ at the Winspear

With the Grammy Awards coming in less than three weeks, this coming Friday brings Dallas Voice’s annual Music Issue, so leading up to it, we’re gonna set the mood with reviews and interviews of trendsetting musicmakers all week long. First up: Denise Lee.

Broadway has told us for decades that life is a cabaret (old chum), but you got a sense for that being true inside Hamon Hall at the Winspear last night. That’s where before an enthusiastic crowd Denise Lee, one of Dallas’ reigning doyennes of song, celebrated her personal divas, from songwriters like Dorothy Fields (“No one ever remembers the lyricist,” she clucked, especially when they are women — she noted that the Songwriters Hall of Fame contains only seven women inductees) to stylists from Carole King to Barbra Streisand.

“This is a hard business,” Lee observed from the stage. But she makes it look easy.

Anyone familiar with Lee knows that her personality is casual and unfussed. She joked about her wardrobe malfunctions (“It’s amazing what you can do with Super Glue,” she sighed) and toyed with the mike stand; when she needed to refer to some written notes, she removed a paper from her bra (“these aren’t just to look at”). It was as friendly and warm and engaging as an evening with a friend and a bottle of wine.

But none of it would have mattered without the songs. Lee performed everything from “America, the Beautiful” to Lady Day’s “Strange Fruit,” to songs from Bonnie Raitt, Nina Simone (a roiling version of “Mississippi Goddam”), Joni Mitchell. Of course there was Aretha. But whoever popularized them first, the songs were all Lee’s own. She’s our diva.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gay Dallas pianist Buddy Shanahan found dead from apparent heart attack

Buddy Shanahan

Gay local pianist Buddy Shanahan, 50, died suddenly Sunday night.

Shanahan was scheduled to play for singer Denise Lee at Woody’s Sports and Video Bar on Sunday evening but did not show up. Lee posted on her Facebook page, “due to circumstances beyond my control I won’t be playing at Woody’s tonight. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

When Norman Williams stepped in to perform with Lee, singers Anton Shaw and Paul Allen went to Shanahan’s house, where they found him deceased. The cause of death was believed to be cardiac arrest.

Shanahan has accompanied many singers at Dallas gay clubs. For years he was a regular at Bill’s Hideaway. More recently, he performed often at Alexandre’s and Woody’s.

He also played regularly for Metropolitan Community Church of Greater Dallas.

Shanahan was also known for performing at charity events in the LGBT and HIV/AIDS community. On Oct. 20, he accompanied Lee and other singers at a fundraiser for Legacy Counseling Center at The Brick.

For a full story on Shanahan, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

Occupy Christmas!

That one-percenter Scrooge actually has a heart at DTC; a panto aims for the ‘Dick’

Theatre-Britain---Dick-Whittington---Publicity-Photo-2

VERMIN AND PEARLS | A rat queen (Kate Rutledge) terrorizes a cross-dressing Dick Whittington (Jad B. Sexton) in the latest panto from Theatre Britain.

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

Having seen A Christmas Carol at the Dallas Theater Center about a dozen times now, which plays for a full month every December, the thing I can never quite wrap my mind around is how, during the other 11 months of the year, folks don’t see crotchety ol’ Ebenezer in themselves — at least, the ones running for the Republican presidential nomination. Scrooge is a right scourge (c’mon, don’t tell me that never occurred to you?) of the poor. In the opening moments, he rejects the idea of giving money to charity.

“Isn’t that what the workhouses are for?” he cruelly asks.  Why don’t the poor do us all a favor and die, he rhetorically wonders, “and decrease the surplus population?” It’s the transformation at the end — the transition from starting as Gingrich (or is that Gin-grinch?) and ending up as Obama, all yes-we-can and full of hope — from which the beauty of the story emerges. And he gets there entirely via some ghosts, not with the assistance of Occupy Hyde Park.

The Theater Center has been roasting this chestnut since the Carter administration, but to be honest, there’s almost always something new to enjoy with it. The surprise this year (other than the absence of both Denise Lee and Liz Mikel — the first time in my memory at least one has not be in it) is how the director, Joel Ferrell (returning to the show after taking a break last year), has brought out both the humor and the horror of this most famous of ghost stories.

The play begins as it never has before: With a flashback. We see Jacob Marley (Jonathan Brooks) on his death-bed years earlier, writhing in such agony you can imagine the horrors of wandering through limbo the better part of a decade before he finally manifests in Scrooge’s chambers to warn him to change his ways. That appearance is equally frightening, as is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, looming 10 feet tall, scratching the outline of Ebenezer’s grave on the ground like a fingernail on a blackboard.

But the moments of levity are more buoyant than before as well. Brooks and Steven Walters, as ghoulish and plainly gay businessmen who foppishly snipe at the dead man whose funeral has been long overdue, give a sassy bitchiness to the scene that’s never been there before. Brian Gonzales’ brogued-out Fezziwig has the twinkling airiness of a leprechaun.

The only weakness, if you can even call it that, is Ebenezer himself.

The part this year is played by Kurt Rhoads, who has a long history with the DTC since the 1980s and has certainly seen his share of Carols. He’s a brittle ol’ fussbudget in Act 1, but Act 2 is where the magic really happens — that’s where Scrooge finally develops the Christmas spirit and reminds us all not to be as cynical and hatemongering as the Michele Bachmanns and Rick Perrys and FoxNewses of the world … that, indeed, the one-percenters can be real people, too.

Rhoads gets there, but the transition lacks the warm-n-fuzzies you look forward to every year. Maybe it’s because his makeup is too good: Stringy white hair, a sallow, mottled complexion, angular, hard features. He looks the same before and after — a bit of rouge might have softened and warmed him, giving Scrooge human coloring at least.

Not that it matters much. The point is, in the end, the season has made a better person out of a rich guy. Hey, that’s why we go to the theater: We enjoy the fantasy.

DTCs-ACC-11---David-Ryan-Smith,-Marlhy-Murphy,-Drew-Favors,-Kurt-Rhoads---by-Karen-Almond

GOD BLESS US | The Ghost of Christmas Present (Kevin Ryan Smith, left) shows Scrooge (Kurt Rhoads, right) what his behavior hath wrought in DTC’s ‘Christmas Carol.’ (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

The character of Dick Whittington doesn’t have quite the resonance this side of the pond as Ebenezer S. does, but in England, he’s a staple of history (once lord mayor on London) and the comic stage, with his cat as well known as he. So it was about time Theatre Britain turned Dick Whittington into one of their annual Christmas pantos.

If you haven’t seen a panto, they are difficult to describe without sounding slightly batty. They are children’s theater, but they also have a lot of drag characters. They have broad slapstick comedy and simple plots among the dirtiest fast-paced jokes this side of Judd Apatow. They have sing-alongs and ghosts and lots of corn-dog gimmicks. In short, they are for every taste, even if you don’t know it.

For instance, having a main character called “Dick,” you’re likely to be assaulted with a barrage of, ahem, “dick” jokes: “What’s your name?” “Dick.” “I like you already!” Or: “We have three minutes to find Dick.” “You can’t find dick in three minutes.”

There! That chuckle, that grin you just allowed yourself? That’s panto.

The newest show is a naughty charmer with some of the raciest humor this side of Russell Brand. There’s Dame Overeasy (James Chandler), a guy in a dress all tarted-up, she obviously works in a tart shop (that’s part of the hidden gaggery of a show like this). Dick (played by a woman, Jad B. Sexton) brings along his cat Tom (Jean-Luc Hester, a great pantomimist with feline moves and purrs) to defeat  the rats, led by a queen (Kate Rutledge), who looks like Julie Newmar switching alliances, inviting hisses from the audience.

The pop culture references — from Titanic to Beyonce to a trio of Disney-esque gangster rats (the best of whom, Chris Sykes, looks like he actually grew up in a sewer — and I mean that in the best possible way) who seem to have stepped out of a lost reel of Ratatouille — are plentiful for the adults, the physical humor over-the-top kid-friendly. It makes for good, not-so-clean family fun.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: ‘Rockin’ Christmas Party’

Denise Lee and Markus Lloyd in 'Rockin' Christmas Party.'

If a musical revue featuring a six-person ensemble and no real plot can have a star, then the star of Rockin’ Christmas Party — returning to WaterTower Theatre a decade after it first began a run as a holiday standard — is Markus Lloyd. Lloyd belts out Motown hits, croons on carols like “What Christmas Means to Me” and moves better than James Brown on “I Feel Good,” “Brickhouse” and “Love Shack.” With his deep voice and infectious energy, he puts the “rockin’” in the title — enough so, that you might not notice that the show itself is too cheesy by half.

Dave Steakley’s musical tour of the latter half of 20th century music with a seasonal theme has been a regional favorite for ages, and like similar shows — Forever Plaid comes to mind, as well as A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker — it represents a tradition perhaps more honored in the breach than in the observance: Going might just be the thing to get you in the holiday mood, but it feels more like a routine than an inspiration.

This production plays to the actors’ strengths, although in that way, it’s predictable, even a bit dull. Jenny Thurman has played Patsy Cline many times; having her perform a medley of country songs with a Patsy twang is, at least, uninspired. (The songs selected are puzzling as well; story-ballads like “Harper Valley, P.T.A.” and “Ode to Billy Joe” have actual plots, so doing mash-ups that delete large parcels of lyric is a failure. It makes no sense to sing about “the day my mama socked it to” the P.T.A. without hearing what she did is ludicrous.)

Gary Lynn Floyd’s smooth tenor is a perfect match for the comforting sequence of TV Christmas special-like songs, and the theater rocks with gay pride during the disco sequence, which includes “I Will Survive,”  ”YMCA,” ”I’m Coming Out” and “It’s Raining Men” — it might as well have a drag queen leading the way. But that also raises a question: What about those songs says “Christmastime” to you? Only about a quarter of the musical numbers are actual carols — the rest are just retro doo-wop and rock songs. Fun, yes, but not really overflowing with holiday cheer. (How does “Movin’ On Up,” the theme from The Jeffersons, belong within three miles of this show?)

Neither do the costumes. Despite red and green velvets conjuring Santa’s elves, these creations, paired with unattractive wigs, detract from the spirit of the season more than complement it.  Thurman is clad in a petticoated prom dress that makes her look like a drag version of Lisa Lampanelli, and Sara Shelby-Martin comes out near the end in a get-up (including hat) that looks like a Pan Am stewardess wearing a sombrero designed in the Land of Oz.

None of that, of course, affects the singing, which is excellent. (On opening night, Amy Stevenson, one of the biggest-voiced of big-voiced singers in town, was clearly off her game, barely getting her songs out above a whisper.)  Rockin’ Christmas Party ends up as a show better listened to than watched — just like all those Andy Williams/Perry Como TV specials.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Spirit of Giving: A Gathering to remember

The benefit gala commemorates 30 years of AIDS and its impact on Dallas, North Texas

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RAISE YOUR VOICE | Gary Floyd, right, directs singers, from left, Damon K. Clark, Rachel Dupard and Denise Lee during a rehearsal for ‘A Gathering.’ (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Arnold Wayne Jones  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Charles Santos was having breakfast at Lucky’s with Jonathan Palant last summer when the now-former artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale mentioned that the chorale was born in the time of AIDS. This year, Palant told him, marks 30 years since the first cases of what was first known as

“Gay-Related Immune Deficiency,” or GRID, were reported.

The comment got Santos thinking how deeply the arts — in North Texas and across the world — had been affected by the pandemic.

Some people might have spent time reflecting on how their lives and the world have changed; others might have felt compelled to discuss it with friends.

Maybe some might have written an op-ed piece of the “lest we forget” variety.

But Santos had a different idea.

As executive director of TITAS, which has brought art and music performances to Dallas for decades, Santos was in a unique position. He had access to the Winspear Opera House and a Rolodex that included every major performing arts leader in the region.

More than that, he had a passion to produce a show. And he wanted everyone within earshot to participate.

Santos started by gathering a core group of area leaders, including the Dallas Theater Center’s Joel Ferrell and Kevin Moriarty and AT&T Performing Arts Center external affairs director Chris Heinbaugh. They and others came up with the beneficiaries, how to approach arts organizations, the structure of the show.

“We wrote it, and it’s pretty remarkable, unlike the other events I have done,” says Santos. “We talked about what the pieces were and what we wanted to concentrate on.”

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GETTING READY | Charles Santos, right, and Millicent Johnnie, assistant professor of dance at SMU’s Meadows School of The Arts, second from right, look on during a recent rehearsal for ‘A Gathering.’ (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

The idea of the staging will be like a deconstructed musical that lays out three emotional “arcs” to be covered in two acts: First, loss, heroism and fury; second, faith, family, friends and caring; finally, action and change.

Thus was formed A Gathering: The Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS, a one-night-only concert and fundraiser being held at the Winspear Opera House on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Ultimately, about a dozen performing arts groups signed on, as well as many vocalists, musicians and other leaders. All told, more than 200 individuals will be taking part.

The ground rules for participation were simple: With the exception of certain unavoidable costs (unionized stage hands, licensing fees for music, etc.), everyone involved had to volunteer their time — every penny raised will benefit equally four local charities: AIDS Arms, AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Services of Dallas and Resource Center Dallas.

“Everyone’s been great,” Santos says. “ATTPAC donated the theater and waived all the ticket fees; a printer donated the programs and posters.

“I have been very clear that this is all being donated. When I was talking to one of the orchestras, they said they wanted to participate but couldn’t donate their time. I said, ‘I totally understand but I can’t use you.’ There are no comps — everyone is buying their own tickets. All the performers are buying tickets for their loved ones.”

The outpouring of support from the community has been reminiscent of the town of Bedford Falls helping out George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life — a fitting metaphor during the holiday season. And while Santos has been grateful for the generosity, he says it really does not surprise him.

“One of the things the gay community learned during the early days of the AIDS crisis was that we had to take care of our own — we had to change the world. What a remarkable thing it was,” he says.

And it’s that spirit that has driven A Gathering.

“To my knowledge, this has never happened in this community, this many arts organizations collaborating on one event. Everyone has been so generous.

That’s why I’m interested to see what comes of it. I hope it generates more collaborative projects in our community. If these groups all say, ‘Let’s do another project, maybe in our own seasons,’ that would be excellent. In this economy, we are in a real period of wearing collaborative clothes.”

This kind of benefit wasn’t really new to Santos, though it had been a long time coming.

“When I was a dancer, I did shows like this,” he explains.

He put a performance fundraiser together in Austin that became an annual event. But since moving to Dallas in 2001, “I was focused on TITAS and didn’t do any more AIDS work. I haven’t done an AIDS benefit in years, so I’m really excited.”

It is perhaps for that reason that Santos threw himself head-long into producing this show with only three months of prep time.

“It’s a massive amount of work — I force myself to spend time on it every day,” he says. “Chris [Heinbaugh] has been great about keeping my thoughts grounded and relating it back to Dallas.”

Maintaining the focus on North Texas, in fact, was a key decision made early in the process.

“We all jointly made a decision to keep it local,” Santos says. “We all had the contacts to bring in headliners like Kristin Chenoweth and Bill T. Jones, but then that becomes a different animal. This is about our community.”
(The program will include a photo montage of locals who have died of AIDS.)

Nevertheless, Santos’ plan for A Gathering was a scope that extended beyond our borders — both Dallas’ and the gay community’s.

“One of the discussions I’ve had with everyone is that it doesn’t all have to be about the gay community and doesn’t have to be literal. We all know the impact on the gay community, but this is a global issue — gay, straight, single, married. It is a human issue.

“As we’re talking about a particular emotion, we noted that something taken out of context can be very helpful — it doesn’t all have to be Rent and The Normal Heart and Angels in America. There will be a microphone close to the audience where people [including former Mayor Laura Miller and various TV news anchors] will do readings.

“We include facts that deal with the impact of AIDS in Africa, so we have a piece of choreography that’s a tribute to [ composer and activist] Fela Kuti, who died of AIDS. We have a statement about discrimination. The opera is sending us a countertenor to sing for us. Some of the AIDS quilt panels will be flown in and be on display.”

While some tickets have been set aside for clients of the AIDS organizations served by the benefit, Santos’ great hope is that the entire community turns out to participate and reflect on AIDS.

“I hope the community comes out for it. It will be an amazing show, a real spectacular,” he said.

Participating organizations include the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance Project, CharlieUniformTango, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School for the Arts, Texas Ballet Theater, TITAS and the Turtle Creek Chorale. Vocalists include Gary Lynn Floyd, Damon K. Clark, Denise Lee, Patty Breckenridge, John Holiday, Rachel Dupard and Cory Cooper.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. $12–$200. 214-880-0202.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

All that dazzle

Local actors get in the Christmas spirit with ‘Holidazzle Act II’ release

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

…………………..

2.5 out of 5 stars
HOLIDAZZLE ACT II
DFW Actors Give Back
Independent

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Two years ago, local actors, musicians and other theater folk banded together for Holidazzle, a CD of Christmas music that featured some amazing voices in town while benefiting the charity Jonathan’s Place. It was a win-win for carol-loving Dallasites.

Now another, bigger chorus of actors is back with a healthy collection of holiday tunes. Holidazzle Act II is filled with heart, but not without a few bumps.

The disc opens strong with “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” featuring Denise Lee, Jeff Kinman, Susan Mills and Darius-Anthony Robinson and impressively displays a crisp production value — from the percussion to the vocals, the sound is crystal clear. It’s a promising start as the music is layered well but with a nice simplicity. And Kerry Huckaba’s bass ends up as a star here.

I have to admit I was worried about their take on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” especially after reading that Jim Johnson, K. Doug Miller, Gregory Lush, B.J. Cleveland and David Coffee were all doing vocals. We’ve all heard it with the signature deep voice, but these guys pull off a great jazzy rendition with different but appropriate personalities for the tune. It’s really hard to get through this one without a smile.

“Snow” from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas movie soundtrack should win over die-hard fans, but at first, this version seems to have too many voices; they eventually come together in a beautiful, cheery mix. The added chorus gives it an old-fashioned, charmingly seasonal touch. This is what you want to hear while gleefully shopping at Macy’s without a care in the world.

RAZZLE ‘EM  |  DFW Actors Give Back’s adult chorus comes together again for a sometimes bumpy but consistently charming ‘Act II.’

RAZZLE ‘EM | DFW Actors Give Back’s adult chorus comes together again for a sometimes bumpy but consistently charming ‘Act II.’

The group knocks it out of the park with the hilarious “Twelve Daze of a Theatrical Christmas.” It may sound inside-jokey, but clever lyrics by Miller make this a viable comedic piece. If you think you’ll be over the repetition of the usual lyrics, don’t worry. They give the song as many twists as possible and they all work.

They also succeed in “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings.” While practically a carbon copy of the Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan version, it works so well one could easily listen to it over and over.

But the album is not without misses. The cover of Celine Dion’s “The Prayer” has a personal tone but with six voices doing the work, it derails into a mess. While the harmonies are beautiful, the song’s intention is flooded over. Then there’s “Silent Night.” It’s a carol everyone wants to put their stamp on, but it’s also the one listeners tend to want to hear a traditional version of. The chorus here is a bit too chipper; “Night” needs a more Zen-like feel, and the harp challenges the voices rather than working in agreement with them. Even if they wanted to continue in this tone, the song is not audibly smoothed out.

Other tracks lack the lead-in’s excellent production quality. Gary Floyd, Sonny Franks and Todd Hart do sublime a capella work on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” but the voices get tinny in the mix at times. Julie Johnson gives an ideal performance in the fun “Christmas Eve,” but the turned-up bass distracts. The Patty Breckenridge–Ashley Puckett-Gonzales duet works well for the dramatic “Where are You, Christmas,” but the music begins to overrun their voices despite Scott Eckert’s emotional arrangement and direction.

Despite these issues, the album as a whole works magic. There is enough tradition here to appreciate the songs with added freshness on other tunes to make it interesting.

Holidazzle Act II is on sale in local theaters during the holiday season or available online at  DFWActorsGiveBack.org.

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

—  Michael Stephens

DTC’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ tonight at the Wyly

Masterpiece theater

There’s much to like about Dallas Theater Center’s current production of this stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. (It’s a co-production with Casa Manana; its version closed last month, and while this one has almost the same cast and crew, it’s strikingly different.) Act 2 is the money, with an unparalleled courtroom scene and a profound coda about the mysterious Boo Radley.

Several of the performances are indelible as well. Anastasia Munoz, as a clucking society lady but mostly as the white girl who accuses a hapless black man of rape, quakes with such nervous ferocity, you fear she’ll shake loose a light fixture. Akron Watson as the victim of her prejudice and James Dybas as her racist father are equally good, and solid work comes from Bob Hess, Denise Lee and Morgan Richards as the precious tomboy Scout. But the production is all but stolen by Aiden Langford as the moppet Dill, a charming kid who could spread diabetes with his sweetness.

—  Rich Lopez