2nd annual Dallas Cabaret Festival opens Thursday

As we reported earlier this year, local songstress Denise Lee is devoted to making cabaret more mainstream. Toward that end, she is bringing back her Dallas Cabaret Festival for a second weekend.

It opens Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with Cynthia Scott, performing at the Women’s Building at Fair Park. Scott will debut her new cabaret show. Then there will be performances on Friday, July 28, including the winner of the “So You Think You Can Cabaret?” competition, Tarnecia Durham, and The Voice finalist Simone Gundy.

The fest will conclude Saturday with locals Willie Welch, Calvin Roberts, Stephanie Brehm, Kevin Halliburton and Lee herself, joined by blues guitarist Samuel James, for a blues-centric show.

As before, the entire weekend’s event are free. But make reservations here.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

LISTEN: Learn more about how I drink coffee than you care to know

ThinkstockPhotos-101838225Last year, Ron Thompson started a blog and movement that he calls Chef and Song, which gives him an opportunity to talk with local musicians and chefs — and others — about whatever comes up over a cup of coffee at a local hangout. Last week, he invited me — who is neither a chef nor a musician — to sit down at Buzzbrews on Lemmon Avenue and discuss life, the universe and everything. But mostly about how I make coffee.

Anyway, it was a hoot! Listen to it here. And there are a dozen more, much better interviews with actually interesting people on the website, including Gary Lynn Floyd, Denise Lee, Cedric Neal, Casie Caldwell and Blythe Beck. Enjoy!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Denise Lee performs cabaret tonight; Kibbles and Cocktails serves it up

dogLast night, Kitchen LTO at Trinity Groves was filled with fans of Denise Lee, who got to see her perform her stylist cabaret songs while feasting on Blythe Beck’s decadent cuisine. If you missed it, you can try to recreate the experience tonight. She will perform her show Denise Lee and the Divas at Fair Park inside the Women’s Museum. Best of all: It’s free. Enter through Gate 3 and be there by 7 p.m. to hear Dee (on her birthday, no less) sing hits popularized by everyone from Bessie Smith to Whitney Houston.

If you did see Lee last night, but didn’t get enough of Trinity Groves, come back tonight for Kibbles And Cocktails, a fundraiser for the pet rescue group DFW Rescue Me. Tickets are available at the door, and you can enjoy more food and drinks from the chefs.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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