A-ti-cus! A-ti-cus!

DTC ‘Mockingbird’ scores with acting, Lee’s words, but direction wavers

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TRYING TIMES | Akron Watson, Anastasia Munoz and Bob Hess deliver stellar performances in this ‘Mockingbird.’ (Photo by Karen Almond)

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

If you’re like any normal person, you kinda wanna hate Harper Lee. She wrote, with efficient, clear, evocative prose, perhaps the perfect Southern novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1960, and save the occasional letter to the editor, nothing since. More remarkable still, that slender volume’s structure, characters, plot and emotional arcs resonate as vividly today as they ever did. Yes, armed with the ammunition of her words, you’ve got a kill-shot in the making, almost no matter what.

Almost. 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.) Acts 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.

That’s the good news. But the director, Wendy Dann, makes puzzling choices and misses many opportunities to give the production more weight. The set, with its multitude of unnecessary layers, is overly complex, and the staging can be confusing. The voice-over narration is abrupt and awkwardly handled, as is Dann’s easy resort to mood lighting and ominous music whenever anyone talks about Boo Radley. (This is theater, not film — don’t resort to melodramatic clichés. I kept expecting Tori Spelling to come out and begin a scene from a Lifetime movie.)

I begrudge no actor the burden of succeeding Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the greatest single dad ever, so it’s fair to cut Jeremy Webb some slack in taking it on. But Webb is at least a decade too young for the part, and makes up for it by slouching and aw-shucksing his shoulders to affect a home-spun likeability. It almost works, but the heavy touch upstages much else.

For devotees of the novel (or the movie), the familiarity of the story is still a delight; for others, this Mockingbird simply doesn’t fly.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dazzling affair for the holidays

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In 2009, local actors and singers came together as DFW Actors Give Back to release Holidazzle, a CD of holiday music all for the benefit of Jonathan’s Place, an organization that serves the needs of children suffering through abuse. As it turned out, the match was successful enough for performers to assemble again for Holidazzle: Act II.

The collective raised close to $10,000 for the organization.

The CD will be available at several theaters through the holiday season for $15. Performers in this second edition include local faves like Gary Floyd, Denise Lee and B.J. Cleveland.

DFW Actors Give Back will host a CD release party this Monday which also provides a preview of what’s on the disc. Along with appetizers and drinks, featured artists will also perform songs from the CD. Oh, and they want you to dress in festive attire.
If that doesn’t get you in the holiday mood, then bah, humbug to you.

— Rich Lopez

Kalita Humphreys Theater,
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.
DFWActorsGiveBack.org.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dick does Dallas

Van Dyke brothers Dick and Jerry let the ‘Sunshine’ in with Neil Simon comedy

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE | Song and dance legend Dick Van Dyke teams up with his brother Jerry and Denise Lee for a production of ‘The Sunshine Boys,’ marking his return to performing in Dallas — the last time was in the 1940s.

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

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THE SUNSHINE BOYS
Eisemann Center for Performing Arts,
2351 Performance Drive,
Richardson. Sept 8–9.
EisemannCenter.com.
Casa Manana Theatre, 3101 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth. Sept. 10. Ticketmaster.com.
All showtimes 8 p.m.

…………………….

It is 8:31 a.m. Pacific time when Dick Van Dyke calls for our interview, and he apologizes for being one minute late. “I had been to the grocery store and was unloading when I looked at my watch and said, ‘Oh, I have a call to make!’” he says.

The thought of Dick Van Dyke doing his own food shopping is peculiar enough, but so early? But at age 85?

“My wife makes me,” he explains.

No, his wife is not Mary Tyler Moore, though in the 1960s, it would have been difficult to convince most of America they weren’t a real-life couple. Even though they slept in separate beds on The Dick Van Dyke Show, they had real chemistry — the first sitcom marrieds who seemed to actually have sex.

“Although Bob Newhart was the first guy who actually got to share a bed with his wife,” Van Dyke points out.

There’s something about Dick Van Dyke that makes you want to chat about the old times, as if you shared them together. In some ways, you did: He started on Broadway, nabbing a leading role in the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie opposite Chita Rivera. But the performer famous as a “song-and-dance man” could barely keep a beat when he landed the role.

“I love being called that because I didn’t start out as a singer or a dancer,” Van Dyke says. “My dancing style was eccentric, really — [director/choreographer] Gower Champion just took what I could do and worked around it. When we were out of town, the [songwriters] wrote ‘Put on a Happy Face’ overnight for Chita. Gower said, ‘The skinny kid doesn’t have anything to do in Act 1 — give it to him.’ That changed my life and I won a Tony.”

Soon after, he launched The Dick Van Dyke Show, a critical and popular success than ran five seasons and brought him an Emmy. Movies followed, especially the family-friendly musicals Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, as well as the film version of Birdie.

“They really did Hollywoodize it,” he sighs. “The Broadway show was a two-hour romp; the movie was used as a vehicle for Ann-Margret. They lost a lot of the musical numbers and lost the energy — and Chita! Chita Rivera was the star of the play — probably the most electric performer who ever walked on stage. Janet Leigh was fine, but Chita was irreplaceable.”

He has similar kudos for queer icon Paul Lynde, who actually was irreplaceable — along with Van Dyke, he was the only original cast member to reprise his role in the film.

“Nobody was like him,” Van Dyke says admiringly.

Van Dyke brings it all full-circle this week, returning to the stage — and to Dallas — to star in a limited-run production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, opposite his brother Jerry and Dallas’ own Denise Lee.

It’s been a while since Van Dyke was in Dallas last, but he remembers it well: “We played at the Adolphus Hotel in the late 1940s when I was doing my nightclub act,” which consisted mostly of lip-synching to albums. (“It was very popular at the time,” he says.) But while he doesn’t miss the grind of eight shows a week, he still likes live performing the best.

“Stage [performing] is probably the most fun — you’ve gotta have an audience. On the TV show we had an audience, so it was like doing a little play every week. They do their half of the work,” he says.

The Sunshine Boys also offers brothers Dick and Jerry a rare professional union.

“We did four episodes of the Van Dyke show, and he did a guest spot on Diagnosis: Murder, but that’s it,” he says.

To make the show work required some rewriting, though.

“It’s really about two old Yiddish comedians,” he says. “We took a whole Yiddish comedy sketch and took that out and put in our own stuff. Neil Simon approved of the whole thing, which was great because people who have worked for Neil say every ‘I’ has to be dotted perfectly — he writes a comedy with a certain rhythm.”

One of the change-ups involves a gag with Dick and an ottoman, echoing the opening-credits gimmick of his sitcom.

“I put it in early when we did it in rehearsal one day,” he says. “We had two, actually: One where I trip, and one where I step around it. We found out years later people were gambling on which one it would be each week.”

Van Dyke seems comfortable about his iconic status, joyfully answering questions about his favorite shows (The Music Man — “I did that show for a year and never ever got tired of it”) and favorite songs (“I love ‘I Have You Two,” a song I sing with the children in Chitty — I love that song. And ‘Hushabye Mountain’”), as well as his missteps.

“The Runner Stumbles was probably my biggest failure as an actor,” he readily admits. “They talked me into doing it and knew I was in over my head. But I did a movie for television called The Morning After about a middle-aged, middle-class alcoholic; I think it was the best thing I ever did dramatically. They show it in treatment centers I hear still — it does not end happily.”

Thankfully, for him and the rest of us, Dick Van Dyke’s story does seem destined for a happy ending.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Let’s misbehave

Turtle Creek Chorale, from Cole Porter & beyond

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

OLD  KING COLE | The Turtle Creek Chorale, led by artistic director Jonathan Palant, above, closes the season with an ode to queer American composer Cole Porter.

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NIGHT AND DAY
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. June 23 and 26 at 8 p.m. $37–$65.
TurtleCreek.org

………………………

The name Cole Porter conjures in most people an erudite American composer, the one who wrote the witty ditty “Anything Goes.” But who knew he was kind of a perv — at least, as a lyricist?

While the members of the Turtle Creek Chorale plan to keep their composure in the upcoming concert Night and Day: The Music of Cole Porter, artistic director Jonathan Palant reveals that Porter had an edgy side. His song titles alone are some obvious giveaways, but hidden lyrics about penises and post-op eunuchs are shocking.

“He was really smart, but yeah, a little dirty,” Palant says. “We’re not singing those lyrics of course, but it’s not hard to figure it out with songs like ‘I Wanna Be Raided By You’ and ‘Rub Your Lamp.’”

And then there’s the snicker effect when Palant discusses the tunes that thread throughout the concert.

“The songs that link the show include ‘Blow Gabriel Blow,’ ‘You’re the Top’ and… yes, I know,” he says. “The TCC blows and tops Cole Porter — that could be your headline!”

The concert will, in true Turtle fashion, feature a heavy dose of fabulousness. It isn’t just a celebration of Porter, it’s a choral romp with showmanship. Michael Serrecchia directs and choreographs the show, which will feature the Turtle Tappers, a group of 15 dancers with a twist, dueting puppets, circus clowns and strongmen. Add featured vocalist Denise Lee and lead dancer Jeremy Dumont, and it will become an event.

Even while steeping in standards from the American Songbook, Palant and Serrecchia bring a modern take to the program with some mashups, like Lee fusing “Let’s Misbehave” and “Let’s Fall in Love” in what Palant calls “a duet with herself.” Yeah, and puppets.

“She’s so funny and clever,” he says. “The puppets are twins but she’s the voice. We’re thrilled to welcome her back to the stage. She has such a rapport with the men and the audience. You just fall in love with her.”

“This is very much a fun, Friday night out at the movies show,” Palant says. “It doesn’t pull at heartstrings, there’s no memorial, no loss but not ‘ooey gooey.’ It’s just fun and people can come and enjoy. They don’t have to think, they can just be entertained — which is one of the pillars of our mission.”

With that, he does hint at what to expect in the near future. The chorale will mark its upcoming 32nd season with special guests including the Fort Worth Symphony and the return of the United States Army Chorus.
And, Palant promises, “an ode to Madonna.” Both Madonnas, actually.

Until then, it’s about Cole Porter and what he wants the audiences to not only enjoy, but learn from. Palant bets people are more familiar with Porter than they think: His melodies permeate everything from commercials to elevator music. For Palant, that is part of Porter’s legacy and magic.

“When I listen to the radio, I go through the station until I find a song I like,” he says. “Then I stay on that station to hear other songs. Porter’s music transcends through history and sparks familiarity, so people will hear his popular songs but learn about new ones.”

Which is just de-lovely.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens