STAGE REVIEWS: ‘Hood,’ ‘The Necessities,’ ‘Finding Neverland’

Ashley Umphress and Nick Bailey in DTC’s ‘Hood.’ Photo by Karen Almond.

The legend or Robin Hood is familiar, that the opening of Hood, the world-premiere musical now at the Wyly Theatre, is merely a recitation of its various incarnations, including a printed timeline. You aren’t meant to approach the material as a novice; the script, by playwright and librettist Douglas Carter Beane, assumes a working knowledge of the characters, the general plot, the moral of the story. What, then, is the point in rehashing it?

The point is to explore these tropes through the fresh perspective and energy of Beane (who also directed) and his cast of 12 young dynamos, who inhabit Sherwood Forest like a swarm of woodland creatures. Hood has endured for nearly a millennial because the fable reinvents itself for every generation. “He’s not my king!” grouses one Merry Man when the wicked Prince John (portrayed by a series of squinty, hoarse puppets) rising to the throne. That could have been written by Joe Scarborough last week instead of years ago as Beane was developing the show with his partner, the composer-lyricist Lewis Flinn.

The style of the show — with its single set, tight ensemble and folksy melodies — resembles the stage version of Once more than the bloated Broadway bombast of, say, Camelot. There’s even a touch of Godspell (and the recent Fiasco Theatre tour of Into the Woods) in the mix, with its conceit of homemade costumes, “found” puppets and diverse cast. Throw in some Monty Python, the campy excess of a patently gay Will Scarlett, and lovely orchestrations, and you have a rousing retelling of the legendary tale.

As a world premiere, there are hiccups (some of the lyrics are pedestrian and repetitive, for instance, and some of the stagings are awkward even for something meant to look intentionally unpolished), but the themes of feminism, and the rollicking cast (especially Nick Bailey as Robin, Ashley Park as Marian, Austin Scott as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Jacob ben Widmar at Will Scarlett), make this a terrific start to a new tradition.

Matthew Gray and Tex Patrello in ‘The Necessities.’ Photo by Karen Almond.

Another world premiere opening last week has much less fanfare, but shines just as brightly… well, darkly. Blake Hackler’s The Necessities from Second Thought is a lean four-hander about a quartet of newcomers to a small Texas town. Single mom Carly (Allison Pistorius) has carted her queer son Ward (Tex Patrello) all over tarnation, providing everything but affection and a role model. Debbie (Christie Vela) is a uneducated, unskilled worker with her own failings as a mom; Peter (Matthew Gray) is a defrocked minister trying to restart his life after a tragedy with his own child. They converge in short set-pieces, usually of just two (all four never interact simultaneously), but all trying their hardest to find a their ways in the world.

The concept of “lost souls seeking connection” is well-trod in theater, but Hackler’s astonishing new play takes you in unexpected directions without ever broadcasting its message. Instead, you see these raw, unadorned characters (Vela wears no apparent makeup, and looks convincingly defeated) at their meanest and most vulnerable. You have to piece together who they are as much as they are doing it themselves: Is Peter interested in a romance with Debbie, or trawling for sex with Ward? Is there something sexual between Debbie and Carly? Is Ward troubled mentally, or some kind of prophet of the universe? Director Joel Ferrell handles all these conflicting stories deftly, placing them in a moody, organic set (designed by Diggle) that adds an element of ritual to it all. The Necessities shows great maturity in every way; it grabs you, and demands you think about everyone as a human being in need of empathy, no matter how damaged.

‘Finding Neverland’ tries way too hard to be charming. Photo by Carol Rosegg

I can think of few things that create less a sense of wonder than those that try hysterically to create a sense of wonder. Charm can’t be taught — you either have it, or you’re a member of the Trump family. The odor of desperation wafts mightily from the stage of the Winspear as Finding Neverland sings and dances its way through the (highly fictionalized and reductionist) tale of how playwright J.M. Barrie managed to write his most enduring hit, the treacly, overrated panto Peter Pan. Turns out, before he met sad, young Peter Llewelyn-Davies, the successful Barrie had lost touch with his inner child! Writing had become hard! When he discovered a sense of play, well, naturally, he made a fortune and gave middle-aged women a leading role as a prepubescent boy they could milk for decades. Errr…. I mean, he created “art.”

Director Diane Paulus sleepwalks through the staging, which both exaggerates banal actions (the ensemble struts in flamboyant gaits as if they all learned choreography at The Ministry of Silly Walks) and turns quiet moments into listless drones of dialogue.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Peter Pan in any of its incarnations, though the 2004 film version of Neverland was entertaining enough. The film won an Oscar for its dramatic underscore; so far as I can tell, no trace of that music is present in this musical adaptation, composed by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, who seem bound and determined to make each song as generically uninvolving as a roadside panhandler. I’ve heard 30-second ad jingles with more wit and catchy melodies then this entire score. By the time I walked into the lobby for intermission, I couldn’t recall a single note. So I didn’t bother going back in. When a show makes you hope no one claps for Tinkerbell, it’s a lost cause.

Hood at the Wyly Theatre through Aug. 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org. The Necessities at Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys campus through July 29. 2TT.co. Finding Neverland at the Winspear Opera House through July 23. ATTPAC.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: DTC announces 2016-17 season

IMG_9026

Doug Beane

Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, revealed a nine-show season (seven mainstage, two “extras”) this morning, including a remarkable two world premiere musicals.

The season kicks off with Nick Payne’s Constellations (Aug. 24–Oct. 9, at the Wyly), a romantic drama that plumbs issues of life, the universe and everything in 75 stark minutes. It will be directed by Wendy Dann.

Next up is the first premiere musical, written by an alumna of DTC: Bella: An American Tall Tale (Sept. 22–Oct. 23, at the Wyly) by Kirsten Childs (co-lyricist on DTC’s Peter Pan musical Fly). A co-production with Playwrights Horizons in New York, the musical comedy — set in the Old West, and featuring the adventures of a young black woman and the characters she meets — will be directed by the acclaimed gay playwright and director Robert O’Hara (Bootycandy).

That’l be followed by the annual bonus show A Christmas Carol (Nov. 23–Dec. 28, at the Wyly), this time directed by Dallas theater stallwart Steven Michael Walters.

The final show of 2016 — and the first of 2017 — is … well, a secret. Suffice it for now to say it’s an exciting and contemporary urban comedy, running Dec. 7–Jan. 22 in the Wyly’s Studio space. (We’ll announce the name some time next month.)

That mystery show is followed by The Christians (Jan. 26–Feb. 19, at the Kalita), Lucas Hnath’s volative, buzzed-about look at a megachurch and a rift occasioned, in part, by same-sex marriage. Joel Ferrell will direct.

Another bonus show will be something on the deeply experimental side. Moriarty is adapting Eruipides’ lurid revenge play Electra … and it will be very outre. First, it will be performed at AT&T’s outdoor Annette Strauss Square adjacent to the Winspear. Second, Moriarty is still toying with how he will stage it — moving the audience around the grounds to follow the action and using earbuds to “whisper” a Greek chorus into the audience members’ ears are just some of the possible outcomes. “You can see how this could be a disaster,” Moriarty said. It will run Aug. 4–May 28, 2017, with a late start time (8:30 p.m.) so that it will be performed in the dark.

Next is the classic play Inherit the Wind (May 16–June 18, at the Kalita), about the 1924 Scopes Monkey Trial … only it won’t be set in the past, apparently. Moriarty, who is also directing this one, promises edgy casting decisions and innovating concepts like nothing you’ve seen at the Kalita.

The season will conclude with the second world premiere musical, a comic riff on the Robin Hood myth called Hood (June 29–Aug. 6, in the Wyly). It’s being written by the husband-and-husband team Douglas Carter Beane (pictured) and Lewis Flinn, who last teamed up for DTC’d Give It Up (which moved to Broadway renamed Lysistrata Jones). Beane will direct.

The current season isn’t over, though. All the Way, DTC’s co-production will Houston’s Alley Theatre about LBJ, will move up to the Wyly next month (March 3–27), followed by the world premiere of Deferred Action (April 20–May 14) and finally Dreamgirls (June 10–July 24).

Season subscriptions start at $140 for the seven-show mainstage season, and design-your-own subscriptions start at $60 for three shows. Visit DallasTheaterCenter.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players announces 2015 season

Nathan Lane starred on Broadway in ‘The Nance,’ which will receive its regional premiere from Uptown Players in 2015.

Uptown Players’ upcoming 2015 season will feature two major recent Tony winners, from a new comedy to a rock musical, as well as the return of a TV spoof in the Rose Room at S4 and the annual fundraising performance.

Things were more complicated for Uptown Players this time, scheduling-wise. For several years, they have shared the Kalita Humphreys Theater with the Dallas Theater Center, which moved to its new digs in Downtown’s Wyly Theatre, but which is still the primary leaseholder at the Kalita. DTC mostly performs at the Wyly … mostly — not exclusively. So when DTC announced its 2014-15 schedule this spring, it threw a monkey wrench into the works: Its plays would seesaw between the venues, and the timing was going to interfere with Uptown Players’ calendar.

But they worked it out, in part by starting a month early. The first show of their 2015 season will actually be in December 2014: Christmas Our Way, UP’s holiday-themed Broadway Our Way fundraiser (where men sing women’s songs and vice versa) will be held Dec. 11–14.

The first official show of 2015 will be Gilligan’s Fire Island, another spoof by playwright/actor Jamie Morris, who was last represented onstage at the Rose Room as Julia Sugarbaker in Re-Designing Women. As the title suggests, the castaways have gotten pretty gay.

The mainstage season will arrive at the Kalita in June, starting with the wonderful comedy-drama The Nance, then the regional North Texas-produced premiere of Catch Me If You Can, the rock opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the new off-Broadway hit Harbor.

See the complete lineup after the jump. You can also get season tickets here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Out names its list of 100 top gays …

Rocca, Mo 0202 copy… and once again, I’m not on it. Fine. So I’m not “TV-pretty”. So I’m not “talented” or “important”. And maybe I’m not technically “out” (I’m worried what it will do to my career, which is why I’m dating Katie Holmes). But still. Nevertheless, I don’t feel so bad with some of the inclusions on this list this year, among them my fave TV soft-news reporter and Public Radio bon vivant, Mo Rocca, pictured; playwrights Christopher Durang, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Jonathan Tolins and my friend Doug Carter Beane; filmmaker John Krokidas (whom I profiled just this week); fellow food critic Frank Bruni; stage actors Billy Porter and Jonathan Groff; statistician Nate Silver; and the funniest man on Facebook, George Takei. But how could they pick Jinkx Monsoon over me?!?! It’s all a popularity contest, I tell ya.

Go here for the complete list.

—  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

Dallas connections to the 2012 Tony noms

The 2012 Tony Award nominations came out this morning, with the new musical Once (based on the Irish film) getting the most nominations (11). But actually a couple of other productions are even more interesting to Dallas audiences.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which features Dallas actor Cedric Neal, received 10 noms, including best revival of a musical. And Lysistrata Jones, which began as a world premiere at the Dallas Theater Center (under the name Give It Up) received a nom for best book of a musical for Douglas Carter Beane. He’ll go up against fellow gay writer Joe DiPietro for Nice Work If You Can Get It. Unfortunately, Liz Mikel, who wowed Dallas and New York audiences, was not singled out for her performance.

This is the Tonys, so gay nominees abound. The revival of Sondheim’s Follies scored a number of nominations (including, for my money, likely winner Jan Maxwell). Gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz got a nod for best play for Other Desert Cities. Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (with a gay twist) was nominated for best revival of a play as well as best actor James Earl Jones; he’ll face against John Lithgow, who was nominated for another gay play, The Columnist (which also features former Dallasite Brian J. Smith as Lithgow’s  six-pack-ab’d trick). Lesbian actress Cynthia Nixon is up for her performance in Wit.

Jeff Calhoun, whom I interviewed last year, is nominated for best director of a musical for Newsies. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark got only two design nominations, though ironically, the new movie Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, was nominated for best featured actor in a play for Death of a Salesman.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“Lysistrata Jones,” which started at DTC, closes on Broadway this Sunday

It got great reviews from the likes of Ben Brantley (and me, for that matter), and Dallas-based star Liz Mikel seemed destined for award nominations, but that didn’t translate into box office for Lysistrata Jones during its run on Broadway. After fewer than 30 regular performances and about as many previews, the show will close on Sunday. For some reason, it never caught on, despite a catchy score and saucy story about sex among college-aged hotties. It rarely exceeded more than about 20 percent of its revenue capacity and hovered about 60 percent occupancy since opening last month.

We’re sad it wasn’t a tentpole, but hopefully this means Liz will be coming back to Dallas soon.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones