Best Bets • 02.17.12

Friday 02.17Vera-Pearl-3qtr

Time to get funked up
While the late Whitney Houston recharged one of Chaka Khan’s biggest hits, there’s no denying the funk queen’s own style. Khan comes to Dallas for a night of some legendary R&B with The O’Jays, Jeffrey Osborne, The Mary Jane Girls and Ohio Players as part of the Love Train show. What’s better — that’s not even the entire roster.

American Airlines Center
2500 Victory Ave.
6 p.m.



Sunday 02.19

Knight in shining armor
The Dallas Opera gets all soap opera like in their production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Sparks fly between a princess and a knight, but her husband isn’t too thrilled. He also happens to be the king. The tale is a classic and doomed love story, but the show gets a refreshed touch with this modern production.

Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
2 p.m. Through Feb.
25. $25–$275


Tuesday 02.21

No helper needed for this Tuna
Joe Sears and Jaston Williams reprise our favorite roles for Tuna’s Greatest Hits: 30 Years of Laughter. Vera, Bertha, Petey and the rest all get a bit older, but only get better as they remind us why we can’t get enough of some Tuna.

Eisemann Center
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
8 p.m. Through Mar. 4.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Best Bets • 01.13.12

Saturday 01.14Lorrie-Morgan

Know when to hold ‘em
Poker tourney host Pocket Rockets celebrates one year with its Gala Event and Awards honoring the year’s top players. But don’t think this means no playing time. Right after the awards, they turn around to start a $500 tournament sponsored by AIDS Interfaith Network. Rumor has it that some of the A-List cast will be there.

The Brick
2525 Wycliff Ave.,Ste. 120.

3 p.m.


Saturday 01.14

Country divas live
We’re trying to figure out  if we even deserve a night of such fabulosity. Lorrie Morgan comes to town with her sass and glam country that paved the way for the likes of Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood. Pam Tillis was a pioneer in country music as one of the first female producers of her own work. They bring us the Grits and Glamour tour and we’re thanking the country music gods.

Eisemann Center
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
8 p.m. $44–$62.


Sunday 01.15

Loving on Gervais’ Globes
Everyone was in a tizzy last year when Ricky Gervais ripped so many new ones into Hollywood at the Golden Globes. Surprise! He’s back. And with good reason — he’s the best part.

Watch party at Texas Theatre

231 W. Jefferson Blvd. 7 p.m. Free.

—  Kevin Thomas

Black & White in color

Former Dallasite Robert Bartley returns from NYC to helm Pegasus Theatre’s latest monochrome play

TAMING PEGASUS  |  New York-based writer/director/actor Robert Bartley, above, returned to Dallas to direct his first Living Black & White production, ‘The Frequency of Death!,’ below, which recreates the look of ’30s-era movie melodramas with complex and challenging makeup and design processes. (Production  photo courtesy of Phil Allen)

TAMING PEGASUS | New York-based writer/director/actor Robert Bartley, above, returned to Dallas to direct his first Living Black & White production, ‘The Frequency of Death!,’ below, which recreates the look of ’30s-era movie melodramas with complex and challenging makeup and design processes. (Production photo courtesy of Phil Allen)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


Eisemann Center for Performing Arts, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. Through Jan. 22. MCL Grand Theater, 100 N. Charles St., Lewisville. Jan. 26–29. $20–$35.


Films like The Artist and Hugo have spent the last month racking up awards and nominations as they tribute the golden era of black & white movies of yesteryear. But for Kurt Kleinmann, there’s a bit of “been there, still doing that.”

Kleinmann is the star, author and impresario of Pegasus Theatre, which for more than 25 years has produced the signature “Living Black & White” show: A murder-mystery send-up to the melodramas of moviedom’s past. Over 16 plays — all written by Kleinmann, with kitschy titles like Mind Over Murder!, Death Is No Small Change! and The Frequency of Death!, the last of which is now playing at the Eisemann Theatre in Richardson — the galumphing, clueless “world famous detective and aspiring actor” Harry Hunsacker (played by Kleinmann) and his sidekick Nigel Grouse have solved crimes while surrounded by a cast of overwrought hams … all the while wearing makeup and performing in a set that fools the eye into believing you are watching a black and white movie.

Frequency of Death! is a “thorough rewrite,” Kleinmann says, of a previous incarnation of the play, but the signature look remains the same. For director Robert Bartley, that posed some challenges.

“Kurt is always reminding me, ‘You can’t do that.’ For instance, you have to be very aware of the facial area,” Bartley explains. “You can’t have people kissing or touching their faces. Even the set is a problem: You can’t use reflective surfaces, like glass in the doors, or you will be able to see the red EXIT signs in the theater.”

That’s just part of the fun for Bartley though, who spent much of the holidays in Dallas mounting the show for its two-venue run, separated from his partner of 13 years. The sensibility fits with his own aesthetic. Pegasus shows have always contained a camp element, ideally suited for gay audiences accustomed to drag queens basing their characters on Tinseltown divas of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

It’s also a homecoming of sorts for Bartley. A boyish 49 who looks like he still gets carded for buying beer, Bartley cut his teeth on theater in the Metroplex while attending the University of North Texas. For more than two decades, though, he’s made New York his stage, acting and dancing in plays and movies, and launching Broadway Backwards, directing and conceiving of what has become a major fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, attracting talents including Betty Buckley, Neil Patrick Harris and Clay Aiken.

But Dallas feels like home.

“This is where I worked on The Cuban and the Redhead,” he explains over an Atkins-friendly lunch in the gayborhood. Bartley workshopped the musical, about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, in Arlington and Garland from 2004 to 2007, and he couldn’t have been more pleased — then and now.

“The theater community here is as good as ever,” he says. “We had great turnout for our play.” The same is true of Frequency of Death, he insists. Among the cast is Susan Mansur, a Broadway veteran (the original cast of Best Little Whorehouse, the revival of Damn Yankees!) familiar to local audiences as Helen Lawson in Uptown Players’ Valley of the Dolls. (“She drinks throughout our show,” Bartley quips — her character, that is.)

Bartley came of age in the era of AIDS, and says the community has also grown up a lot since then.

“When I was in college, I was the only person there who admitted being gay,” he says. “I think there is more acceptance of the gay and lesbian community — it’s more open.”

Not everything, after all, is black and white … except, of course, a Pegasus show.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Best Bets • 12.30.11

KG-02Saturday 12.31

Black and white all over
Harry Hunsacker is back to crack the case for  New Year’s Eve in The Frequency of Death!  But it could be trouble for Hunsacker as the villainous Dr. Big has revenge in sight for the bumbling detective. Done in brilliant black and white, Pegasus Theatre rings in the new year with an old-fashioned homage to detective films.

Eisemann Center,
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
8 p.m. $50.


Tuesday 01.03

Church on time
Funny man and Emmy-winner Leslie Jordan is back for his Church Revival show. The evening benefits Legacy Counseling Center and features guest hostess Sister Helen Holy. And audiences benefit from Jordan’s sassy and sweet Southern musings revival style. Praise Brother Leslie!

Sara Ellen & Samuel Weisfeld Center,
1508 Cadiz St. 6 p.m.


Friday 01.06

Anything for a laugh
We wonder if famous D-lister Kathy Griffin will comment on those boys and gal from The A-List Dallas. We know she’ll snark on lots of other things when she returns to town. And yes, she’ll give appropriate shout outs to the Big D gays.

Verizon Theatre,
1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. 8 p.m.

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

—  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


Eisemann Center for Performing Arts,
2351 Performance Drive,
Richardson. Sept 8–9.
Casa Manana Theatre, 3101 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth. Sept. 10.
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

Tuna fresh

New sets, new costumes but same classic cast as ‘Tuna Christmas’ rings in the new year in North Texas. So what is life like there in a post-DADT world?


FELIZ NAVIDAD, LUPE! | Vera Carp (Jaston Williams) will have a traditional, Christian Christmas if she has to kill for it. Welcome to Tuna, Texas.

Eisemann Center,
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. Dec. 28–Jan 2. $29–$59.


It’s not that Jaston Williams dislikes Christmas — it’s that growing up, it wasn’t exactly The Brady Bunch Holiday Special.

“We always called Christmas ‘blood and holly’ around my house,” Williams cracks with his signature Texas twang. “My mother could really make it rough. When there was company or a party you’d go from this loose experience to Franco’s Spain in a second. I figured it out by the time I was a teenager that I wasn’t wild about this holiday at all. This whole nostalgic, let’s-go-home-for-Christmas thing? Nah. Give me a good hotel with an open restaurant and room service anytime.”

Still, the holiday has been pretty good to Williams. With his writing, acting and now producing partner Joe Sears, Williams is enjoying more than 20 years of steady winter employment with A Tuna Christmas, which returns to the Eisemann Center for a week-long run Tuesday. The first sequel to their hit play Greater Tuna (nearing its 30th anniversary), it’s the only one of the shows to have a run on Broadway (earning a Tony nomination) and has been a staple of the season.

If you haven’t seen it (what’s wrong with you?), it tracks life in a tiny Texas town on Christmas Eve as the quirky residents (all played by Williams and Sears) reinforce and undermine stereotypes about small-town attitudes. And even at its age, it still seems fresh.

“We wrote is as Reagan had just come into power — that’s how old we are,” Williams recalls of the original play. “It was in response to the Moral Majority and their idiotic notions” — and Tea Partiers aren’t far removed from that. And contrary to popular opinion, they do not update the script.

“People constantly say, ‘You’ve added so much!’” Williams says. “I don’t even deny it anymore. Especially with Tuna Christmas we’re trying not to change things — though God help you if your cell phone goes off with Dede onstage. It’ll be like being locked in a phone booth with Patti LuPone.

“The temptation to comment on what’s going on today is so strong that if we started we’d never stop. So it’s set in time. No one in Tuna has a computer; they still have cords on the phones. And no one tweets — they’ll fine you. Vera has banned the word. It sounds dirty enough to ban.”

None of which is to say the show doesn’t get a makeover every so often. The duo still rehearses regularly, tweaking bits and polishing moments, and the current production features all-new sets and costumes.

“Joe and I are producing it ourselves now,” says Williams. “All these people who produce theater and want people to think it’s really, really hard so they won’t do it. But it was kinda like being in the Mafia. You think, ‘I’ve been watching this jerk kill people for 15 years — why can’t I do it?’ We’ve scaled it down and made it better. I’m very proud of it.”

Williams himself is closer to living the Tuna experience than ever — though its different in many ways to the one imagined 30 years ago. He and his partner, Kevin, moved with their adopted teenaged son to the little burg of Lockhart, Texas, and are proud to see the culture developing.

“One thing I can say about small-town people is, they believe their lyin’ eyes: They see two men raising a child and taking out the trash and they are changing their attitudes [about gay people]. It’s pretty amazing.”

(Williams is tickled as most gays are “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, though, and thinks it was dumb to enact in the first place: “I was in the gay bars in the ‘70s. You get the right lesbian pissed off with weapons and they’re gonna take some territory. The ones who should really be afraid of gays in the military are our enemies.”)

The guys are off from performing Dec. 24 and 25, but will be doing a New Year’s Eve performance in Richardson, which Williams calls “one of the stranger nights of the year to perform, You really want to do a good show but it’s such a bizarre holiday. People feel obligated to have some transformative experience and they know they aren’t going to.” Though if they go to Tuna, they just might.
Merry Christmas, Jaston.

“And a Merry Tyler Moore to you, too,” he answers.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Latter gay saint

Steven Fales’ one-man show ‘Confessions of a Mormon Boy’ skewers his religious upbringing, but his real mission is to show gay youth that it really does get better

THANK YOU JESUS Fales says there’s something sexy about Mormon boys. We concur.

Eisemann Center, 2352
Performance Drive, Richardson. Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m.  $25­–$150.

Steven Fales knows something about growing up gay in the church. A sixth generation Mormon, he married and had two children before coming out. And along the way, got heavily into the sex trade and drugs.

But Fales also knows something about turning his life around — and turning his experiences into something original. He’s in town for a one-night-only performance of his hit one-man show, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, presented in conjunction with Youth First Texas.

Before his return to Dallas, Fales talked to us about how his play has become a trilogy and why, excommunication aside, he’s still on a spiritual quest.

— Arnold Wayne Jones


Dallas Voice: Obviously, you grew up Mormon and that influenced your show. What was the path from your experience to the stage? Steven Fales: I’m one of those Brokeback Mormon train wrecks where the children were the blessing. But I wouldn’t even have children if it weren’t for the Mormon machine — and I wouldn’t have material for my show!

I have an MFA in acting [from Brigham Young University] and did a lot of Shakespeare and musicals and then my life fell apart. I just intuitively knew I needed to write about it. The first version was back in November of 2001, and it just grew and grew. Confessions had a nice run off Broadway so I spun off Missionary Position which is very well on its way to being complete and just did a benefit staged reading of Who’s Your Daddy? All of a sudden, you have a trilogy. All three 90-minute plays will be done in repertory in Fort Lauderdale next spring. My “Mormon Conquests.”

I read a recent study that said Salt Lake City is, as a percentage, one of the gayest cities in the nation. What do you think accounts for that? Here are some theories. A lot of Mormons went out there and were an isolated gene pool for a while so you might have a genetic factor there. Mormonism is the extreme expression of patriarchy [which may attract gay people]. The amount of gays in that system reminds the system just how unbalanced it is. My excommunication, that’s [an example of how] Mormons try to erase all evidence that they also created it.

Also, to live that good, perfect, Mormon life takes gay people. It takes gays to be charismatic preachers and sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. To go on your mission at 19, you had to be a virgin. Many straight guys had fooled around but the gays had suppressed it. My own adolescence was delayed. I can’t tell you how many Mormon missionaries I served with in Portugal came out later.

It makes sense that a play like this would succeed in cosmopolitan cities, but what about smaller towns? Have you been surprised at how well it does in unexpected places?  It finds its audience everywhere. I’ve been wildly successful in Salt Lake City and smaller places. I think it’s the Mormon thing, too.

Yeah, what is it about good Christian boys gone gay that we find so fascinating, especially Mormons? It’s a curious piece of Americana. It’s easy to make fun of them and they’re hot! You wanna corrupt them because of it. The juxtaposition of virginity and sexuality is too delicious.

Do you think it’s ex-churchgoing gays who come or ones who still feel connected to their religious roots? My queer spiritual community definitely finds me, but straight people burned by their religions or ostracized by the church of their birth also find the show. This is my effort to find where we fit in as gays and lesbians. There’s a lot of anger in the gay community toward religion and I want to reclaim our spirituality as gay men. It looks different than we were told, but it’s there for us.

I take on Mormonism and the sex industry — how I descended into escorting and crystal meth and how I reclaimed myself after that. It’s not just about religion — there’s a secular part too. It’s a gay everyman story.

For the performance this week, you’ve teamed up with Youth First Texas. What led you to do that? Chris-James Cognetta contacted me and I’ve never played Dallas so this is the perfect opportunity. I’m hoping the show will give these youth an example of not playing victim even when you have every right to be one. I’ve had two cousins who committed suicide, and there was a slow, steady suicide track that I was on when I was selling myself and using meth. I want to help our youth not go down that path. With the suicides we’ve been having, we need to give kids the tools to deal with this. Your parents might say this and your church may do that, but you don’t need to buy into that.

Do you consider yourself still a Mormon or a Christian? Are you religious or just spiritual?  They excommunicated me and I saw how false much of the doctrine was. I don’t believe in golden plates or that Joseph Smith was more spiritual than you or me. I like to say I’m no longer a Latter-day Saint but something about me will always be Mormon. My people settled Utah and I celebrate the culture, but I do not endorse the doctrines, such as support Proposition 8. I did convert to become an Episcopalian about three years ago — I felt I needed a new church to bash.

How’s that working out for you? Great! They’ll take anyone. You can believe anything and I love coffee hour; I love the music; I love trying to listen to things that will help me. I think on a spiritual path, you do need a few guides, even if it’s Deepak Chopra or reading a few books. I think science and religion are both a quest to uncover the mystery of what God is. We’re all searching for truth. I think it shows a way to essentially love other people. We’re all interconnected. We should act that way.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Rex in effect

Famous for his bitchy film criticism, Fort Worth-born Rex Reed  turns his eye (and his ear) to music with Ira Gershwin revue

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Film critic Rex Reed
GAGA FOR GERSHWIN | Film critic Rex Reed prefers his love of Ira Gershwin’s music to reviewing the ghastly movies coming out today.

Eisemann Center,
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. $39–$72.


Watching too many movies can be a bad thing. After years of deconstructing films and either ripping them apart or praising their genius, Rex Reed has finally had enough. For now at least.

“You have no idea of the crap I sit through. Movies today are ghastly,” Reed says. “I gotta get out of this rut. Everybody has to do something in life that’s a little bit of fun and I love this a million times more than reviewing.“

“This” refers to The Man that Got Away: Ira without George — The Lyrics of Ira Gershwin, a show Reed created to celebrate the work of the lesser-known songwriting brother. The production makes its first stop outside of New York in North Texas Nov. 12 at the Eisemann Center.

“This show is a celebration of his genius,” he says. “I feel this kind of music is our culture; it’s America’s greatest gift to this world and it’s in danger of disappearing.”

Along for the ride with Reed are performers Tom Wopat, Marilyn Maye and Susan Mays, who sing songs from Gershwin’s catalog. They help Reed do his part in preserving a part of American culture, in which he gave preferential treatment to his favorite lyricist. He created this show to bring Ira from under his brother’s shadow, despite Ira having the longer career. But with George’s huge signature pieces, Reed still has to remind people that they aren’t going to get what they think they came for. Either that, or they don’t know the difference between the two siblings.

“George has always had his share of fame and praise even though he rarely made a move without his brother,” he says. “It was time he got his fair share. This is not about George. We’re not gonna have Rhapsody in Blue or Porgy and Bess. This is all Ira on his own.”

When Reed met younger sister Francis Gershwin, he discussed his plans for the show. As it turned out, she felt it was time.

“She gave me her full blessing,” he says. “When I met her she said, ‘This is what I’ve been praying for. I’m so glad you’re doing this.’ That was that; it was amen and here we go, after that. I’m really hoping people in Dallas will like it.”

This concerns Reed. He begins asking questions about the venue, knowing that it isn’t in Dallas proper — and he wonders if there is an appreciation for American standards. He senses a hunger for this music and figures it deserves to be exposed. He even challenges LGBT audiences, hoping they will break away from the usual listening pleasures.

“As a rule, gay people have always had better taste, they just need to be exposed to this,” he says. “It could expose LGBTs to something higher in quality than the stuff they are hearing in discos. That can just go so far. I don’t go to these places where I hear eardrum bursting second-rate music.”

The challenge though is to move people out of their musical comfort zone by heading to the past. Like Michael Feinstein, who comes to Dallas later this month, Reed finds it important to preserve this musical heritage of America. That’s his mission — besides reviewing films.

“I applaud Michael for what he’s doing. When people hear this, I hope a light bulb goes off,” he says. “If it’s not in top 40, they’re afraid to listen. I just need to get them to move beyond the fear of discovering the unknown.”

But he does give fair warning: Reed hosts the show but also sings one Gershwin tune.

“There is an awful lot of me in it! So if you don’t like me, don’t come.”
He’s kidding.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Taylor made

A legendary choreographer, bisexual octogenarian Paul Taylor brings his muscular, gender-bending moves back to North Texas

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Eisemann Center for
Performing Arts,
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. $30–$60. 972-744-4657.


Paul Taylor has been exclusively a choreographer for longer than he was a dancer, but at 80, he still manages to make art with enviable regularity. At an age when most people are rocking in chairs on a front porch, Taylor choreographs several new pieces each year. His latest, Three Dubious Memories, will receive its world premiere at the Eisemann Saturday.

“I don’t travel as much with the company — only if there’s any need for me to be there that I oversee. But I’ll be there,” he says of his impending trip to North Texas.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company has a lengthy history with the Eisemann, dating to its first season, so Taylor was happy to oblige when the center asked for something new.

“They have a wonderful theater — a great place to show [a piece] the first time,” he says.

For Three Dubious Memories, Taylor took inspiration from the music, though that’s not always how his creative process works.

“Peter Taussig wrote this contemporary, recent piece. Then I had an idea for it and worked out the budget. It’s not always like that — sometimes the idea comes first, sometimes it’s commissioned.”

Budgets and commissions? Like it or not, dance is a business as well as an art form, and Taylor is pragmatic about his longevity.

“I’ve always had good managers and wonderful, inspirational dancers, and a lot of luck. And I’ve always known how to cut costs!” he says.

That does not diminish his passion for his art form. Taylor began his career dancing for George Ballanchine, Merce Cunningham and the grande dame of modern dance, Martha Graham, all of whom inspired him and continue to do so.
“I tried to learn from them,” he says, though he hesitates to pigeonhole what modern dance even is.

“That’s your job, not mine!” he says. “It’s a very American art form, along with jazz, that this country kind of invented. It changes, it always changes. Each generation has it’s traditional way to see things; I think it’ll continue that way. But I keep trying to do thinks I haven’t tried before, though my main attitude hasn’t changed: To communicate with the audience.”

MEN IN MOTION  |  Paul Taylor, above, will debut a new work Saturday, but also perform his ‘Brief Encounters’ with same-sex dance partners Sean Mahoney and  Francisco Graciano, right. (Photo by Tom Caravaglia)
MEN IN MOTION | Paul Taylor, above, will debut a new work Saturday, but also perform his ‘Brief Encounters’ with same-sex dance partners Sean Mahoney and Francisco Graciano, top. (Photo by Tom Caravaglia)

At age 24, Taylor founded his own company. A lanky 6-foot-3, Taylor was tall for a dancer. Perhaps that presence informed his work as a choreographer, as well: More so than with many companies, Taylor has a reputation for casting bigger, beefier male dancers … although it’s something Taylor himself brushes off.

“I pick [my male dancers] not so much for their looks or their muscularity, but because of their talent,” he says. “True, I’ve never been wild about ‘mosquitoes’ because they look weak, even if they aren’t weak.”

Still, those decisions have imbued some of his works with a certain homoeroticism, especially when he pairs same-sex partners in his dances (including Brief Encounter, which will be performed at the Eisemann).

“I have not done a lot [of same-sex partnering] but yes, some. I like to explore all kinds of relationships — it’s the human condition I’m interested in. That’s just part of the picture,” he says.

Taylor himself came out as bisexual in his 1987 memoir, although he’s expressed ambivalence about sex. “As far as romance goes, I can forget it,” he wrote.

In his personal life, maybe. But onstage, the romance emanates from his work.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Senior class

Gay director John De Los Santos keeps his elders in line in his annual ‘Senior Follies’

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

choreographer John de los Santos
SANTOS GOLD | If a hip goes out, choreographer John de los Santos is ready to jump in.

Eisemann Center,
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
Sept. 3–5. $10–$50.

You’re never too old to tap dance.
While that’s not the official mantra of the Spectacular Senior Follies 2010, it should be. The singing, dancing, variety extravaganza from producer Mark Carroll is back and as choreographer John de los Santos has learned in his second year on the show, age is just a number for the over-55 set.
“Botox has been very kind to them,” he jokes.

De los Santos, whose choreography credits include hits for Uptown Players, the Fort Worth Opera and last year, Carmen at the Kennedy Center for the Washington National Opera, has had to learn to quickly switch gears when juggling shows simultaneously. By day, he’s working on the U.S. premiere of the Pet Shop Boys’ Closer to Heaven for Uptown Players and by night, the Senior Follies, which opens this weekend.

“I’m going from 18-year-olds to 88-year-olds,” he laughs.

His oldest cast member is a spry 92. He says that working with the seniors is great because not only do they have lots of life experience and wisdom to share, they’re happy to be performing again.

“Most of them had stage experience. A few of them were in vaudeville or burlesque back in the day, but they all have different backgrounds,” he says. “Some were tap dancers who are singing now. Some were cabaret singers who are now doing complicated staging. We wouldn’t have cast them if they didn’t already have some experience.”

But choreographing an aging cast does have its challenges. The young whippersnapper has to keep his cool when dealing with all this experience — and personality.

“You just have to be very, very patient and optimistic all the time,” he says. “The minute you get frustrated or impatient, they just shut off. I have to keep a smile on my face and try to make them laugh.”

But de los Santos keeps a trick up his sleeve.

“It’s funny because the gayer I act, the more they like me,” he laughs before breaking into a mock old lady voice, “I’ve got a grandson that’s just like you!”

The show, which is similar in style to the legendary Ziegfeld Follies, features standards from the ’30s and ’40s, just a tad before 29-year-old de los Santos’ time. But that isn’t even an issue.

“I’ve done a lot of shows from pretty much every period, so I’ve kind of gotten used to it,” he says. “I did a lot of show choir when I was younger. Part of the reason they hired me in the first place is because I know a lot of this material already.”

The finale of the show is one of the biggest numbers de los Santos has to stage, and it’s the one the Senior Follies is perhaps most famous for: a performance by 12 showgirls ranging in age from 55 to 84.

“Some of the gams on these women are to die for,” he says. “They maintain pretty well.”

But for now, he’s just got to get through opening night to be able to relax a little. Even then, there are always unknowns that could pop up when working with seniors. What if someone breaks a hip during a dance number?

“I’ve already planned for that. I’m gonna don a wig, grab a walker and I’ll just do it. I’m sure a lot of people would love to see that.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas