SPOILER: ‘Project Runway’ finale

For those (like me) who sat on tenterhooks during the final innings of a heartbreaking Game 6 last night, there was another series finale of interest to the gay community last night: The Project Runway results.

In a season with more gays than usual, including a final four than included two gay men, the winner ended up being Anya, the Trinidadian designer who entered the show with only four month experience sewing.

Anya was a favorite of mine throughout the season, although when you consider what the series is supposed to be, picking a novice who probably hadn’t even seen the show a year ago seems slightly insulting to those who have labored for years honing their skills … sort of like how illiterate fitness gurus like Denise Austin get paid boatloads for “writing” exercise books while most professional writers eat soup. And gay boy Josh certain had an eye, even if he was sometime a pill. But Anya really did have a stellar season, and if a gay guy couldn’t win, well, she was a nice spoiler.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Ink monster

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MERCURY RISING | Although Robear claims not to see it, the heavily tattooed gay reality star says many in the gay community say he looks like Freddie Mercury.

‘NY Ink’s’ Robear adds a queer twist to the straight tattoo universe

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

When Robear, the manager of the tattoo parlor at the center of the TLC series NY Ink, began to be recognized as a reality TV star, the first thing his friends noticed was that he didn’t use his last name.

“Who do you think you are, using one name — Cher?” he says in a heavy Noo Yawk accent, repeating the allegation leveled good-naturedly at him. “It wasn’t that, I just didn’t want to use it!”

But the man born Robert Chinosi (“Robear” was a nickname given to him by a girlfriend 20 years ago, reflecting his furry body) doesn’t have much to hide. As one of the employees on the show, which aired its season finale Thursday, Robear stands out for being a contradiction of stereotypes — as he puts it: “A big, burly, masculine but slightly feminine gay guy, heavily tattooed in the straight culture.”

Robear came to tattoo culture fairly recently. He held jobs in the corporate world in design and construction until 2007, when he was laid off. A girlfriend who owned a tattoo parlor on Long Island “did me a favor and asked me to run her shop,” he says. He got his first tattoo at 17, so it wasn’t wholly new to him, though immersing himself in the culture was eye-opening.

“Tattoo art is a small niche in the art community, but they are so famous in this world!” he says incredulously of his co-workers.

Robear ended up on the TV show almost by accident. His employer heard about the casting call and wanted to audition for NY Ink; he agreed to come along for moral support only.

“The casting agent loved my looks, and took my hand and threw me in the [audition] room. I had no head shots or applications filled out but they didn’t care. It was destined to happen in a weird, funky way.”

A few weeks later, TLC showed up at his doorstep. Before long, he found himself filming 14 hours a day.

“I never watched reality TV, even Miami Ink or L.A. Ink, so I thought, ‘How could this possibly be real?’ But it’s not scripted — you’re spending so much time with these people, more even than your own family, every day for three months. I’ve had a lot of positive responses, though I really am just being who I am. My parents and friends watch it and when I say something, they say, ‘That’s you.’”

The gay community, he says, has been especially supportive: He’s been recognized at Gay Pride events in New York, and was recently asked to do an appearance at a Chelsea gay bar. Oddly, he doesn’t understand fully why gays are attracted to him … though he has a few theories.

“I’ve been more embraced by the gay demographic because people say I look like Freddie Mercury, though I don’t see,” he says. (They’re right — he’s a dead ringer.) “Maybe it’s because I’m breaking some stereotypes. I’m a secondary character [on the show], but a rarity in this straight, macho world:  I’m 6-foot, 245 lbs. and heavily tattooed but I have a swish in my walk. Some of the [straight men on the show] test me emotionally and physically, because straight men still think since you carry a man-bag and talk with a higher voice that that’s a type of weakness. But I grew up with two older brothers and a dad right off the boat from Italy, so I was surrounded with a lot of testosterone. I have a high tolerance of pain and I won’t take shit from anybody.”

Trust us, Robear — you’re the last gay we wanna meet in a dark alley — man-bag or not.

………………………..

tube-2‘Diva’ goes gay with lesbian prom-isode

Lifetime’s series Drop Dead Diva — a body-switching comedy where a zaftig female lawyer Jane (Brooke Elliott) secretly holds the soul of a hot bottle blonde — already enjoys a strong gay following, what with Margaret Cho in a supporting role. But it’s aiming for even deeper appeal with the upcoming episode “Prom.” In it, Jane agrees to represent two teenaged lesbians whose high school refuses to let them attend prom as a couple.

The episode (airing Sunday) pulls out all the stops, with a guest cast that includes Clay Aiken, Wanda Sykes and Lance Bass, pictured left, as well as a subplot about modeling that includes some beefcake. In typical Drop Dead Diva fashion, though, the plotting is two dimensional and the storyline fairly tamed down (the lesbians may love each other but they never kiss). Nevertheless, it’s great to see a show on the “Network for Women and Gay Men” get political about gay issues in a (serious-for-them) way.
— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Friends of Dorothy

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EASE ON DOWN | The Tin Man (Sydney James Harcourt, above left) steals the show in ‘The Wiz’ at DTC, while over at Fair Park, Megan Sikora, right, gives ‘Guys & Dolls’ its jolt.

If only DTC’s ‘Wiz’ had a heart. And I got yer horse right here, ‘Guys & Dolls’

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

If there’s one thing a gay guy can be counted on to know something about, it’s The Wizard of Oz. After all, the death of Judy Garland sparked the Stonewall Riots, and even before that, being a “friend of Dorothy” was code for practicing The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. You wanna change it? Be prepared for theater queens to take note.

And so it is with The Wiz, the 1975 funked-up, all-black musical that serves as the Dallas Theater Center’s season ender.

The appeal of Dorothy’s adventure has always been the exploration of self-understanding with heavy doses of psychology. (The folks she meets in her reveries about Oz mirror real-life people she knows in Kansas.) This rushed 90-minute kiddie show so trims the classic structure of the film (it’s closer in plot to the book, but that’s not a good thing), it feels more like a series of unrelated vignettes than a mythological journey of personal discovery. Dorothy gets to Oz, meets a good witch (not Glinda), hooks up with three buddies (sans Toto, who is only heard barking offstage in the opening), dispatches an evil witch in about six minutes then presumably makes it back home (we never see Kansas again).

DTC is marketing it as a “family musical,” and I suppose it is in the sense that we might start referring to Michele Bachmann’s husband as “family.” The show — even in this abridged version — is gayer than Liberace on Halloween. The Lion, always the nelliest of the bunch, basically admits he’s gay due to an absent father and strong-willed mother; so many men are obsessed with Dorothy’s shiny shoes (here silver as in the book, not ruby like the movie), I expected one of the Munchkins to be Stanford Blatch; and director Kevin Moriarty employs lithe, half-naked dancers from Dallas Black Dance Theater to gyrate their moneymakers — is this Oz from the book or the gay club on Bourbon Street?

Still, this version of The Wiz is just children’s theater without much heart, brain or courage (it’s difficult to tell if that’s the fault of the book by William F. Brown or the direction, which feels stage-2rushed). The style is presentational and flat, with the actors projecting broadly to the balcony with exaggerated emotions.

Although the set famously includes moving “pods” of seats that move the audience around the space, the main actors rarely perform as in true theater-in-the-round, except when the dancers jump into them. I counted a dozen repositionings, but the sense of movement only genuinely grabs you once; during the cyclone, which should make you feel dizzy and excited, the pods move lumberingly around dancers portraying winds. It’s all oddly unsatisfying: It’s there, it ends.

What’s surprising is that there’s not more magic considering how balls-to-the-wall strong most of the singers are. The Tin Man has never been my favorite character — face it: He’s never been anyone’s favorite … until now. Sydney James Harcourt delivers the only truly wrenching musical performance on his solo “To Be Able to Feel,” just moments after the juiced-up eroticism of “Slide Some Oil to Me.” It’s a sexy, charismatic turn in sharp relief to David Ryan Smith’s hilariously flamboyant Lion and James Tyrone Lane’s limber goofing as Scarecrow.

Liz Mikel hams it up, both as good witch Addaperle and her wicked sister Evillene, which gives her the chance to seethe and gnash her teeth at the youngsters in between belt-‘em-out anthems. But Trisha Jeffrey as Dorothy makes little impression. In this construct, without Toto to talk to, the character is a cipher with little to do but watch the rest of Oz upstage her, wondering “Why, oh why can’t I?”

 

Over at Fair Park, the national tour of Guys & Dolls does a good job of reminding us how gosh-durn terrific a songwriter Frank Loesser was. The score plays like a master class in Broadway hits, with standards (the most famous, “Luck Be a Lady,” isn’t even the best) that convey character through complex harmonies with toe-tapping brio. It’s ironic that “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” makes the audience want to jump to its feet.

If only the production were quite at the level it needs to be to showcase those numbers at their best. Four of the five leads — Ben Crawford (Sky Masterson), Steve Rosen (Nathan Detroit), Megan Sikora (Adelaide) and Glenn Rainey (Nicely Nicely) — have great voices, with Sikora stealing the show as the squeaky-voiced stripper. (Erin Davie never rises above the confines of the show’s least interesting role, missionary Sarah Brown.) The book, based on Damon Runyon’s caricatures of New York low-lifes, still has some zingers (and Crawford is especially good at making the dialogue feel contemporary), but it hasn’t aged well.

It doesn’t help that director Gordon Greenberg cleaves closely to outmoded conventions, like a long
introductory ballet (danced only serviceably by a disappointing chorus) and extended, stylized sequences throughout that do little to advance the plot. And with the show clocking in just shy of three hours, there is plenty of room to trim.

Sikora, though, makes it worth a look-see alone, and the songs have more energy and have endured better than those of The Wiz. Given a choice, it’s a crapshoot between the Loesser of two Evillenes.

………………………..

travel Travel Diary

Anyone who has ever been trapped in an airport during flight delays knows the madness can become infectious, but being balanced and serene is worth the effort. Here are some tips to get your Zen on.

Exercise. You might be on vacation, but your body is not. Exercise in your room, in your hotel’s gym, outside (run on the beach!) or find a nearby gym. Investing an hour in working out can reduce stress, improve sleep and increase energy.

Choose the right attitude. If you approach traveling with the attitude of, “Ugh! I hate to fly/drive/sit,” you’ve already decided it’s going to be a terrible experience. Instead, make the decision to enjoy the journey. Find a good book or download some interesting movies on your iPad. A long flight can be hell… or six hours of scheduled “me” time. The choice is yours.

Eat right. There’s no such thing as “vacation” calories. A calorie is a calorie and unhealthy options are as unhealthy at the beach as they are at home. Make food choices that nourish your body and you’ll feel strong and you’ll enjoy your vacation even more.

Do less, accomplish more. Many treat vacations as narrow windows into which they cram in as much “fun” as possible. While tempting, it can result in seeing a lot but experiencing nothing. Instead, do a few things you’ll actually enjoy rather than constantly looking at your watch.

Stay hydrated. Planes have notoriously dry air; make it a point to get some water whenever the stewards or stewardesses offer it. After going through security, buy a large bottle of water. It makes your body infinitely more comfortable, especially on longer flights.

Meditate. Even if you don’t normally meditate, taking 10 minutes a day to sit quietly is refreshing. Ideally, meditation is best in a quiet room, but even on a packed plane you can make it work. If there is chaos around you, make it part of your practice! Tune it out and find your center. Among other things, it will help reduce tension, relieve stress and improve your mood.

Wash your hands. Restaurants and public transportation facilities are rife with germs. Vacations are more enjoyable when you’re healthy, so minimize your risk of getting sick by washing your hands often.

— Davey Wavey

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DIFF PREVIEW: ‘Rainbows End’ puts stock in its eccentric characters, especially Twirler Man

HORSE WHISPERER | Audrey Dean Leighton gives air kisses to this horse adding to his eccentricity in ‘Rainbows End.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Perhaps the last place you’d find a gay guy who makes your movie work is Nacogdoches, Texas. But Austin-based filmmaker Eric Hueber did just that in his first film, Rainbows End. And it was all sort of by accident.

This documentary track quirky individuals on separate quests to get to California, each for their own reasons: Birdman wants to audition his cocks for an animal casting agency; musicians Country Willie and the Cosmic Debris have a date with the Stardust Cowboy.

But Audrey Dean Leighton is the most colorful of all, with sparkly pink shorts and a vest to match. He just wants to make it to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center to learn about the Internet. And Hueber just happened upon him.

“Yeah, he was walking down the street and I went and started talking to him,” Hueber says. Leighton joined the others in a big green schoolbus that hardly works, making a tour out of their road trip, encountering the colorful characters and engaging in an array of shenanigans. Leighton proudly touts his purchases from Jasper.

His ZZ Top beard is accented with his Easter hats and throughout the movie, he acts as the sage character spewing out wisdom in his own fashion.

“He definitely was the elder statesman of the cast,” Hueber says.

You might call Leighton crazy with his long-trailed monologues, but maybe “eccentric” is a better term. So how did Leighton end up in the film? You have to go back a bit.

“When we started talking, he would mail me all these letters,” Hueber says. “So I told him about email and got him his own Hotmail account and then he became obsessed with the Internet. He would tell me about all the things he was discovering and then he learned that the gay and lesbian center was offering classes on the Internet to people over 55.”

Hueber talks about Leighton as “this guy who showed up at all the small-town parades.” As the valedictorian of his high school class, Leighton went on to brighter and smaller things. A fixture in the small-town circuit of East Texas, his shorts and batons were the random highlights of each parade earning him the nickname “Twirler Man.”

With Hueber’s storytelling, it’s hard to define the film. It plays with a wink in its eye. In the age of Bruno and Borat, cynicism lingers from those films that these are put-on scenarios.

“The thing is I used the B-level of crazy from Nacogdoches,” he laughs. “But these are my good friends, their stories and these events built into this nice narrative arc.”

Rainbows End screens at the Dallas International Film Festival, and will compete in the Texas Film category — that’s a triumph in its own small way.

“Oh, this is the most appropriate category,” Hueber says. “We’re so excited.”

Screens as part of the Dallas International Film Festival. at the Magnolia Theater on April 1 at 10 p.m. and April 3 at noon. DallasFilm.org.

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

—  John Wright

Meet the real Phillip Morris

Phillip Morris

In this week’s issue, I have an interview with Phillip Morris, the real-life gay guy whose life story is portrayed in a new (and terrifically funny) Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor movie, I Love You, Phillip Morris. The article doesn’t include a photo of Morris (I didn’t get it until too late), so here instead online is a recent one, taken last month at the film’s premiere.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Local eateries help you ‘go vegan’ for a week

Here’s the problem I have with most vegans: It is all-or-nothing with them. Sure, I like soy burgers on occasion or a big leafy salad (no egg or cream dressing!) for my entree every once in a while. But I also crave veal scallopini and foie gras occasionally — so sue me. (No. Don’t.)

But this is why my friend Eddie Garza is different. Eddie’s not a proseyltizer. He’s a true vegan, and I avoid ordering steak tartare when I’m with him, but he’s not the kind to throw blood on me as I exit a meat factory. He just wants people to be aware of the damage done to animals for the sake of food, cosmetics and the like. But he knows I drink milk and he’s still my friend.

He’s also the local organizer for Mercy for Animals, the national vegan-friendly organization established by a gay guy, Nathan Runkle. And he wants everyone in Dallas to go vegan … at least for a little while.

First there’s “Vegan Day at the State Fair,” which takes place on Saturday. Local chefs and foodies will judge the best fried vegan foods and no-kill lovers can commune with Big Tex. (Hint: Steer clear of the corny dogs — not exactly vegetarian, despite the word “corn.”)

CORRECTION: The Texas State Veggie Fair is NOT affiliated with the State Fair of Texas. It takes place at 406 S. Haskell St. on Oct. 16. DallasVegan.com

Then there’s MFA’s planned “Go Vegan for a Week” initiative with area restaurants. From Oct. 24–31, five upscale restaurants — Salum, The Second Floor, Bijoux, Tillman’s Roadhouse and Stephan Pyles — will offer vegan options — “compassionate, sustainable and healthy” — on their menus. That’s in addition to already-vegan and -vegetarian places like Bliss, Kalachandji’s and Cosmic Cup Cafe.

Many of the options sound yummy: tempura cauliflower and broccolini with white bean puree at Salum; soba noodles with bok choi and Thai chile vinaigrette at The Second Floor — which may prove you don’t have to give up flavor to save an animal.

You can learn more at DallasVeganWeek.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Crunch time

Jackie Warner, above, the lesbian trainer whose reality series Working Out certainly counts as one of the most artificial and transparently banal of its type, is back on Bravo in a format that better suits her — or at least my tolerance for Warner’s brand of faux toughness. Rather than watching her battle with her equally annoying Russian girlfriend, or acting as if she’s the most important woman in Hollywood, she’s doing what a trainer should do: Train clients.
Thintervention is The Biggest Loser conducted by surprise. Warner takes on eight clients, including a mother and daughter and a gay guy who says he and his partner are “the hottie and the hippo,” getting them to change their diets and reach their exercise goals. The surprise comes as Warner makes unannounced ambush calls on the clients, barging into their homes and throwing out high-fat foods and shaming them into losing pounds and inches.

As weight-loss shows go — and with Loser, Dance Your Ass Off, Celebrity Fit Club and more, there are an astonishing number of them on TV — Thintervention has the Bravo touch, meaning it’s as much about the host as the contestants. But as just one more in a glut of series, this is buoyed more by the presence of Warner’s super-buff gay trainer Craig Ramsay than Warner herself. Still, we’ll take what we can get.

Grade: C+

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Dancing with the Stars announced its newest lineup of second-tier celebs hoping to waltz away with top honors. The most interesting of the bunch are comic and gay fave Margaret Cho, who is having a busy year with a new album and tour, Bristol Palin and Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. How will Cho interact with Palin?  More important, how much more cut will The Situation’s abs get with all that intense cardio?

The rest of the lineup includes Michael Bolton, Florence Henderson, David Hasselhoff and Brandy. And we’ll find out if baby is put into a corner with Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey in the mix.

— Rich Lopez

Thintervention premieres Sep. 6 at 9 p.m. on Bravo. DWTS premieres Sep. 20 at 7 p.m on ABC.

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

—  Michael Stephens