Applause: Stage pink

Queer highlights from the upcoming theater season

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Anticipation should be strong for the upcoming theater season in general. Ambitious shows like Giant, The Tempest, West Side Story and Hairspray all dot the stage horizon.
But we also like to see some of our own up there. As we look over the upcoming offerings from local theater companies, we always ask, “Where’s the gay?”  In addition to Uptown Players’ first  Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, here are some of the others.

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Fall

Although the Dallas Opera canceled the opera she was set to star in, lesbian soprano Patricia Racette will still perform at a TDO gala. (Photo Devon Cass)

Singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik gave an indie music flair to the musical adaptation of the 1891 play Spring Awakening. Set in 19th century Germany, Awakening follows a group of youths as they discover more about themselves and their rapidly developing sexuality.

The original Frank Wedekind play was controversial in its day, depicting abortion, homosexuality, rape and suicide. Now the show just has an added rock ‘n’ roll score. Along with Sheik’s musical perspective, Steven Slater wrote the book and lyrics in this updated version which debuted in 2006 on Broadway and won the Tony for Best Musical. Terry Martin directs.

WaterTower Theater, 15650 Addison Road., Addison. Sept. 30–Oct. 23. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

It’s almost un-Texan if you’re gay and not familiar with Del Shores’ tales of Southern discomfort.  Southern Baptist Sissies and Sordid Lives are pretty much part of the queer vernacular in these parts, but Shores got his start way back in 1987.

How will those northern folks take to Shores work (And by north, we mean past Central Expressway past LBJ)? Jeni Helms directs Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will for McKinney Repertory Theatre this fall. As the family patriarch suffers a stroke, the Turnover family gathers as they wait for his death. This family may just put the fun in dysfunctional.

McKinney Performing Arts Center, 111 N. Tennessee St., McKinney. Sept. 30–Oct. 7. McKinneyRep.org.

WingSpan Theatre Co. will produce one of the greater comedies of theater-dom this fall: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Nancy Sherrard sparring over the gay wit’s price bon mots as Lady Bracknell.

Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Oct. 6–22. WingSpanTheatre.com.

Although A Catered Affair might sound a bit like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it has the added flair of Harvey Fierstein’s wit. That’s because he wrote the book for the show alongside John Bucchino’s music and lyrics. The play is based on the Gore Vidal-penned 1956 film The Catered Affair starring Bette Davis.

When Jane and Ralph decide to get married, Jane’s mom Agnes wants to put on an elaborate spectacle of a wedding. The truth is, she can’t afford it and Jane isn’t all too thrilled about a huge affair. As in most cases, the wedding planning is more about the mom than the daughter and Agnes soon realizes the fact. Jane’s Uncle Winston — the proverbial gay uncle — is left off the guest list and is rightfully pissed. But as most gay characters, he rallies to be the voice of reason and support.

Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street, Ste.168. Oct. 13–Nov. 12. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Lesbian soprano Patricia Racette was going to be featured in the production of Katya Kabanová but unfortunately the show was canceled by the Dallas Opera. But fear not. Dallas will still get to bask in the greatness that is her voice as Racette will perform An Evening with Patricia Racette, a cabaret show with classics from the Great American Songbook for a patron recital.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Nov. 9. DallasOpera.org

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Spring

Nancy Sherrard will star as Lady Bracknell in WIngSpan Theater Co.’s fall production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ perhaps the greatest comedy ever written by theaterdom’s gayest wit.

Kevin Moriarty directs Next Fall for the Dallas Theater Center next spring. Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, the play centers on Luke and Adam, a couple with some unusual issues. What’s new about that in gay couplehood? Not much, but when Adam’s an absolute atheist and Luke’s a devout Christian, the two have been doing their best to make it work.
The comedy played on Broadway in 2010, garnering Tony and Drama Desk nominations. And now Dallas gets to see how, as DTC puts it, “relationships can be a beautiful mess.”
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. April 13–May 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

Perhaps the most surprising queer offering this next season is Theatre Arlington’s production of The Laramie Project. The show usually creates quite a stir — at least it did in Tyler, thanks to Trinity Wheeler — so how will this suburban audience handle it? Doesn’t matter. Props to T.A. for taking Moises Kaufman’s play about the tragic bashing and death of Matthew Shepard to its community.

Theatre Arlington, 305 W. Main St., Arlington. May 18–June 3. TheatreArlington.org.

Usually the question with MBS Productions is “what’s not gay?” Founder Mark-Brian Sonna has consistently delivered tales of gay woe and love that are sometimes silly and sometimes sweet, but always a laugh.

This season is no different. Playwright Alejandro de la Costa brings back drag queen Lovely Uranus in The Importance of Being Lovely. The last time we saw Uranus, Sonna wore the stilettos and pink wig in last season’s Outrageous, Sexy, (nekkid) Romp.  This time around, Uranus graduates to leading lady status as the show is all about her as audiences follow her through the changes she makes in her make-up, wigs and men.

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. July 16–Aug. 11, 2012. MBSProductions.net.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Out soprano who’ll headline Dallas Opera’s 2011-12 season releases ‘It Gets Better’ video

Patricia Racette

Operatic soprano Patricia Racette released an “It Gets Better” video that she made with her partner, Beth Clayton. They filmed their piece at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

As Arnold Wayne Jones reported last week, Racette will star in the second production of the Dallas Opera’s 2011-12 season, a revival of the company’s 1997 production of Leoš Janáček’s Katya Kabanova, written in 1921. The show runs Oct. 28 and 30, and Nov. 2, 5 and 13.

She will also at the Winspear Opera House in a recital for patrons, the opera announced on Jan. 13:

An exclusive patron recital on November 9, 2011, “A Cabaret Evening with Patricia Racette,” featuring the luminous Ms. Racette performing selections from the Great American Songbook in the intimacy of the Winspear Opera House.

Racette has appeared in Dallas before when she starred as the heroine in the 2004 production of Jenůfa.

—  David Taffet

A note on gay Pride — in and out of the community

I had an annoying conversation this morning.

A publicist for a troupe we (let’s put it this way) “recently profiled” called to ask for a change online to the story: Seems like we referred in the headline to the person we interviewed as “gay.” She wanted it removed.

“I’m sorry — is that not true?” I asked.

“No, it’s true. He’s gay.  He would just prefer you not mention it.”

The conversation continued like this for a long time.

Now, I’m happy to correct errors, especially ones caused by us. But this person was pitched to me as the “gay head of this troupe,” and I assigned the story accordingly. If he had not been gay … well, let’s just say the troupe was not on my radar enough such that I would have been all that interested in the story without a hook, an angle. That was his.

Part of the mission of this newspaper is to draw our readers (many of whom are straight) to what’s going on in and by the gay community. Sometimes it’s homophobes attacking us and our rights. Sometimes it’s our allies who embrace us for who we are and treat up as equals. Sometimes it’s just celebrities who have an interesting perspective on their gay fans. Sometimes it’s openly gay people who are victimized by bigots, or leaders who step up to improve the lot of the community.

But a lot of the time, it’s just ordinary gay folks doing something out in the world we think people might want to know about. A trans woman who continues to be a personal trainer. A musician who wants to save the Great American Songbook. An auto mechanic who runs a garage and offers his gay clientele a friendly environment. An actor who steals the show in a national tour of a terrible musical. A museum curator who brings his unique perspective to a major art museum. Maybe being gay doesn’t directly affect what they do too much. But maybe it does. And it’s good to have a sense of pride knowing the vast landscape of opportunities out there — and that being openly gay, bi or trans is not a hindrance to success.

So when someone who is gay — and claims to be out — asks me to hide that fact … well, it angers me. You don’t need to do an interview with me. You don’t need to discuss your sexuality if you do agree to the interview. You don’t even need to be gay for me to write about you. But don’t come to me with the pitch that our readers might be interested in reading about you and then leap back in the closet. Because there are a lot of people out there proud to be called gay. I’m one of them.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Preservation road

Acclaimed gay musician Michael Feinstein isn’t interested in simply playing the Great American Songbook — he’s also trying to save it

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer  lopez@dallasvoice.com

Michael Feinstein
‘TO THE MOON,’ ALICE | Michael Feinstein performs songs from his new CD at the Winspear Wednesday, but his passion is saving America’s musical heritage for future generations. (Photo courtesy Randee St. Nicholas)

AMERICAN SONGBOOK
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. $25–$125.
ATTPAC.org

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Michael Feinstein is on the road again, touring for his new album Fly Me to the Moon — a reference to a Sinatra song lyric, in keeping with his love of American standards. On this new collection, Feinstein tackles newfound arrangements of classic songs.

But today, Feinstein isn’t being talkative about his latest CD and his tour, which comes to the Winspear on Wednesday. He’d rather talk history — or better yet, rescue it.

The musician began the Feinstein Foundation with the mission of educating and preserving the music from the early half of the 20th century, which included the likes of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

“Many of these composers had no success during their own lives but there are still many samples of their songs out there in movies or commercials,” he says. “They get rediscovered by a new generation. That what happens with Gershwin all the time. As long as it’s out there, it will continue.”

PBS stepped in last month to help. Feinstein partnered with the Public Broadcasting to produce Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, a three-episode series documenting his work on saving our musical heritage. In it, he documents recording sessions, live performances and gives histories on artists. But the best part is when it turns into the musical version of The History Channel’s American Pickers. He’s not reselling old heirlooms but rather unearthing sheet music, old recordings and memorabilia in attics and dusty storage areas.

“I was approached by [producer] Amber Edwards who wanted to create a show,” he says. “I trusted her with the material so I have nothing to do with that. She followed me around for quite some time and honestly, I didn’t like that in that sense to know someone’s watching you or filming you all the time. But ultimately I accepted it for the purpose of the result.”

With the TV show and his tours and CDs, what Feinstein worries about is getting through to the younger generation. Now in his 50s, Feinstein has been a musical historian, archivist and musician for a quarter century, and throughout that time he was entranced by the classic American songs. He worries, though, that enthusiasm for what came before is waning. He’s not a fan of MTV and even declares that it (along with movies and TV in general) has shattered what focus young people might have with fast editing and lack of details. The Internet hasn’t helped, with the onslaught of social networking and its nurturing of fast-paced information. To him, it has become a “subversive means of destroying attention spans.”

Irony may be his biggest ally. Musical trends now lean toward an appreciation of vintage country music and old-school soul. Feinstein thinks that’s a start and that there are people in Generations Y and Z exploring the American standards.

“People can’t sit still anymore, and it’s an awful thing that’s happened,” he says. “But I do think people are exploring it. It may not be in the Top 40 ever again, but you can find anything on Buddy Clark or Ethel Waters on the Internet. There is more access than ever, so yes, it will survive and take on a life of its own. One never knows what happens with music.”

While those trends toward vintage sounds are on the rebound, Feinstein is not so thrilled with the idea of modern bands taking up the fad of releasing an album on vinyl. In fact, it kinda pisses him off. He grunts with disapproval.

“No, I wouldn’t do a vinyl recording — that’s a stunt,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense, unless it’s recorded in analog, but otherwise, it’s the same. The time for vinyl has passed for new music. I loved my Sinatra project when we recorded with one channel like they did it the ‘50s, but we didn’t put it on vinyl. The people who do it now, it’s bogus.”

With his focus on the foundation’s work, Feinstein doesn’t forget he has an album to promote. For Moon, he collaborated with guitarist Joe Negri. He’s a fan of the collaborations — both professional and personal (he and his longtime partner were married in 2008 by TV judge Judy Sheindlin.) Feinstein did it last year with fellow gay artist Cheyenne Jackson in The Power of Two. That album and the live performances at Carnegie Hall were huge successes for them both.

His approach to Moon plays it a bit more subdued, thanks to Negri’s delicate strumming.

“He was one of the greatest guitarists and very facile,” he says. “Any song I could name, he could immediately play beautifully. This definitely was a meeting of musical minds. He’s magical.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens