Pride Performing Arts Fest wraps up

Uptown Players’ inaugural performing arts festival, timed to coincide with Dallas Pride, was a risky venture, if only in training theatergoers to seek out new plays mid-week and in repertory. But the experiment has paid off so far; co-producer Craig Lynch reported that most of the performances in the upstairs Frank’s Place space were complete or near sell-outs last weekend. Good for them, but even better for audiences, getting to see Paul Rudnick’s hilarious New Century, where Lulu Ward gives the best performances I’ve seen on a stage this year, and a fully-dressed staged reading of the lesbian melodrama Last Summer at Bluefish Cove — both of which you can still see one more time (New Century on Saturday at 4 p.m., Bluefish on Friday at 8 p.m.). The whole event wraps up Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., with a cabaret performance RSVP Vacations vets by Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen, pictured.

— A.W.J.

All performances at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Sept. 17.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Enter, stage left

After a decade, Uptown Players, Dallas’ gaylicious theater troupe, finally gets its Pride on with Performing Arts Fest

GAY PLAY BUFFET | Uptown Players’ inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival features musicals, plays, staged readings, comedy and cabarets, including, ‘Beautiful Thing,’ left, ‘Last Sunday in June,’ below and ‘Crazy Like Me,’ above.

Seeing how Uptown Players always gives Dallas theatergoers a big gay outlet, it would only seem natural that as the city celebrates Pride in September, the troupe would be in the thick of things, presenting some of their gaycentric shows while the rainbow flags are unfurling.

But that has rarely been the case, and the big hold-up was always limited space. Now that Uptown calls the Kalita Humphreys Theater home, the company finally can go all out, as it will with its inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival.

“It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” says producer Craig Lynch. “I’m excited to do two weeks of shows that really celebrate the community and to have the opportunity to see it all come together.

With 11 different performances spread across two weekends, Uptown will be able to showcase shows in both the main stage and the upstairs black box theater, Frank’s Place. Juggling drama, comedy and even cabaret, Lynch feels that Uptown, even after a decade, will put the company on the map with a larger audience.

“I’m excited to get some people in here that may not have been here,” he says. “I think people will be able to say, ‘There’s a great theater company here and we need to come back.’ And it’s another way to bring the community together and sort of remember our roots.”

Lynch also thinks it’s a nice alternative to the usual night out.

“Hey, you’ve seen one shirtless twink, you seen ‘em all,” he says.

So true.
— Rich Lopez



Crazy Just Like Me directed by Coy Covington. Simon, Mike and Lauren find that the love of their lives may not be who they thought it would be in this musical. Stars Alex Ross, Kayla Carlyle, Angel Velasco, Corey Cleary-Stoner and Ryan Roach. Sept. 9, 11, 14 and 16 at 7:30 p.m.

lead-2Beautiful Thing directed by B.J. Cleveland. The story of two teenage boys who discover their love for each other and the optimism that goes with it. Based on the popular indie film, the production benefits Youth First Texas. Sept. 10 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept 17 at 2 p.m.

Pride Cabaret Concert: From Chopin to Show-tunes featuring Kevin Gunter and Adam C. Wright. This musical cabaret takes a whirlwind look at theater music. Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen close the festival with their brand of music and comedy. Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.


The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode directed by Andi Allen. The 2009 cast, including Paul J. Williams as Mrs. Garrett, reunites for this spoof of the 1980s sitcom. Sept. 9 and 14 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 10 at 9:30 p.m.

The New Century directed by Andi Allen. Allen teams up again with Williams alongside Marisa Diotalevi for this new Paul Rudnick short play of tales of gay men and the women who love them. Sept. 10 at 3 p.m., Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 4 p.m.

A Taste of Beauty staged reading is a workshop of a brand new musical by Jeff Kinman, John de los Santos and Adam C. Wright. Audience feedback is encouraged. (Staged reading.) Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.  and Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.

Asher, TX ’82 written and directed by Bruce Coleman. This world premiere by Coleman finds four youths in Texas confronted with violence and how it affects their lives forever. Max Swarner (Equus) and Drew Kelly (Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits) are among the cast. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.

Click/A Midsummer Night’s Conversation directed by Kevin Moore. These two shorts by Austin playwright Allan Baker are presented in conjunction with Asher. In Click, two guys try to hook up online but for different reasons. In Midsummer, a same-sex couple finds its time to get real honest with each other. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.

Last Summer at Bluefish Cove directed by Cheryl Denson. A key work to lesbian literature, this play by Jane Chambers tells the story of an unhappy married woman discovering a newlead-3 world with a fresh set of friends who all happen to be lesbian. (Staged reading.) Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.

Last Sunday in June directed by Rick Espaillat. This Jonathan Tolins play follows the perfect gay couple on a not-so-perfect gay Pride day. The cast includes Chris Edwards, Jonathan Greer, Lon Barrera, Rick Starkweather, Robert L. Camina, Jerry Crow and Lee Jamison. Sept. 13 and 15 at 8 p.m.

—  Kevin Thomas

Uptown Players sets line-up for 2012 season

AM BUSCH | Coy Covington (in ‘Die Mommie, Die!’) returns to his roots in drag acting by once again serving as Charles Busch’s surrogate in ‘The Divine Sister.’

Uptown Players begins its third season at the Kalita Humphreys Theater next year, with a lineup that numbers among its gayest ever.

“I don’t wanna say it’s more gay, but I definitely feel it has more gay aspects than some recent seasons,” said co-founder Craig Lynch.
As usual, the season includes a drama, a comedy and two musicals, plus several bonus shows.

The 11th season kicks off Feb. 3, 2012, with Take Me Out, gay playwright Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award-winner about the reaction when a professional baseball player comes out of the closet. WaterTower Theatre last produced the show locally in 2006.

That’s immediately followed by Broadway Our Way on March 16, the annual fundraiser that showcases musical numbers traditionally sung by men being sung by women and vice versa.

As with this season, Uptown will clear out of the Kalita for a few months while the Dallas Theater Center, which still holds the lease on the building, mounts two shows in the space: God of Carnage and Next Fall. In the meantime, the troupe will return to the stage of the Rose Room for The Silence of the Clams, another of its comic spoofs, again written by Jamie Morris (The Fact of Life: The Lost Episode). It opens April 27.

On July 13, Coy Covington returns to his wheelhouse performing in drag in the most recent Charles Busch comedy, The Divine Sister. This will be Covington’s fourth go as Busch’s surrogate for Uptown. “We saw it off-Broadway and met with Busch,” Lynch said. “His production of the play is touring but is not coming to Dallas, so we snatched up the rights.”

Uptown will then attempt what is arguably its biggest production to date when it tackles  Mel Brooks’ mega musical The Producers. It also happens to be one of the gayest mainstream smashes in the history of Broadway. National tours have come to North Texas, but this will be the first major local production. It opens Aug. 24.

The season will end on Oct. 5 with Hello Again, gay composer Michael John LaChuisa’s musical play about relationships through the decades. John de los Santos will direct.

It’s an ambitious season for the company that began soon after 9/11 in a 120-seat space off Stemmons but is now only the second troupe to be a resident company at the historic Kalita Humphreys. When they started, did they ever think they’d mount something as big as The Producers?

“Heck, no!” said Lynch. “We were debating whether to do The Producers for a year now but after doing research I see how it can work. We’ve learned some valuable lessons in the space. We know we need to scale back here and be more abstract there. We were used to a small space and small-scale thinking; now we times that by a hundred.”

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Best bets • 07.29.11

Friday 07.29

Lady looks like a dude
What is poor Victoria thinking? Dressing up as a man who performs as a female entertainer? Clearly a struggling artist will do anything to get by. Uptown Players presents the musical Victor/Victoria where Victoria becomes the toast of Paris as Victor but now has to deal with the mobster who is getting a little too attached.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. 8 p.m. $30–$40.


Saturday 07.30

Being all he can be
Justin Elzie may be a happy man right now. As “don’t ask, don’t tell” comes to an end, his work wasn’t in vain. Named Marine of the Year in ‘93, he was discharged for coming out on national TV. He sued, won and has been advocating for LGBT rights in the military. He comes to Dallas to discuss his work in fighting for DADT’s repeal.

DEETS:     Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan 2 p.m.


Thursday 08.04

Just a hot mess
Do we love Ke$ha because she’s the sloppy mess we wish we could be? It’s a brilliant act to come off as a drunken slacker and a blonde bombshell. See how she does it this week on her Get Sleazy Tour with LMFAO and Spank Rock.

DEETS:     Gexa Energy Pavilion, 1818 First Ave. 7:30 p.m. $30–$65.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Out of step

Fitting in seems overrated in two musicals of substance

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor


NEXT TO NORMAL at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Through July 3.

BILLY ELLIOT at the Winspear Opera House,
4103 Flora St. Through June 19.


OUT, OUT BRIEF CANDLE | A birthday cake triggers a couple’s painful memories in ‘Next to Normal.’ (Photo by Mike Morgan)

Reality: It’s so inconvenient sometimes. For Diana, the wife and mother in Next to Normal, reality often means staying drugged to the point of catatonia; for 12-year-old working class kid Billy Elliot struggling through life in an England mining town interferes with his passion to dance. Mental illness and politico-economic upheaval — not exactly the stuff of the typical song-and-dance musical. But there is little typical about either of these shows.

For Uptown Players, the regional premiere of Next to Normal is the best show the company has ever done: The best cast, all of whom are at the top of their games; the best set; the best band (a pitch-perfect performance, led by music director Scott A. Eckert); and the best directing personally for Michael Serrecchia, who moves the scenes seamlessly as the play hits you in waves, alternatingly poignant and humorous.

It’s not the easiest material to make into a musical. Diana (Patty Breckenridge) had struggled with bipolar disorder for years, ever since a tragedy left her with a slipping grip on reality. Her husband Dan (Gary Floyd) has soldiered on, monitoring her prescription use and looking for warning signs. But what if Diana doesn’t want to feel “normal”? What if feeling a little crazy is her baseline — it’s normal for her?

At the same time we watch Dan and Diana work through their marriage, we see how their daughter Natalie (Erica Harte) and her new boyfriend Henry (Jonathan W. Gilland) mirror their relationship from 20 years ago.

These are heavy issues, but for each moment of devastation, you are simultaneously awed by its beauty and power. It helps that the score — basically a rock opera — is performed by some of the best singers around. On all her songs, Breckenridge reaches into the emotion and the musicality; nowhere is she better than on “I Miss the Mountains,” a heartfelt ballad of the Jewel-Indigo Girls variety that you can imagine hearing on the radio.

Floyd’s lilting tenor melds gorgeously with Anthony Carillo, playing Dan and Diana’s son Gabe, especially on “I Am the One” and “It’s Gonna Be Good.” Carillo imbues his performance with an impressing physicality as well, bursting out of his skin on the anthem “I’m Alive.”

Next to Normal, which won the Tony Award for best score as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama, sounds sad, and sometimes it is, but its genius is leaving the audience with the memory of the power of the human spirit. This is not a musical about depression; it is a musical about hope.

GOTTA DANCE | A working class boy imagines a future, dancing ballet with himself, in ‘Billy Elliot.’ (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

You could say almost the same thing about Billy Elliot, now at the Winspear Opera House. This national tour of the Elton John hit about how a boy discovers ballet is perhaps an even less likely topic for a musical treatment, given its context: A strike during the Thatcher Administration that, in the mid-1980s, nearly resulted in a British civil war, and polarized the classes in a way that hadn’t been seen in a century.

Billy (played on press night by Giuseppe Basilio, but with a rotating Billy almost each performance) is growing up amid the fiercely testosterone-fueled environs of Northern England, with a father and older brother who are miners, with only the memory of his late mother and his often soused grandmother to nurture him.

Billy is forced to study boxing, but when he wanders into a ballet class led by Mrs. Wilkinson (Faith Prince), he begins to realize that being different isn’t easy, but it sure is liberating.

You know you’re in a strange world, even in musical theater, where the showstopping number in the first act (“Expressing Yourself”) is a lavish tap-dancing fantasy about the joys of cross-dressing, led by Billy’s fey companion Michael, who seems more at home in his burgeoning sexuality than his older friend.

Everything about this production is massive — the sets, the themes, the score, the dances, the talent, even the accents — except the kernel of it: The lone boy who wants to make a better world for himself. (In the show’s most moving sequence, miners contribute what they can to help fund Billy’s audition for the Royal School of Ballet, because they realize — sadly, beautifully — that Billy represents the future, their future, as their industry is being gutted by right wing bullies.)

Broadway veteran Prince demonstrates her star-power with a flashy supporting role, but Basilio is a remarkable young dancer, with fine lines and a commanding presence during a duet with his older self and on his big solo number, “Electricity.” On opening night, the audience swelled in a sustained, spontaneous ovation. It was completely deserved. It was, itself, electric.

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

—  Michael Stephens

From light to darkness

‘B’way Our Way’ takes it up a notch; ‘Language of Angels’ best left unheard

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

PUTTIN’ ON THE GLITZ | Coy Covington and Drew Kelly display some sassy showmanship in Uptown Players’ annual fundraiser, ‘Broadway Our Way: Divas Rising.’

I kind of miss the old Broadway Our Way, Uptown Players’ annual comedy-musical showcase that served as a season-kickoff and fundraiser for the gaycentric theater troupe. When the company performed at the Trinity River Arts Center in a 120-seat auditorium, there was intimacy and love as local actors, musicians and directors volunteered their time with limited sets and costumes to put on a show the old-fashioned way.

Now that the show (like all Uptown shows) is performed at the historic Kalita Humphreys Theater, there’s more gravitas and less camaraderie. It’s not just a fundraiser; it’s An Event.

When you walk into the latest incarnation, Divas Rising, you can’t help but be impressed by the monster set, the use of the giant lazy susan stage, the many costumes and two-dozen performers. It’s a true production.

We can lament the all-in-this-together quality falling by the wayside, but we have to acknowledge how important it is for Uptown, in its 10th season, to have come so far so fast. This is slick theater — and still mounted, as a labor of love, by the talent onstage and behind the scenes — as usual, Andi Allen wrote and directed, with hip parodies of Glee and a swishy camp sensibility that plays well with the mixed audience.

Among the performers are some of Dallas’ best, who sing songs originally written for members of the opposite sex. That allows Wendy Welch to soar on the (now-lesbified) love ballad “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd and Rick Starkweather to jerk unexpected tears from my eyes on “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked. It gives Natalie King a perfect-fit 11 o’clock number in “Memphis Lives in Me” and host Paul J. Williams free rein to vamp with the audience as Sister Helen Holy.

This year’s version of BOW is perky in Act 1, downbeat in Act 2, but then, like Glee, it ends with “Don’t Stop Believin’.” We believe guys;
we still believe.
If BOW keeps it light and gay, Language of Angels, in the appropriately cavernous space at Theatre Too, is dark as night.

The premise is intriguing: While out with friends, a teenaged girl disappears in the labyrinth of caves in the North Carolina mountains. Was she killed? Did she slip? Or did something else entirely happen to her? And why?

These kinds of mysteries are perfect grist for drama, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the new AMC series The Killing to Peter Weir’s allegorical film Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s OK for these stories to luxuriate in the unanswerable, to raise existential questions and challenge us to understand.

Language of Angels does none of that, though it tries — oh, how it tries. It’s a muddle of naïve and conflicting ideas told out of time with deep pretension.

Playwright Naomi Iizuka is so fond of her own sense of language, she makes her characters say things they never would. (One beer-swilling mountain boy describes the “fuchsia” accents on his girlfriend’s tattoo; I doubt even the gay boys in Carolina say fuchsia, for crying out loud.) And it all takes place in near darkness. I doubt even the enhanced interrogation techniques usedat Gitmo to squeeze bin Laden’s location out of Taliban loyalists could be more excruciating than the first half hour of this play.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.


—  Kevin Thomas

2011 Readers Voice Awards: Entertainment


Jenna Skyy

Hosts monthly GayBingo event at
the Rose Room inside Station 4,
3911 Cedar Springs Road

Since this was the Ultimate Diva! edition of the Readers Voice, it behooves us to explore that aspect of gay culture for whom divadom seems inherent: The drag queen (of the 10 finalists, in fact, eight were drag characters). A diva certainly has attitude — and smarts, and talent, and personality — all of which describes Jenna Skyy, who in a few short years has becomes an essential part of the Dallas scene. But Skyy (aka Joe Hoselton) has something more still: A philosophy. Drag feels almost like a political statement the way Hoselton does it, an act of defiance. An act of Pride. She represents something great about being gay and out and open, whether she’s powering down the runway like Jan Strimple or revealing a costume of Gagaesque flamboyance — or, for that matter, calling numbers at GayBingo, the monthly AIDS fundraiser she co-hosts in the Rose Room — Jenna Skyy makes us happy to be … well, just to be.

— Arnold Wayne Jones


Fahari Arts Institute



Anton Shaw


Anton Shaw and the Reason

HORSING AROUND | Uptown Players had a banner season according to Voice readers, having the favorite play, ‘Equus,’ above, and tying itself for best musical.

Equus (Uptown Players)

Performed Feb. 26–March 21 at the
Kalita Humphreys Theater


Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits (Uptown Players)

Performed Aug. 5–29 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater

Closer to Heaven (Uptown Players)

Performed Oct. 1–24 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater


Harold Steward

Gilley’s Music Complex: The Palladium, The Loft, South Side Music Hall, Jack Daniel’s Saloon

Thanks to the trio of Kris Youmans, Brad Ehney and Nate Binford, the venues of the Gilley’s Music Complex on the Cedars have been very welcoming to the gays. Once Ehney, who is gay, got on board after his stint at the Granada Theater (another queer-friendly venue), he was intent on bringing a contingent of acts geared toward attracting an LGBT audience. Binford and Yeomans, the straight guys, just wanted a full house. It’s worked out beautifully. Lesbian duo Tegan & Sara filled the huge-ass space of the Palladium Ballroom while Lady Gaga openers Semi Precious Weapons rocked the shit out of the smaller Loft. The gays then came out en masse for Robyn, packing the mid-sized South Side Music Hall. Upcoming acts of queer interest include MEN, Of Montreal and Vivian Girls. (Upcoming non-gay acts aren’t bad, either: The Avett Brothers, George Clinton and Coheed and Cambria.) These guys prove that gays do like their live music and will step out of the gayborhood to get it.

— Rich Lopez


OPEN  AIR | Groups like Middle Ground rock the night air at Jack’s Backyard in Oak Cliff, a favorite venue for enjoying live music. (Gregory Hayes/Dallas Voice)


Jack’s Backyard

2303 Pittman St.
Open daily until 2 a.m.

Sue Ellen’s

3014 Throckmorton St.
Open daily 4 p.m–2 a.m.
with after-hours dancing

It’s notable that these two venues would tie for readers’ favorites, because they represent polarities of live music locales. In one corner is Sue’s, the urban Cedar Springs club where the upstairs Vixin Lounge boasts a quality sound system and decent space for an indoor concert. Jack’s, by contrast, takes the music to the outdoors of Oak Cliff, making a nice nighttime event even better, especially in the warms of Texas spring, summer and autumn. Both venues often book gigs for local regulars like Ciao Bella and Anton Shaw, but each has also featured smaller touring artists like Anne McCue and Hunter Valentine.  If the boys want to get it on the live music game, they have lots of catching up to do. The mostly lady-based venues have a lock on bringing the live sounds to the gayborhoods.

— Rich Lopez



Yes, we named this category a “dating app.” Yes, we know for a lot — most? all? — guys who download it, Grindr is more about hookups than long-term relationships. But consider: At one time, admitting you met on was considered as cringe-worthy as saying you met at a bar while one of you was dancing naked on the pool table. (Oh, right, that’s more a straight-couple thing.) Maybe one day, app-love may become so common it loses any stigma. Anyway, how were we supposed to guess Grindr would win? And truth be told, some of us have found, if not true romance, at least an on-going love connection. And we enjoy chatting with other guys even if we don’t end up as a couple. That’s what dating is, right? Seeing what’s out there and deciding what you want from a partner? Grindr does that. And we’d all be a little lonelier without it.

— Arnold Wayne Jones


AIN’T NO BULL | Ragsdale’s standout performance in a one-woman show was enough to win her a lot of fans — enough to name her Dallas’ favorite local actress.

Q-Roc Ragsdale

Perhaps only Q-Roc Ragsdale could have pulled off her performance in The Bull-Jean Stories last year. Best theater director Harold Steward of Fahari Arts helmed this one-woman show, written by dramatist Sharon Bridgforth. The Bull-Jean Stories takes a look at the struggles of a fictional woman-loving character in the rural South of the 1920s, and her endurance during tough times. Like her character, Ragsdale is a powerful woman using her work as a film director, photographer and actor to stretch the artistic visions of both the black and same-gender-loving communities of Dallas as well as harkening to the strong will and spirit of black LGBTs who have come before her.

— Rich Lopez

Rick Espaillat

Liz Mikel

Cedric Neal



3926 Cedar Springs Road




3926 Cedar Springs Road


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

’Tis the season

Christmastime gears up stage traditions

PANTO-MOM | Ivan Jones, right, plays Governess Amplebottom in ‘Babes in the Wood,’ a fairy tale take on Robin Hood that’s suitable for kids but full of double entendres. (Photo by Mark Trew)

With Thanksgiving now behind us, theater companies are pullout out their Christmas fare — many with more-than-holiday appeal to the gay community. Check out these shows that might jingle your bells.

A Christmas Carol (Dallas Theater Center). The classic production returns to Oak Lawn, with a few tweaks. Back in the cast are local actors Chamblee Ferguson and Liz Mikel … only this time in new roles. Ferguson has matured from Cratchit to his boss, playing Scrooge, and Mikel returns, now in the role of the ghost of Jacob Marley. Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Opens Dec. 3, runs daily (except Mondays) through Dec. 24.

The Santaland Diaries (Contemporary Theatre of Dallas). Another tradition is back, as actor Nye Cooper and director Coy Covington add some holiday jeer with David Sedaris’ hilarious antidote to Christmas treacle, about a gay elf toiling away at Macy’s during the holiday. Ho-ho-homo! Greenville Center for the Arts, 5601 Sears St. Opens Dec. 3; runs weekends through Dec. 23.

Babes in the Wood (Theatre Britain). Dallas’ resident Anglophile troupe has a new venue and a new show, its annual world premiere panto. A tradition in England for 200 years, this fairy tale always features a cross-dressing comic dame (played this year by Ivan Jones) who tells lots of lascivious jokes that go over the kids’ heads but keep the adults laughing. Cox Building Playhouse, 1517 Avenue H, Plano. Opens Dec. 3, runs weekends through Dec. 23.

The Drowsy Chaperone (Theatre Three). It’s not a Christmas show, but this buoyant musical — about a forgotten but goofily charming Depression Era musical that comes to life in a gay man’s apartment — is loaded with good cheer and a smartness about the conventions of the form. Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Currently in previews; opens Dec. 6, runs through Jan. 8 (no performances Christmas week).

— Arnold Wayne Jones

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

—  Michael Stephens

‘Closer to Heaven’ closes this Sunday at Uptown Players

Closer to Heaven wallows in sex, drugs & rock

The performances in Closer to Heaven surpass the material. If the androgynous Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret were a coke whore and more clearly a woman, she’d probably look and sound a lot like Morgana Shaw’s Billie Trix. In her leather fetish garb, it seems as if the director, Bruce Coleman — here and with his bondage-themed take on Equus last winter — is working through some S&M fantasies at Uptown Players. In Shaw, in thigh-high latex platform boots, he’s found an excellent medium.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. 2 p.m. $30–$40.

—  Rich Lopez

Buggery nights

‘Closer to Heaven’ wallows in sex, drugs & rock; ‘33 Variations’ hits wrong note

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

BRINGING SEXY BACK  | Morgana Shaw, center, leads a menagerie of freaks in Uptown Players’ ‘Closer to Heaven.’ (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)
BRINGING SEXY BACK | Morgana Shaw, center, leads a menagerie of freaks in Uptown Players’ ‘Closer to Heaven.’ (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

CLOSER TO HEAVEN at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Oct. 24.

33 VARIATIONS at Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through Oct. 31.


The opening 10 minutes of Closer to Heaven, the season ender from Uptown Players, is an exhausting, non-stop carnival of music and movement. If only it could sustain that energy.

This is as hardcore as a musical usually gets — edgy, dark stuff. (Andy Redmon’s set looks like the decaying remnants of a Satanic altar.) But it gets lost in a weak score and plot that turns too trite, too soon.

The program says it’s set in 1999, but the sound and story are pure 1987: Dave (Evan Fuller), a straight young Irish boy, comes to the big city to work at a club, eventually becoming an exotic dancer. On the way, he gets exposed to gay sex, drugs and electronica, becoming corrupt and losing the innocence that made him so attractive.

These were all clichés by the time Christopher Atkins shook his ass in another “heaven” set potboiler, A Night in Heaven.  The addition of gay themes makes them no fresher here.

And yet, Closer to Heaven works — on the margins, at least. As flawed as the show is, it’s still compelling. I enjoyed large swaths of it, almost against my better judgment — at least in Act 1. By Act 2, it starts to resemble an indie gay film more than a structured musical, as the plot shifts to a relationship between two men that comes almost from nowhere.

The performances surpass the material. If the androgynous Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret were a coke whore and more clearly a woman, she’d probably look and sound a lot like Morgana Shaw’s Billie Trix. In her leather fetish garb, it seems as if the director, Bruce Coleman — here and with his bondage-themed take on Equus last winter — is working through some S&M fantasies at Uptown. In Shaw, in thigh-high latex platform boots, he’s found an excellent medium.

Shaw doesn’t blink at the excesses, channeling equal parts Marlene Dietrich and Nico Icon, and she gets (by far) the best lines to have fun with. “They say my voice is ‘living in,’” Billie growls with Teutonic predation. “Your voice would be lived in if you sucked as many cocks as I have.” That’s just one of the shocking moments in the production, and the fact it’s still possible to be shocking onstage these days says something.

Coy Covington, nearly unrecognizable as a sleazy boy band entrepreneur, gets some droll moments (he seems to know it’s best not to take the script too seriously). As Covington’s toadie Flynn, Mikey Abrams steals laughs as an Eve Arden type with bits of Jack McFarland, Ethel Mertz and Rachel Berry.

Unfortunately, the Pet Shop Boys’ music doesn’t translate to stage like Elton John’s and ABBA’s do. (The Act 2 “overture,” a nasty, disorienting mess, just puzzled the opening-night audience.) Their songs are hopelessly pop-sounding, without the theatrical flourishes of a Broadway score. Numbers just drift off without conclusion, as if the next track will fade over it. The lyrics are too literal, and the final song repetitive to the point of annoyance. That’s a bad note to leave on when it kicks off so well.

Two centuries earlier, music played a big role in the lives of some other Europeans. In 1819, Ludwig van Beethoven (Bruce Elliott) took on the challenge of composing 33 variations on a “small waltz,” becoming virtually obsessed with it and startling the world with his eventual output. In the present day, musicologist

Katherine Brandt (Sharon Garrison) head to Bonn to research Beethoven’s letters, trying to parse what he saw in this trivial little ditty.

Brandt doesn’t have much time. She’s been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and is slowly losing motor coordination. She’s as obsessed with figuring out the mystery as Ludwig Van was writing it, to the exclusion and disappointment of her estranged daughter (Lydia Mackay).

33 Variations, Moises Kaufman’s 2009 Broadway hit now presented by Theatre Three, is staged by director Jac Alder with the same bombast as the “Ninth Symphony.” Where’s the deft, limber subtlety of Mozart, or even Beethoven’s own “Moonlight Sonata?” Everything about it is melodramatic and big — too big.

The cast comes at the excess from both ends. Jane Fonda played Brandt on Broadway, and it’s difficult to imagine her playing the part with the same noisy desperation as Garrison. Garrison projects her frustration too prosaically, furrowing her brow and snarling her lips in confusion. She undermines the drama. (It doesn’t help that when she’s rolled out for a CT scan, she looks like a Luann platter being slid along the counter at Luby’s.)

Gordon Fox, as Beethoven’s shrill assistant, Schindler, turns the comedy into something out of a silent film.

He’s all moon-faced surprises and overwrought gestures. He acts like Renfield to Beethoven’s Dracula. I half expected him to eat bugs. Minor parts by two young actors are performed with distracting incompetence.

Elliott is a clear exception, capturing the maestro’s bravado and his neuroses with depth and understanding, and exceeding in the comedy as well. (I’d love to see him try the Joe Sears roles in Greater Tuna.)

The costumes, especially the period clothing, are a disaster; what should be elaborately brocaded frocks look like cheap cotton hand-me-downs in need of a good pressing. Compared to the exquisite work done just a few month ago at Circle Theatre for Bach at Leipzig, they pale.

The same is true of the plays. Bach was conceived as a fugue; 33 Variations? Intentionally or not, it’s a dirge.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas