’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. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

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. ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com.

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. Theatre-Britain.com.

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). Theatre3Dallas.com.

— 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. UptownPlayers.org

—  Rich Lopez

Buggery nights

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

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

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)

ON THE BOARDS
CLOSER TO HEAVEN at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Oct. 24. UptownPlayers.org

33 VARIATIONS at Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through Oct. 31. Theatre3Dallas.com

……………………………………….

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

‘Bradleyville’ staged reading today at Kalita Humphreys Theater

Randy Moore reprises his role as Col. J.C. Kinkaid in this staged readon of the Preston Jones, pictured, play, Bradleyville. The event is hosted by the Dallas Theater Center Guild and Uptown Players.  After the reading, Dallas Theater Center’s Kevin Moriarty will lead a discussion of the playwright’s work.

DEETS: Kalita Humphreys Theater,3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. 7 p.m. Free.

—  Rich Lopez

What has he done to deserve this?

Music director Adam Wright glams Uptown Players’ Pet Shop Boys musical

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

WEST END GAYS | ‘Closer to Heaven’ explores the dark world of gay ’80s  London through the music of the Pet Shop Boys.  (Photo courtesy  Mike Morgan)
WEST END GAYS | ‘Closer to Heaven’ explores the dark world of gay ’80s London through the music of the Pet Shop Boys. (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

CLOSER TO HEAVEN
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Oct. 1–24. $30–$40.
UptownPlayers.org

………………………………………..

Mention the Pet Shop Boys and what comes to mind is techno-pop — hardly the stuff of musical theater. But when Uptown Players opens Closer To Heaven Friday, that mindset will change. The company is producing the sole stage venture by the band, which comes with the same tone as their albums. And that means the production’s musical director, Adam Wright — whose background is in classical and jazz music — is doing some major gear-shifting.

“We had to reconstruct a lot of the music,” he says. “The music that was sent with the materials had just two parts and not a lot to go off of.”

His job might have gone easier if Wright were in communication with the Pet Shop Boys … or if he was already a fan.

“The extent of my communication with them was through their Twitter updates,” he says. “I’d love to learn more about how they program and write. I wasn’t as much a fan as some of the people in the cast. My parents did buy me the Liza Minnelli album Results they produced. I’m certainly more of a fan now after working on this.”

The subject of the musical is perhaps more relatable to Wright. Set in gay London in the 1980s, it’s a dark show with racy queer content he can appreciate. But the task of turning that vibe into a musical theater idiom was a challenge.

Wright had only the original London cast recording to work from, which is dominated by the Pet Shop Boys electronica sound, which he orchestrated for a six-man band to offer a live concert experience. His priority, however, was staying true to the songs PSB wrote.

“With electric drums and two keyboards, we can mimic some of that techno sound,” he says. “There are some guitar moments. It’s really intricate programming and having the band makes it easier and way less complicated.”

His musicians will not only recreate the dance beats, but also meld them in accord with choreography and plot — and PSB’s signature style.

“There is a lot more going on in the songs than you think, so it was pretty daunting,” he says. “Normally with a live band, embellishments are added, but we had to stick to the appropriate style. Even the minimal songs have a repetitive, dance-y nature.”

All that required a close collaboration between Wright, director Bruce Coleman and choreographer John de los Santos. Wright especially sympathized with the challenge de los Santos faced of balancing fluid and narrative movement against Wright’s job to keep the proper but continuous beat of the music — and to primarily keep the audience interested.

“There have been ups and downs in this creative process,” he says. “I’ve certainly felt overwhelmed, but I enjoy the challenge doing new things. That motivates me even if I have to pace in a circle for an hour until it comes to me.”

With weeks of preparation and arranging, Wright’s work still hadn’t clicked with him until Uptown began running the full show in rehearsals. After seeing it as one cohesive piece, he settled and relieved some of his stress going in.

“At that point, it felt possible and easy,” he says. Now he’s more concerned if the audience will be fans: Many out-of-towners are flying in especially for the show, which makes its North American debut — but Uptown knows this is difficult material. The litmus test will be opening night.

“I know some expect a certain kind of music in theater, but the nice thing is the show starts with a bang and they’ll know right away what they are in for. “

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Uptown Players announces its 2011 season

On Tuesday night, Uptown Players hosted a nice turnout at the Kalita Humphreys Theater where they announced the roster for their 2011 season. They held off on announcing one production due to contractual reasons, but if it fits in with the rest, it should make quite a season — especially for the LGBT community. Joining Players producers Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch onstage was the cast of the upcoming show Closer to Heaven, the Pet Shop Boys musical which opens Oct. 1.

• Uptown Players will start the season with Thank You For Being a Friend, The Musical, a Golden Girls parody by Nick Brennan. Expect camp overdrive as the “women” aren’t too thrilled about a certain gay celebrity moving in next door. Who knew Lance Bass could be such a problem? The show runs Feb. 4–27 at the Rose Room inside Station 4.

• As part of the upcoming Foote Festival celebrating playwright Horton Foote, Uptown Players joins in with the regional premiere of his Pulitzer prize winning play, Young Man from Atlanta. The show runs April 1–17 at the Kalita.

• UP brings back Broadway Our Way in which local actors switch-hit showtunes. Men sing the women’s parts, vice versa and it’s a gay ol’ time. BOW runs May 6–15.

• The Twilight Zone theme played when they didn‘t announce their next show, which will run June 10–July 2. We know it’s a musical at least, but the official announcement will be made Feb.1.

• Victor/Victoria, the musical based on the Julie Andrews/James Garner 1982 film, will run July 29–Aug. 2.

• Personally, I thought their announcement of the Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival was the most exciting. The fest will feature cabaret sets, performances and plays with the musical Crazy, Just Like Me by Louis Sacco and Drew Gasparini as the centerpiece. The fest coincides with Dallas Pride and runs Sep. 9–17. The full schedule will also be announced Feb. 1.

• Finishing off the season will be The Temperamentals, a new play by Jon Marans which opened this year off-Broadway. The site notes that the play “‘tells the story of two men – the communist Harry Hay and the Viennese refugee and designer Rudi Gernreich — as they fall in love while building the first gay rights organization in the pre-Stonewall United States.”

—  Rich Lopez

Applause • That’s so gay

Queer connections infiltrate lots of the upcoming season of arts

Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot
Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot, above, is a coup for the Dallas Opera; Pink Martini, below, gets the Meyerson jumping as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s guest next week.

When you have a gay theater company (as Dallas does in Uptown Players) and another troupe dedicated to bringing Broadway musicals to town (as Dallas Summer Musicals does), you can be pretty confident in finding gay appeal in the lively arts.

But cast your gaze — and your gays — outside the usual focus, and there a lot more to discover across the arts in North Texas this season.

Chief among the highlights: The Dallas Opera’s coup in snagging dreamy gay baritone Paulo Szot, who won a much-deserved Tony for the revival of South Pacific, in the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Oct. 22). Director Stephen Lawless returns to helm Anna Bolena (Oct. 29). DallasOpera.org.

Of course, Uptown Players and DSM are getting into the action with their upcoming shows as well. UP’s final production of their 2010 season is the American premiere of Closer to Heaven, written to the songs of the Pet Shop Boys. The musical drama opens Oct. 1 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. The group will announce its 2011 season on Tuesday. UptownPlayers.org. And DSM’s national tour of Shrek is the State Fair Musical this year, opening Sept. 28. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

Next week, Theatre Three produces the local premiere of Songs from an Unmade Bed, a song cycle about a gay man working his way through a relationship. In previews from Sept. 3 in the Theatre Too space. Also in Theatre Too: Bruce R. Coleman’s latest play, the puppet show Tales from Mount Olympus, and spring welcomes Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang. Next up on the main stage is Laramie Project creator Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, followed in December by the local premiere of The Drowsy Chaperone. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas continues its presentation of Ed Graczyk’s world premiere Texas-set comedy-drama with a gay twist, Blue Moon Dancing, which runs through Sept. 12. Its 2010–11 season kicks off in October, and includes plays directed by Rene Moreno (The Trip to Bountiful) and Michael Serrecchia (Cheaters), plus a play by gay playwright Alan Ball (Five Women Wearing the Same Dress). ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com.

The Dallas Theater Center launches its new season next month with the company’s gay artistic director Kevin Moriarty’s adaptation of Henry IV (opens Sept. 11).  The season ends with the musicals Cabaret and The Wiz. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

WaterTower Theatre begins its season with its artistic director, Terry Martin, directing and starring in Our Town (previewing on Sept. 24), and closes the season with Howard Ashman’s camptastic Little Shop of Horrors in July. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

Pink Martini
Pink Martini

Bass Hall brings in Spring Awakening on Nov. 9–10, followed by Mamma Mia, A Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast and 9 to 5 later in the season. BassHall.org. In Dallas, the Lexus Broadway Series includes Young Frankenstein (Jan. 4) and Billy Elliot (June 8), while TITAS starts with MOMIX (Sept. 10) and the return of Complexions Contemporary Ballet (May 11). ATTPAC.org. The Dallas Black Dance Theatre stages a dance by local legend Bruce Wood in the spring as well (see story Page S6).

It’s not just opera and theater that goes gay, either: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra welcomes queer-led bank Pink Martini on Sept. 3, and The Music of Michael Jackson starts Sept. 1. DallasSymphony.org.

Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

New and old

From creaky Victorian melodramas to well-worn musicals, something’s afoot

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

CRISPNESS, CAROL  |  Wendy Welch’s parody of Carol Channing is a spectacular highlight of ‘Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits’ from Uptown Players.
CRISPNESS, CAROL | Wendy Welch’s parody of Carol Channing is a spectacular highlight of ‘Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits’ from Uptown Players.

ON THE BOARD
FORBIDDEN BROADWAY’S GREATEST HITS

at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Aug. 29.
UptownPlayers.org

SHERLOCK HOLMES IN THE CRUCIFER OF BLOOD
at Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through Sep. 5.
Theatre3Dallas.com

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE,
2819 Forest Ridge Road, Bedford. Through Aug. 22.
OnStageinBedford.com

Every January, Uptown Players’ fundraiser Broadway Our Way takes songs from musicals, adds a large cast and performs a revue, as the men sing the women’s parts and the women sing the men’s. So when Tyce Green steps onstage in Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits in a red wrap dress, doing Patti LuPone doing Mama Rose better than Patti herself (he’s just as crazy), you might think but for the sweltering heat you’re watching an encore — outtakes from last season’s fundraiser.

That is the curse and the joy of this show, mined from the long-running satire of Broadway seasons that has played off-Broadway for decades. Is Uptown Players cannibalizing itself or just giving the audience more of what it wants? Let’s go with the latter.

Aside from Green, there’s no gender-bending in the musical numbers, which tweak songs from The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Bob Fosse and other legends of theater who deserve to be taken down a peg for the impudence of being successful.

A small risk of the show, in fact, is that it demands a working knowledge of musical theater in order to get most of the jokes. (Uptown Players’ theater-queen heavy subscriber base is safely in that camp.) Skewering Idina Menzel presupposed most people know who the hell Idina Menzel is. But if you do, the Defying Gravity number is priceless.

Certainly the cast members, who cycle through costumes like Cher on speed, are at home with the humor and the music. All are talented, though Wendy Welch steals the show, first with a grotesque parody of Carol Channing then as a fright-wigged Fantine from Les Mis — making a twofer attack on poor LuPone. Don’t worry though — they kid because they love. And there’s a lot of love here.

Sherlock Homes
PROBLEM SOLVER | Chuck Huber, right, makes for an engaging Sherlock Holmes in Theatre Three’s talky ‘Crucifer of Blood.’

When you name your play Sherlock Holmes in the Crucifer of Blood, here’s a suggestion: Get to Sherlock as quickly as possible. The prologue of this play really should be called a prolong — it slowly lays the foundation for the plot with needlessly talky exposition before we have any idea of Victorian London’s premiere consulting detective will figure in. And it’s not even set in England, but in India! Talk about your Black Hole of Calcutta.

Too bad director Jeffrey Schmidt didn’t turn that half-hour sequence and make it a sharply-edited 15-minute video, because once we get to the heart of the play — Holmes’ inescapable logic flawlessly unraveling a twisted (though not especially interesting) mystery that’s bits of The Mummy and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, though hardly the best bits — the play gets fun.

The first time that Holmes, played by Chuck Huber, off-handedly deduces the ownership of a watch presented to him by Dr. Watson (Austin Tindle, wearing an awkward false moustache that looks like it fell off a pair of plastic novelty glasses), the audience titters with delight. That’s what we’ve come for, not lepers and pith helmets and a box of jewels that looks like an accessory snatched up from Pottery Barn.

Despite a few line flubs, Huber makes an engaging Holmes, though Jakie Cabe, as the incompetent flatfoot Inspector Lestrade, may be the only one who fully explores the small amount of comedy there is; Paul Giovanni’s 1978 play has too much creaky dialogue to feel very modern otherwise.

As a Gollum-like hoarder of his precious lucre, Gregory Lush has the best accent in the bunch, plus tremendous brio as a queeny old military officer.

Schmidt’s failure to punch up the beginning as a director is almost made up for by his inventive set design and Aaron Patrick Turner’s endlessly intriguing costumes. Using style to mask weaknesses in substance? Elementary, my dear.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a charming musical with a funny but sentimental script by Rachel Sheinkin and inventive songs by William Finn that are disarmingly poignant about the stresses of childhood. The show practically sells itself.

That’s especially true in the production from OnStage in Bedford, which, sadly, oversells. Way, way oversells. The director, Kyle Macy, doesn’t seem to trust in the material, having his cast take what should be Clare Danes in My So-Called Life and turning them into Screech from Saved by the Bell. Use your inside voices, kids.

Kristin Spiers as a former spelling champ, Amanda Gupton as a tender speller and Phillip Cole-White as a punk “comfort counselor” get their characters best (and the women are both lovely singers), though they don’t quite make up for blahness of the others. Still, if there’s ever been a show that could withstand a bad production, this one might be it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Uptown Players delivers ‘Forbidden Broadway’

Musical theater is getting snarky

In Uptown Players’ Forbidden Broadway, Gerard Alessandrini has written a revue that pokes fun at our favorite musicals. We’d normally deem this sacrilege, if it didn’t sound so funny. Rent, Les Misérables, Fiddler on the Roof all get a sassy redux in this new show directed by B.J. Cleveland.

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

—  Rich Lopez

Gays on strike!

No ‘Regrets’ for Rudnick farce

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

WEDDED BLISS | A gay man (B.J. Cleveland) takes a stand against his flighty friend (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) in Uptown’s sophisticated fizz. (Photo by Mike Morgan)

REGRETS ONLY
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Through June 27.
UptownPlayers.org



The world inhabited by Hank Hadley and the McCullough family is one of cocktail parties, witty repartee and comforting superficiality. The first real issue anyone has had to deal with is the loss to cancer, after 28 years together, of Hank’s (B.J. Cleveland) partner. Even that sad news is softened when then McCullough’s daughter Spencer (Melissa Farmer) announces her engagement. She wants Hank, a famous fashion designer, to make her wedding dress.

But Hank is having second thoughts. Spencer and her father Jack (Dennis Canright), both lawyers, have agreed to draft a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Hank and Jack’s wife Tibby (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt) are apolitical, but this issue hits close to home. Maybe Hank — maybe all gay people — should go on strike.

In Regrets Only, Paul Rudnick turns a hot-button issue like gay marriage into the stuff of frothy fun, full of delicious zingers (“If you wanna kill sincerity, add crab cakes and God” one person observes of weddings) even while tackling serious matters. When’s the last time you heard a cogent discussion of gay marriage between opposite camps that didn’t become loud, angry and hectoring diatribes?

Because for me, it was last week at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.

Although there’s no music (other than director Coy Covington’s whimsical insertion of incidental tunes at the act breaks), in terms of its old-fashioned appeal with an updated outlook, it calls to mind the musical The Drowsy Chaperone: A fantasy with concrete ideas and sentimentality that completely avoids mawkishness.

Indeed, this is throwback entertainment in the best sense. Despite its contemporary issues, Regrets Only most resembles Dinner at Eight and other bubbly, smart, ’30s-era comedies: The perfectly appointed drawing room, the banter as sparkling as a magnum of champagne, the lovely costumes. This production has all that, especially an elegant and expensive looking set by Andy Redmon (nothing’s more disappointing that when a Park Avenue penthouse looks like a Park Slope coldwater flat; this one doesn’t).

The cast is flawless, with Cleveland uncharacteristically demure — he’s easily upstaged by Cynthia Matthews as a saucy maid (her riff on fashion is brilliant) and works effortlessly with Pyeatt on creating an authentic friendship.

Rudnick can be a bit too inside baseball, with obscure but hysterical theater jokes (David Mamet and Neil LaBute? Risky), but even potentially dour moments are buoyed like helium, and the second act farce is winningly executed.

Like the best cocktail, Covington has delivered delightful brew that goes to your head for 90 minutes and leaves you happy and refreshed. I’ll drink to that.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice