Applause: Joel Ferrell is the hardest working man at the DTC (Sorry, Kevin!)

Over a 30 year career, Joel Ferrell has gone from journeyman actor and dancer to one of the driving creative forces at the Dallas Theater Center

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Joel Ferrell gets a brief respite from his busy schedule with the Theater Center, and gets to sit where the audience does for a change: In the lime green seats of the Wyly Theatre

CLICK HERE FOR MORE STORIES FROM APPLAUSE: THE DALLAS VOICE VISUAL & PERFORMING ARTS GUIDE 2011

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Applause Editor

Joel Ferrell is the first one to admit that he “[doesn’t] do well in giant windowless buildings,” so when Kevin Moriarty tapped him to join the Dallas Theater Center staff as an “associate artist” —basically the No. 2 on the artistic side of the venerated troupe, tasked with directing about a third of the shows there and helping to produce others — he might have balked. Ferrell, like a lot of theaterfolk, has a gypsy’s nature: He likes to move around, trying new things, exploring different theaters and companies and stages. It’s how he’s made his living for 30 years.

But the call from Moriarty came with more than the promise of a steady paycheck and a corporate title. It came with the opportunity to help reinvent how theater could be done. And though he would surely dispute it, almost as much as Moriarty, Ferrell has been instrumental in testing the limits of the Wyly Theatre and bringing the DTC to national prominence.

Ferrell could fairly be called the hardest working man at the DTC, if not in all North Texas theater.

“I don’t know about that — Kevin works much harder,” he says demurely.

But look at the facts: This past season alone, Ferrell produced the acclaimed sell-out comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at the Kalita, and directed the DTC’s best shows back-to-back: The Horton Foote comedy Dividing the Estate, immediately followed by his staggeringly complex and affecting revision of the musical Cabaret, which he also choreographed. He’s also the man responsible for conceiving (and directing and choreographing most productions) of DTC’s holiday staple A Christmas Carol, a task he returns to this winter in addition to helming the regional premiere of God of Carnage.

In some ways, this is a cakewalk compared to the pace Ferrell maintained in his five seasons with Fort Worth’s Casa Manana, where he directed and/or choreographed more than three dozen musicals. It was great experience, Ferrell concedes, but not a fulfilling one.

“I was always a square peg in a round hole there,” he says. “What we did was in essence summer stock, with me playing producer, directing the designers, deciding whether to rent costumes. I was fighting to make Casa an arts organization that did art from the ground up. After years of poking my finger in that bear I gave up. It was invaluable and energizing and I wouldn’t trade it at all, but I’m so glad I’m not doing it now.”

What he wanted was what all artists crave: Freedom to experiment with the limits of their imagination, and “this place has done that for me, with me, to me … in spades,” he says.

By “this place,” Ferrell is referring both to the Theater Center itself and its new home in the Wyly Theatre. The building has not been without its critics: An overly steep entrance, uncomfortable chairs (recently, and expensively, updated last year), confusing and crowded accessways … and that’s just from the audience’s perspective.

“There’s no typical backstage where a director can stand and pace when you’re watching the opening of your new show,” Ferrell notes about the configuration. But he’s adjusting.

“It took significant getting used to because it is unlike any theater building I have been in,” he says. “There have been hiccups, but I have to say — having bopped around the country working at a number of theaters — lot of things are fantastic. But probably the luckiest thing is that Kevin Moriarty was the first artistic director to move into the building.”

Ferrell credits Moriarty with encouraging his creative team to make inventive use of the stage. “This is not a place for directors who want a proscenium,” Ferrell cautions. “I really like working in the theater that is so flexible and with very few limitations about how you can create your space.”

For his part, the depth of that creativity came with Ferrell’s radical staging of Cabaret earlier this spring: Working with his set designer, he turned part of the Wyly stage into the floor of the Kit Kat Klub in the 1930s, complete with café tables, tea lights and beverage service. It was a far more complicated undertaking than merely coming up with an idea.

“You had to be aware of where it would be coherent to have tables, what the number of seats to be sold could be, the safety, ADA compliance. The decision just where to put the service tables for the waiters was a big one. I worked a supper club theater in New York years ago and it was a lot of work. Very quickly it became understood it took a lot of departments working together to make it work. It is a great collaborative process here working with an evolving building.”

Ferrell is quick to share the credit with all the people who help make a show come together.

“I have been lucky to have such astonishing designers working with me — there’s no need for me to lead them by the nose. During tech week on Dividing the Estate someone told me she was in awe of the process, mesmerized by the speed at which the [artists] work. Someone said to me, ‘I don’t know when you sleep!’ During tech week, I don’t sleep.”

His generosity of spirit probably comes from starting out as an actor (he became a member of Actors Equity 30 years ago, he crows) before moving into choreography and eventually directing. He first worked at the DTC when Richard Hamburger, the former artistic director, hired him for a new production of A Christmas Carol in 1991.

“Then about eight years ago, Hamburger hired me to choreograph My Fair Lady — the last show performed at the old Arts District Theater. That was the most collaborative I have even been with Richard,” he says.

Ferrell decided to take a breather when in 2008 he received a call from Moriarty, who had only recently been appointed the new A.D.

“He asked, would I choreograph The Who’s Tommy. It became very apparent he was testing the waters with me, to see if it made sense for me to be connected with the Theater Center. Even still, coming on staff? I did not see that coming.”

Ferrell thinks Moriarty has been instrumental in “making the Theater Center more relevant to Dallas than it had been in a long time, arguing that it should be doing innovate stuff and regain a national footprint. It feels like we’ve made some great progress in that way,” he says.

As for Ferrell himself, he’s still excited about his new role in shaping the North Texas theater scene, and has found a sense of serenity.

“There was a time when I thought the amount of shows I did was the barometer of my success,” Ferrell admits.

Not so much anymore. He’ll take quality over quantity any day. If only he could just slow down.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas Opera cancels production with out soprano

To get a handle on its finances, the Dallas Opera announced that it will cancel one of the five scheduled full main-stage productions of next season, and the victim is Katya Kabanova, which was to star out soprano Patricia Racette. In a lengthy press release, the DO explained how the move to the Winspear proved more costly than anticipated, and to “stabilize company finances as rapidly and prudently as possible,” the Russian opera, which was to be the second production of the 2011-12 season, would be canceled. Subscribers will be given a full refund.

This doesn’t mean Dallas won’t get to see Racette perform, however — she is still set to headline a special patron recital in November.

Katya Kabanova was the obvious choice to trim; the other four major productions are among the most popular in the repertoire: Lucia di Lammermoor, Tristan & Isolde, La Traviata and Die Dauberflote (The Magic Flute). A fifth “chamber” opera, which will mark the opera directing debut of DTC’s Kevin Moriarty, will go on as planned.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Wilkommen

A haunting, exhilarating, unforgettable ‘Cabaret’

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

LIFE IS A … WELL, YOU KNOW | The Emcee (Wade McCollum, center) presides over the last days of a doomed society in DTC’s excellent staging of ‘Cabaret.’ (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

CABARET
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Through May 22. $10-$80.
DallasTheaterCenter.org

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It’s no exaggeration to say that Cabaret is the best thing the Dallas Theater Center has done since moving into its new digs at the Wyly Theatre almost two years ago. When they took over the space, artistic director Kevin Moriarty said it would take a few years before the artists working there fully assessed what the theater could be. With back-to-back stagings by Joel Ferrell — Dividing the Estate in March, now this — it’s clear that at least one artist has staked his claim on understanding that potential.

Ferrell’s decision to turn the floor of the theater into a nightclub — with cocktail service and café tables and the actors interacting with the audience as they might inside the Rose Room — both gives some attendees respite from the notoriously hard green chairs of the Wyly and a sense for the intimacy and humanity of a musical that, at its heart, is about sweeping ideas and man’s inhumanity.

It’s 1931 Berlin, and the Nazis are rising to power, but for the staff and patrons of the Kit Kat Klub, it’s hard to see that the party’s almost over. They should know it — in Clint Ramos’ tattered costumes, ghastly makeup and walking through Bob Lavallee’s skeletal set, everyone looks hung over and slightly diseased. (So intense is the sexual energy in the buoyant opening number, I had a strong desire to leave immediately and get tested for Chlamydia.)

Cliff Bradshaw (Lee Trull) is late to the party. A stand-in for the gay writer Christopher Isherwood, Cliff hopes the decadence of the city will inspire his next novel. He settles into a boarding house that’s a microcosm for the diversity of the city — and a hotbed of what will rip Germany apart.

Of course there’s Kander and Ebb’s potent score, but Ferrell’s direction is stand-out. His deftness with political subtext, foreshadowing the horrors of the Holocaust and conveying the allure of institutionalized hatred as a rallying point for a defeated and scared proletariat, echoes realities of our own politically divisive society with haunting poignancy. (Sally Vahle, who transforms from street whore to grande dame of the Fatherland, is the starkest metaphor for its appeal. It’s fun while it lasts; après-vous, le deluge.)

Wade McCollum dominates the cast as the Emcee. In red eyeliner, low-slung hip-huggers that barely conceal his junk and a demonic grin that creeps you out and seduces you at the same time, his characterization is equal parts Alice Cooper, Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Surrounded by his Droogs — the chorus boys, a raucous bunch of muscled hooligans — he presides over the festivities with a flirtatious recklessness (during the Nazi anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” he hyperventilates at the notion of watching the world end), he’s practically the raison-d’etre of the piece.

Practically, but not entirely — no one disappoints. As Sally Bowles, the headliner at the cabaret, Kate Wetherhead is physically delicate but convincingly flighty and self-destructive with a great performance style. Her delivery on “Maybe This Time” lingers. David Coffee and Julie Johnson as the middle-aged couple tentatively staking out a romance form the core of the play’s emotional life. Their doom resonates and the irony of the show’s most famous lyric — “Life is a cabaret, old chum — come to the cabaret” — leaves you breathless by the end.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

To read an interview with the director and star, click here.

—  Michael Stephens

The gays behind the Super Bowl (sort of)

Wendy Lopez

The North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee, made up of 282 leaders from Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties, includes at least four openly gay members.

Wendy Lopez, vice president of URS Corp., is a member of the Host Committee’s Board of Directors, which is chaired by Roger Staubach and includes the likes of Tom Hicks, Ross Perot Jr. and T. Boone Pickens. Lopez declined our request for an interview about her role on the Board of Directors.

The other openly gay members of the Host Committee — who have honorary roles and haven’t been actively involved in preparations for the Super Bowl — are Tony Vedda, president and CEO of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce; Jonathan Palant, artistic director for the Turtle Creek Chorale; and Kevin Moriarty, artistic director for the Dallas Theater Center.

Vedda said he, Palant and Moriarty were named to the Host Committee a few years ago by the city of Dallas.

“To the best of our knowledge, there’s not been a GLBT Chamber ever invited to be on a Super Bowl Host Committee,” Vedda said. “For the state of Texas, which people always assume is so conservative, to have this great event here and to have our chamber connected with it, is really a terrific honor. Of course we all know that North Texas is not the same as the rest of Texas.

“We are a gay and lesbian organization, and I am certainly openly gay, and so to be included and attend the events and interact with folks has just been a terrific experience,” Vedda added. “I think they made a real effort to connect within communities, by inviting people like me to be part of the Host Committee. I viewed this not as a one-time deal. I really viewed this as, I want to understand what it is to be on this committee so that, when it happens again, and I expect it will, we’re knowledgeable enough to position our community better.”

—  John Wright

Moriarty’s contract with DTC extended to 2014

Kevin Moriarty

Kevin Moriarty, the gay artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, will be in town a little longer.

Moriarty, who took over the post in 2007, had his contract extended this week through the end of the 2013-14 season, keeping him as head of the 52-year-old company through August 2014.

The DTC also finished its fiscal year in the black for the eighth time in 10 years, with a budget surplus, despite spending exorbitantly on the revamped musical It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman.

The DTC’s managing director, Mark Hadley, announced his departure earlier this year; this month represented his last show with the organization. He will be working with a church in Arlington. A search is currently under way for his replacement.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What’s so gay about Idea Week?

Raise your hand — how many of you know that this is Idea Week? All righty then.

You might have seen it buzzing around on Twitter and Facebook, but Idea Week is kind of a great idea which you can read more about on the link. Wednesday’s Pecha Kucha event I wrote about is one of the events throughout the week which will feature Cathey Miller and Rawlins Gilliland as presenters and repping the LGBT community. Artistic director Kevin Moriarty also reps when he speaks Thursday at the Dallas Museum of Art on the State of the Arts with DMA director Bonnie Pitman, KERA’s Jeff Whittington and Creative Time president Anne Pasternak.

Nice to see the LGBT community partake in the events going on even in a peripheral way. But I thought, we could do a little more ideating (as they call it). So I posed the question to a few colleagues around the office with no other direction: What’s you’re big idea?

Read ‘em below.

—  Rich Lopez

‘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

Dallas Observer honors TCC, Uptown Players, Station 4, Gary Fitzsimmons, Kevin Moriarty

This week’s Observer goes jumbo size with its annual Best of Dallas issue. These are the best issues because it’ll give the obvious kudos to best club, restaurant, actor, etc., but then also goes out of the box for awards like “Best Shiny Happy People” (The Dallas Family Band) and “Best Two-Fisted Drinking” (The Dirty Dusty at City Tavern (Ed. note: agreed!)). We were happily surprised to see the space they gave to some LGBT faves.

Right at the front of the first section in Culture, we see the award for Glee Club given to the Turtle Creek Chorale with a feature written by Elaine Liner. She continues her gay ways with a second feature, “Homecoming Queens” about Israel Luna’s travails as a controversial indie filmmaker. If you caught the live video stream of his radio show today on Rational Broadcasting, he flashed the page for the camera.

Other LGBT awards went to Kevin Moriarty, Dallas Theater Center (best theater director), “Broadway Our Way” by Uptown Players (best theater fundraiser), Gay List Daily (best blast of gay), District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons (best bureaucrat)and Station 4 (best dance club).

There are some others, but you’ll have to snag your own copy to read further on. But don’t try the boxes down here on Fitzhugh. They are cleaned out.

Congrats to all the winners.

—  Rich Lopez

DTC’s Mark Hadley stepping down

Mark Hadley, the managing director of the Dallas Theater Center, is leaving the company, it was announced today.

Hadley has been at the DTC for nine years under both former artistic director Richard Hamburger and current AD Kevin Moriarty. For six, he has been the managing director. Next season will be his last.

The final show of the 2009-2010 season, “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman,” just opened. A review will run in the print edition Friday. Here’s our preview of the show.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones