AUTO: Seek and you shall find

Nissan’s modern-family-friendly Quest: Finally a minivan that’s (almost) cool

auto-01

LIVE LIKE A DUNPHEY | Driver’s seat styling doesn’t take a backseat in the Quest LE ... though the backseat, with built-in DVD player, may be too good for the kids. (Photo courtesy Nissan)

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

Whenever my partner and I watch Modern Family, we see too much of ourselves in Mitchell and Cam’s relationship. We debate which of us most resembles the characters — my partner would be the one to present our baby as The Lion King,  and I can completely queen out over something trivial. However, it’s another star of the show that would be welcomed by double daddies.

Nissan’s product placement of the all-new Quest mini-van was uber-smart. Although driven by Claire in the show, it’s easy to imagine two dads and their adopted offspring heading off to a fabulous vacation in that sleek bus. The streamlined toaster’s distinguished wrap-around rear glass sits atop creased bodysides, 18-in. alloys and a chrome grille that could part wind for an Infiniti or two flaming queens.

As big as the Quest is — and it is huge — it comes off as a much smaller vehicle until you creep upon it.

Nobody thinks minivans are cool nowadays … not that they ever did. But the joy of owning one sneaks up on you. The Quest’s interior is absolutely dance-club spacious with seating enough for seven. If little ones are in your future, six of your nearest and dearest friends will love going anywhere with you. Point the nose in any direction and slide aboard.

Friends slip through the power sliding rear doors, open either of the dual sunroofs (rear riders get their own), and climate control their individual zones. You could throw Manny in the back and never hear his adolescent pontifications again. Front passengers have heated seats and ride in thrones that smell like cow butter and are more luxurious than those in a Gulfstream jet; rear seats fold flat to throw in bicycles, a Nelson credenza or enough regalia for a production of La Boheme.

Play a CD of the opera through the van’s 13-speaker Bose audio system, recline your seat and pretend you’re there. Or put in a DVD to see it on the roof-mounted flatscreen. In-dash navigation, rear camera, blind spot warning system, Bluetooth phone connections, USB input for MP3 players and XM Satellite Radio bring you back to the current time with a full suite of toys.

My sister, who has three kids, was impressed with the Quest. Under the rear floor is a deep well to store valuables out of sight. Wide pockets in the doors are big enough for baby gear and have places to hold water bottles. Consoles between the front and middle-row seats hold drinks, iPads or anything else a modern family carries. If you can carry it, this van will haul it.auto-02

When Claire needs to make a quick get-away from another awkward situation, they’ll throttle down on the standard 260hp 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine, connected to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Most CVTs reel up and down their gear ratios maintaining a shrill somewhere between a Weed Eater and a screaming cat. Not so the Quest’s. It’s quiet, smooth and enables excellent 19/24-MPG city/hwy. ratings — not bad for a 4,500-lb. truck.

“Quiet” describes the overall experience. Large mirrors are separated from the body to minimize wind noise as the aero body slips through air without causing a stir. The chassis absorbs bumps without drama, steering is tight and power is always at the ready. Cruising beyond 80mph was easy. I even took down a pickup truck on a hilly two-lane. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, and electronic stability control quiets the mind’s fears.

Like Jay and Gloria’s house on Modern Family, the overall sense of the Quest is understated quality. The seats feel and smell like they could be in a Bentley, padded materials cover even the rear doors, the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels expensive, and the woodgrain and silver finishes on the center dashboard are nicely styled. My partner and I found ourselves really enjoying a long drive, ready to head out into the vastness of America to find ourselves again, knowing full-well at any time we could stop, flip the seats, and find ourselves finding ourselves.

As everything about the Quest is tech-laden and high quality, it comes with a price tag that only a loaded modernist can afford.

Base prices start at $27,750, but our well-equipped test model came to $43,715. Still, you won’t find a luxury SUV so well equipped with half the interior space for less. Minivans aren’t cool, but the Quest is a fab choice for any alternative family.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas baker wins Food Network challenge

To a pastry chef, the term “piece o’ cake” probably pisses you off. (Don’t even get ‘em started on “easy as pie.”) Cake is hard! Especially when you’re trying to impress the judges on a national network, commemorating the re-release of the most popular animated film of all time.

But Dallas’ Bronwen Weber of Frosted Art Bakery and Studio made it look, well, like a piece o’ cake Sunday night, when she won the Food Network’s Lion King-themed bake-off.

Weber’s dynamic interpretation of the villainous Scar in mid-leap bested all the other competitors, with the show airing the second weekend when the new 3D Lion King claimed the No. 1 spot at the weekend box office.

This is nothing new for the gay-friendly Weber, who last year designed “pride cake” cupcakes with rainbows and HRC symbols. She has won 14 medals from the Food Network, including eight first-place citations — three more than her nearest competitor. The episode airs again tonight at 7 p.m.

You can find Weber’s treats at FrostedArt.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pumping tin

Playing a sexy ax-man in ‘The Wiz’ has been rewarding for Sydney Harcourt

TAKE IT EASY | Sydney James Harcourt, above, deals with the Texas heat by wearing gym clothes everywhere — except, of course, onstage in ‘The Wiz,’ where he’s layered in a heavy costume, opposite, that has sweated off two waist sizes in four weeks. (Photos by Arnold Wayne Jones and David Leggett)

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

When Sydney James Harcourt signed to play the Tin Man in Dallas Theater Center’s new production of The Wiz, he didn’t know he’d have such a tough act to follow… or that that act would be one of his best friends.
Wade McCollum, who played the MC in DTC’s Cabaret, is one of Harcourt’s closest friends. McCollum’s legions of gay fans swooned over his ripped, muscular frame — a legacy Harcourt became all-too-aware of very quickly.

“I can’t hear enough about Wade’s abs,” he says with a sigh. “Everyone has a story about how ripped he was — abs, abs, abs. Well, the part I’m doing right after this is Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe in San Diego, where I’m wearing nothing but a gold Speedo.” And the specter of McCollum’s physique is enough to give him an inferiority complex.

Not that that’s likely to happen. True, he’s been in training with a low-fat regimen to get his body in peak shape for Rocky. But just playing the Tin Man eight shows at week at the DTC has worked wonders.
“I’ve probably dropped two waist sizes since I started,” he says. And there are still two more weeks to go.

He’s not complaining. Wearing the costume has been spectacular for helping him develop the character. He’s so constricted, he knows what it must be like to have rusted in the woods.

This isn’t the first time Harcourt has had to contend with a complicated costume — he spent 18 months on Broadway, playing Simba in The Lion King eight times a week. The headdress for that costume occasionally made him bleed. But getting decked out as the Tin Man has been a commitment of an entirely different level.

The process begins with Harcourt donning a neck-to-toe Under Armour bodysuit to wick perspiration away from his skin. Then he applies the shiny foil makeup to his face, taught to him by a professional makeup artist. (“It’s changed — I’ve figured out my own way to make it look more reflective,” he says.) That can take half an hour. Next comes sliding into the silver Lycra bodysuit, onto which are stitched most of the components of the Tin Man’s costumes. They are not detachable. And the sweating begins immediately.

“Originally, they were gonna be separate and we could wash the Lycra suit,” he says. “But they are all attached. That suit has not been washed since we started. It started to smell like a pickle. Now they just spray it with Febreze and let it dry in the sun. I used to be self-conscious, but I am no longer the smelliest costume. There are worse.” He refuses to name names.

Next, the arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt describes as “like putting on a snow suit: You have suspenders and a hood and the tap shoes and spats. The last thing is the shell, which is like armor. I cannot get into that without help. And I cannot get out of the costume at all without someone’s help — trust me, I’ve tried.”

All of which means that once Harcourt is strapped in he cannot — ummm … relieve himself. At all.

“The bathroom breaks are carefully timed,” he says. Once you’re in, you’re in for the show. It’s only 90 minutes, but altogether I’m probably in it three hours.” On days when he performs two shows with a three-hour break in between, he gets out of the costume entirely — including the makeup.

“Yeah, it looks weird walking around without the costume,” he says. “It kinda looks like blackface.”

The first time Harcourt actually performed at rehearsal in the costume nearly killed him. After the R&B jive of “Slide Some Oil to Me,” he bent over, panting and exhausted. He them transitioned immediately into the ballad “To Be Able to Feel.” That caught him off-guard when he showed up to rehearsal — the song had been moved by director Kevin Moriarty to much earlier in the show than it was originally.

But the one-two punch of Harcourt’s solos has made the Tin Man — and  arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt — the darling of audiences and critics. And he didn’t see it coming.

“I play him as completely sexual, and some of my jokes didn’t seem to be working,” like when he calls Lion a “pussy… cat.” But when he started in front of an audience, the reaction was intense.

“I think people are responding just to how much I love doing it,” Harcourt says.

For good reason: In his 13-year professional career, this is the first time Harcourt has created a role, rather than understudying someone else’s creation. And he likes it — as well as the reception he’s received on his first stint in Texas.

It’s enough to warm the heart of this Tin Man.

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

—  Michael Stephens

That ’70s Show vs. Show

2 music icons who rose to stardom in the disco age — Elton John and ABBA — face off (sort of) with modern takes on classic sounds

In the decade of disco, ABBA was at the top of the charts with hit after hit on the radio and the dancefloor. At the same time, Elton John was making his mark taking glam rock to new levels with his touch of gay flamboyance.

Both have endured — ABBA mostly in nostalgia, John with new albums on a regular basis. And they both hit North Texas this week — in a manner of speaking.
ABBA Mania recreates the live ABBA experience, while John’s tour stops in Fort Worth for his newest album, a collaboration with Leon Russell called The Union.

So which will you lean toward?

In The Union, John teams with Russell, the legendary R&B Okie, and producer-of-the-moment, Fort Worth’s T-Bone Burnett, combining John’s piano boogie and Russell’s bluesy roots — with mixed results. He’s been quoted as saying he’ll make real music now instead of pop fodder. The live show has won raves, with the first half devoted to the new CD and the last filled with John classics.

With John’s new “serious” outlook, will you have as much fun as you could at ABBA Mania? It was hard enough to sit still through Mamma Mia! without singing along while dancing out of your seat. The tribute show has toured the world with the absolute goal of giving the ABBA concert most people under 50 never got to see.

We broke down the best about John and the actual ABBA to see if it could help us make up our minds, but we may just flip a coin on this one. Tough call, for sure.

— Rich Lopez

………………………………

Elton JohnElton John (with Leon Russell)

…. wore outlandish bell bottoms, platform shoes and glittered glasses in the ’70s.

…. won an Oscar for the song “Circle of Life” for the Disney film The Lion King.

…. Does gigs with anti-gay personalities. At the Grammys with Eminem (forgivable) then performing at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding (his $1 mil fee went to his AIDS foundation — still deciding)

…. recorded “Hello, Hello,” a duet with Lady Gaga for the upcoming Disney movie
Gnomeo and Juliet about  garden gnomes in love.

…. conquered Broadway with The Lion King and Billy Elliot; won a Tony for
2000’s Aida.

…. being a gay man, had no ties to disco music during the rocking ’70s, with fellow community member Freddie Mercury of Queen.

…. lost a whole lotta street cred performing a Diet Coke commercial with Paula Abdul in 1990.

…. is a gay icon for being a diva, a legend and even kind of a bitch. He’s not much of an advocate for the community but stands by its side enough.

…. performs at the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena, 1201 Houston St. Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. $53–$173. Ticketmaster.com.

………………………………..

ABBAABBA Mania

…. wore outlandish bell bottoms, platform shoes, but with the occasional ascot and lederhosen. Not cute.

…. had a hit movie with their old songs in Mamma Mia! which turned out to be the No. 1 movie of all time in Britain. Oscar their ass.

…. sidestepped most public drama. Even the marriages and divorces within the band weren’t all that controversial.  Snore.

…. inspired the 1990s clones Ace of Base who subsequently inspired the beat behind Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro.” OK, that’s reaching, we know.

…. had a fling with Broadway when Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus received acclaim and award noms for Chess and Mamma Mia!.

…. were all straight and the epitome of disco alongside the Bee Gees and Donna Summer. So straights do better dance music while non-straights can rock your face off. Who knew?

…. maintained their dignity by rarely, if ever, doing anything outside of performing their music.

…. are gay icons for their work on the dancefloor. All they really had to do to secure a spot in the gay pantheon was release “Dancing Queen.” Yes, ABBA, thank you for the music.

… plays at the Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. $40–$65. EisemannCenter.com/Tickets

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

—  Michael Stephens