Youth in revolt

College kid-slash-performance artist John Michael Colgin hopes to make a splash — one awkward moment at a time

Profile

ABOUT FACES | John Michael Colgin goes from snobby private school gay-baiter to out-and-proud McDonald’s worker in his one-man show ‘Would You Like Guys With That?’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

For John Michael Colgin, homophobia is an easy term. Too easy. When people start using it as a label, Colgin sees it as losing its weight.

“It gets people off topic so easily,” he asserts. “That’s where the struggles begin.”

Colgin, just 22, is a ball of pent-up energy. He squirms in his chair trying to find that right comfort level and yet his enthusiasm when talking about his one-man show Would You Like Guys With That? keeps him on the edge of his seat. He punctuates his sentences with lively gestures and a multitude of facial expressions. He’s eccentric in personality, but passionate.

“The show is sometimes about transformation,” he says. “As a gay man, when you don’t have role models, the only thing you associate with ‘gay’ is what you’re shown. So from beginning to end in the show, the sexual identity thing is going on.”

In his piece, Colgin’s main character (himself, really) is a snobby kid, the product of private-schooling and a sense of entitlement; he becomes even more judgmental when he attends college in Stillwater, Okla. But then he goes to work at McDonald’s as a kind of social experiment, he begins to see the world anew: Just because he hates small-talk with his co-workers, he discovers that listening to different music doesn’t mean you’re not a human being.

“I did my research on people who seemed so different than me,” Colgin says. “After the first time I performed it, I learned that I could really reach people with my voice. Every thing is so authentically true in my head as in the show.”

He created the show while attending Oklahoma State, but had to convince the group there called SODA (Sexual Orientation Diversity Association) that he had a viable piece. In a shrewd move, he previewed what he said was a 70-minute show with a 10-minute micro-version. They were impressed, and he got a $500 grant.

Only he hadn’t actually created the remaining hour’s worth of material.  That’s when he got to writing.

Even now, he says, he doesn’t work from a fixed script, instead coming up with an outline and rehearsing it until the rhythm becomes second nature.

When he came home to Dallas, he had to start the process all over again.

“Going to theaters and spaces here, I was forced to convince people again that my work had value to it,” he says. “It was frustrating but part of my mission statement is to go to non-theater groups. My show doesn’t need perfection in lighting or stuff, it’s just about bringing the work to people who won’t get to see it.”

He performed Guys at Nouveau 47’s Theatre Appresh in November, a sort of guerrilla performance night. It got him some notice. One local critic called it “focused, fresh and engaging … with gritty humor, pathos and an honest, dark conviction fit to delight Lenny Bruce.” Someone from the Cathedral of Hope attended after reading Dallas Voice’s Instant Tea blog and liked it enough that Colgin was invited to perform there later this spring.

They were probably responding to the same charisma that makes Colgin a challenging interview. He bounces around so much — physically and narratively — that when he talks about coming out, it’s not always clear he’s talking about himself or his show … or whether there’s a difference. Maybe it doesn’t matter; for Colgin, performing is his reality.

“There is stuff that makes me ashamed and uncomfortable, but it’s worth telling onstage,” he says. “I learned the people who piss you off are usually the people who remind you about yourself. The self-realization is onstage.”

He even turns his breaks from the interview to do an impromptu segment from his play, he goes for it full-force. In a cramped office, as his character recounts the pleasure of sneaking a peek at his teacher’s breast (he hadn’t realized he was gay yet), Colgin simulates an orgasm.

“I’m freakin’ naked up there,” he exclaims. “I never felt more clear than right now.”

Still, Colgin’s performance isn’t just about coming out, but more a confession (he admits to being particularly hurtful to gay kids to mask his own feelings) and apology.

It’s about putting his young, confused life on display.

“You want other [gay] kids to see you can be happy,” he says. “I was ugly in the closet. I knew I was unbearable to some people. When I came out at 21, my writing started and now I can see the me I wanna be.”

Would You Like Guys with That? Davidson Auditorium — JSOM 1.118, 800 W. Campbell Road on the UTD Campus, Richardson. Jan 30. 5:30pm. Free. UTDallas.edu/womenscenter

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Sorry? No, ‘Grateful’

John Bucchino calls Stephen Schwartz his best friend and Stephen Sondheim his mentor. So how come he’s not a huge fan of musical theater?

I WRITE THE SONGS  |  Composer John Bucchino has his turn performing his music with a cabaret show at Theatre 3, which is holding a mini-festival of his music this fall.

I WRITE THE SONGS | Composer John Bucchino has his turn performing his music with a cabaret show at Theatre 3, which is holding a mini-festival of his music this fall.

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

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AN EVENING OF CABARET
Theatre 3, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Nov. 17. 7:30 p.m.
$50. Theatre3Dallas.com.

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If you look at John Bucchino’s web page, you’re immediately struck by how, under “biography,” he lists only the compositions he’s written and recordings made of his songs and awards he’s received. No date of birth, no hometown, no pet peeves. It’s as if his life story can be expressed through his work alone.

And the thing is, Bucchino doesn’t really disagree with that.

“I guess I do feel that way,” he says with a sudden flash. “I figure on a website, it’s not about me as a person but me as a songwriter. I do feel the work — especially It’s Only Life and the albums — are incredibly open and incredibly vulnerable insights into me. Ninety percent of them are directly from experiences in my life. I’m so wrapped up in what I do — probably unhealthily so — but I’m perfectly open. I need to get those two things in a better balance.”

In fact, doing so might make for a good song.

It’s not as if Bucchino doesn’t have a fascinating story of his own. One of the most respected composers of cabaret songs for more than two decades, he broke into Broadway with the acclaimed 2008 musical A Catered Affair, which wraps up its regional premiere at Theatre 3 Saturday. But that’s hardly your last chance to experience Bucchino. On Nov. 17 — his birthday! — he’ll perform his one-man show at Theatre 3, and the next day, previews of his revue It’s Only Life begin in the Theatre Too space. It’s a mini-festival of Bucchino in Uptown.

It’s surprising — to Bucchino, especially — that he’s become a staple of Theatre 3’s schedule, since he personally never had much interest in musicals. Even today, while he numbers Stephen Sondheim as a mentor and calls Stephen Schwartz his best friend of 25 years (he even claims credit for getting Wicked made; more on that later), he doesn’t really “get” lots of theater references. In fact, he never intended to be a composer at all.
“When I started writing songs, my goal was to be a singer-songwriter,” he says. “I started out playing piano at age 1; it became my favorite toy and still is. I just started noodling around with songwriting, which naturally evolved out of playing piano in high school. I figured I’d be a [piano playing pop star] a la Elton John or Billy Joel. But noooobody was interested in me — they wouldn’t give me the time of day. It wasn’t on my radar that other people could sing my songs, but that’s what took off.”

His songs have been recorded by everyone from Barbara Cook (“It doesn’t get better than Barbara Cook — her version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ just knocks my socks off. But her version of anything knocks my socks off”), Kristen Chenoweth, Audra MacDonald and Patti LuPone; he wrote the music for a children’s book by Julie Andrews and her daughter; he calls Grateful probably his most important work. The song was also a watershed for him.

“It was Saturday. I was cleaning house and suddenly found myself at the piano playing the chorus for ‘Grateful’ and I just started to cry. But that’s as far as it went for month. Then came the sweat of crafting these lyrics and bridge around this perfect chorus,” he says.

Bucchino invited his friend Art Garfunkel over to listen to it and give feedback. As soon as it was over, Garfunkel said, “Don’t give that to anyone else: It’s mine.”

“From that reaction, I knew something was going to happen with it,” he says.

Still, his ascension to Broadway was a long one.

“I didn’t really know about live theater. I kind of thought of pop songwriting as somehow cooler — theater writing as less complex and two dimensional,” he says. “But Stephen Schwartz is the one who encouraged me to write for the theater.”

How can a gay guy involved in music not be a theater queen? Bucchino seems unfazed by the idea. He says he “wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with Stephen Sondheim” when Broadway’s greatest composer-lyricist called to say he was “really excited by my work.” But then came the pressure to produce something he wasn’t wholly conversant in. “It became terrifying to write for musical theater, because all these lofty people were encouraging me.”

A Catered Affair is his only show to open for a Broadway run, but his song cycles have been staples of regional theaters; Theatre 3’s Terry Dobson has been an especially enthusiastic supporter. (“I’m still not a musical theater geek just because I’ve done it,” he says.)

So how does he take responsibility for Wicked?

“Holly Near [for whom he has been a long-time accompanist] and I had gotten a gig to do a lesbian music festival on Maui. Stephen [Schwartz] was working on [the score for the animated film] Prince of Egypt in Los Angeles. I told him to come with me and we could hang out. He did. We were on a snorkeling trip with Holly and her partner and she said, ‘I just read the most interesting book.’” It turned out to be Wicked. When she described it to Schwartz, he immediately saw the potential to become a musical. “So if I hadn’t invited Stephen to vacation with us, it would never have happened!” Bucchino crows.

Bucchino acknowledges some have called his songs “not immediately hummable,” but that’s a good thing.

“That’s because you haven’t heard them before. I’d like to think that’s a reflection of my unique voice. What I go for in my writing is surprising inevitability — a chord progression or turn of phrase that makes you say, ‘I didn’t expect it to go there but, gee! How satisfying.’ I think the songs that are immediately memorable are derivative or formulaic in a way,” he says.

He also strives for a timelessness of sentiment, which is why, although often recorded by gay artists, his songs are usually gender neutral.

“If you look at the love songs on the Grateful CD, because I had not come out or to terms with my sexuality, I just decided not to use pronouns. There are no ‘he’ or ‘her,’ but ‘you.’ Maybe that’s a copout but also makes them more universal. We’re all people — gay or straight, male or female, we all go through the same stuff. I’m trying to reach that commonality which transcends gender or sexual orientation. Sometimes I wish my art were more overlapping into commerce, but I’m happy doing what I do.”

What’s the word? Oh, right: Grateful.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Weekly Best Bets: 07.08.11

Friday 07.08

What the Del?
Del Shores returns to Dallas with More Sordid Confessions, his one-man show that’s part comedy, part biography and we’re figuring, a whole lotta funny. His partner Jason Dottley performs later that night at BJ’s NXS! the same night. We’re sure that one won’t miss the other’s show. And you shouldn’t miss either of them.

DEETS: The Rose Room, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 8 p.m. $15–$20. PartyAtTheBlock.com.

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Friday 07.08

Who can blow out a 100 candles?
The legendary venue Sons of Hermann Hall celebrates a century this weekend and as part of the vast music lineup, LGBT faves Patrice Pike and Kathy & Bell join in on the celebration. Two days of Texas music in this Dallas gem is pretty much the equivalent to heaven.

DEETS: SOHH, 3414 Elm St. Through Saturday. $25­–$45. SonsOfHermann.org.

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Thursday 07.14

Fake news the way you like it
When the real news gets to be too much, The Onion is a nice reprieve. But how will the writers and editors pull it off live? The staff comes to talk about its satire and place in today’s media.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. . $25­–$45. ATTPAC.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Who’s Tommy?

Tommy
TAP, DOG | Tommy Tune’s new act traces his legendary Broadway career — and it all began in Dallas.

Maybe you think you know gay  stage icon Tommy Tune, but even he’s still learning things about himself

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STEPS IN TIME

Fair Park Music Hall, 901 First Ave. March 15–20. $20–$75. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

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When I get Tommy Tune  on the phone for the first time, I finally get to tell him about my three Tommy encounters: One was on Broadway when he appeared in My One and Only; one was in his one-man show Tommy Tune Tonight! at Fair Park Music Hall; but the first time was in the locker room of the Watergate Hotel where we were both staying. He was changing clothes after a swim. And I confess to him my 30-year secret: That I saw his naked ass.

“How’d it look?” he hoots with an excited cackle. “Great!” I tell him. “Well, you know dancers,” he says with a flirtatious laugh.
This dancer just turned 72 — a number that rather delights Tune: “If you add together 7 and 2, it equals nine. And nine has always been a lucky number for me.”

It has indeed. Tune directed and choreographed the original stage musical Nine, and has won an astonishing nine Tony Awards in four categories over his 50-year stage career — a career that launched, in several ways, here in North Texas.

“I began at the Dallas Summer Musicals,” says the Texas native, whose sister still lives in Fort Worth.“I got my Equity card there. John Rosenfield, who was the king of culture [in Dallas for decades], reviewed my first professional job in Redhead with Taina Elg. In the last paragraph of the review, he wrote: ‘We cannot let this report pass without mentioning Tommy Tune, who handles his incredible long form with grace control and power.’ That was the energy that sent me to New York. I had the courage after that. And I just linked that up.”

Where he links that up is in his new one-man showcase, Steps in Time, which opens Tuesday on the same stage where Tune got his start.

“Everything I do in Steps in Time is the truth,” says Tune. “I’ve done four acts and this one is the most personal and the purest and it works better than the others. It doesn’t have the glitz, but there’s depth.”

It’s also a work in progress. Tune has performed it about 100 times so far, but often in one- or two-night stands; he’ll be in Dallas a week, and the version includes new material he’s only recent added. It also has the added bonus of getting him back to his Texas roots.

“I still like to get my feet in the Texas mud, which is different than all other muds,” he says.

Tune kicks off his show with his arrival in New York on St. Patrick’s Day 1962. His beginnings were auspicious: He auditioned for a show and got the job on the spot. That led to dozens  more shows as an actor (Seesaw, which won him his first Tony), director and choreographer (Grand Hotel, Nine, The Will Rogers Follies). But he’s loathe to choose a favorite experience.

“I’m gonna have to answer the next one will be my favorite,” he says. “Every show I’ve done, I’m not satisfied with. But there is a sense of dissatisfaction that keeps you marching.”

Still, he coos about many of the talents he’s worked with over the years. Raul Julia “was a dream.” With Julia and Keith Carradine he recalls “not one bad moment. It’s so easy for an actor to give a director problems. Actors can be quite contrary. But these two guys worked for the good of the show.” And there was the great Vaudeville hoofer Charles ‘Honi’ Coles, whom Tune co-starred with in My One and Only and who “was the best dancer that I ever worked with. He taught me more than anybody. And when I worked with him he was 76, so he’s still got a few years on me.”

Tune recounts one joyful memory about appearing with Coles: They performed a number together — a charming soft-shoe — that on opening night led to a tumult of uncontrollable applause. It literally stopped the show.

“I was just gobsmacked,” he says. “I leaned over to Charles and said, ‘What should we do?’ He smiled up and said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ So I just broke the fourth wall like you don’t do and said, ‘Let’s take it again from the top of the dance.’ We did it! I just thought, ‘That’s opening night — everything’s up for grabs.’But we did over 1,000 performances together and we never failed to stop the show — it happened every night! It’s when that magic thing happens, when the audience takes control of the show, that you love like theater.”

Which is exactly what Tune didn’t enjoy about one aspect of his career: Making movies. Tune kicked off his film career with a prime role opposite Barbra Streisand in the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Hello, Dolly! but he quickly soured on Hollywood.

“I hated making movies,” he says. “My whole thing is about the audience connection. In movies, you are not performing for the crew but for a machine — the camera — or yourself. It was just so unfulfilling. You never get the joy of performing a number. After Hello, Dolly! they put me in a couple episodes of Nanny and the Professor but I was burning to be back on Broadway. I asked them, will you let me out of that deal? Off I went, and fast!”

And he’s still returning to it — as a performer, director and a patron. His favorite recent shows? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and American Idiot.

“Those are my two favorites. And it worries me that neither has found their audience but both speak to now, but work through then. [The lead in Andrew Jackson] is so good, I saw it four times. It made me laugh so hard. Maybe it was a mistake that they moved it to Broadway, but it was better than the off-Broadway version. They really sharpened it. American Idiot is highlight. I was new to Green Day — I don’t usually do anything more contemporary than the ’50s — and they just knocked me out. I’m so grateful I’ve got to do this with my life. But we need to still be respectful of our fabulous invalid called the theater.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Latter gay saint

Steven Fales’ one-man show ‘Confessions of a Mormon Boy’ skewers his religious upbringing, but his real mission is to show gay youth that it really does get better

THANK YOU JESUS Fales says there’s something sexy about Mormon boys. We concur.

MORMON BOY
Eisemann Center, 2352
Performance Drive, Richardson. Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m.  $25­–$150.
EisemannCenter.com
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Steven Fales knows something about growing up gay in the church. A sixth generation Mormon, he married and had two children before coming out. And along the way, got heavily into the sex trade and drugs.

But Fales also knows something about turning his life around — and turning his experiences into something original. He’s in town for a one-night-only performance of his hit one-man show, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, presented in conjunction with Youth First Texas.

Before his return to Dallas, Fales talked to us about how his play has become a trilogy and why, excommunication aside, he’s still on a spiritual quest.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

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Dallas Voice: Obviously, you grew up Mormon and that influenced your show. What was the path from your experience to the stage? Steven Fales: I’m one of those Brokeback Mormon train wrecks where the children were the blessing. But I wouldn’t even have children if it weren’t for the Mormon machine — and I wouldn’t have material for my show!

I have an MFA in acting [from Brigham Young University] and did a lot of Shakespeare and musicals and then my life fell apart. I just intuitively knew I needed to write about it. The first version was back in November of 2001, and it just grew and grew. Confessions had a nice run off Broadway so I spun off Missionary Position which is very well on its way to being complete and just did a benefit staged reading of Who’s Your Daddy? All of a sudden, you have a trilogy. All three 90-minute plays will be done in repertory in Fort Lauderdale next spring. My “Mormon Conquests.”

I read a recent study that said Salt Lake City is, as a percentage, one of the gayest cities in the nation. What do you think accounts for that? Here are some theories. A lot of Mormons went out there and were an isolated gene pool for a while so you might have a genetic factor there. Mormonism is the extreme expression of patriarchy [which may attract gay people]. The amount of gays in that system reminds the system just how unbalanced it is. My excommunication, that’s [an example of how] Mormons try to erase all evidence that they also created it.

Also, to live that good, perfect, Mormon life takes gay people. It takes gays to be charismatic preachers and sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. To go on your mission at 19, you had to be a virgin. Many straight guys had fooled around but the gays had suppressed it. My own adolescence was delayed. I can’t tell you how many Mormon missionaries I served with in Portugal came out later.

It makes sense that a play like this would succeed in cosmopolitan cities, but what about smaller towns? Have you been surprised at how well it does in unexpected places?  It finds its audience everywhere. I’ve been wildly successful in Salt Lake City and smaller places. I think it’s the Mormon thing, too.

Yeah, what is it about good Christian boys gone gay that we find so fascinating, especially Mormons? It’s a curious piece of Americana. It’s easy to make fun of them and they’re hot! You wanna corrupt them because of it. The juxtaposition of virginity and sexuality is too delicious.

Do you think it’s ex-churchgoing gays who come or ones who still feel connected to their religious roots? My queer spiritual community definitely finds me, but straight people burned by their religions or ostracized by the church of their birth also find the show. This is my effort to find where we fit in as gays and lesbians. There’s a lot of anger in the gay community toward religion and I want to reclaim our spirituality as gay men. It looks different than we were told, but it’s there for us.

I take on Mormonism and the sex industry — how I descended into escorting and crystal meth and how I reclaimed myself after that. It’s not just about religion — there’s a secular part too. It’s a gay everyman story.

For the performance this week, you’ve teamed up with Youth First Texas. What led you to do that? Chris-James Cognetta contacted me and I’ve never played Dallas so this is the perfect opportunity. I’m hoping the show will give these youth an example of not playing victim even when you have every right to be one. I’ve had two cousins who committed suicide, and there was a slow, steady suicide track that I was on when I was selling myself and using meth. I want to help our youth not go down that path. With the suicides we’ve been having, we need to give kids the tools to deal with this. Your parents might say this and your church may do that, but you don’t need to buy into that.

Do you consider yourself still a Mormon or a Christian? Are you religious or just spiritual?  They excommunicated me and I saw how false much of the doctrine was. I don’t believe in golden plates or that Joseph Smith was more spiritual than you or me. I like to say I’m no longer a Latter-day Saint but something about me will always be Mormon. My people settled Utah and I celebrate the culture, but I do not endorse the doctrines, such as support Proposition 8. I did convert to become an Episcopalian about three years ago — I felt I needed a new church to bash.

How’s that working out for you? Great! They’ll take anyone. You can believe anything and I love coffee hour; I love the music; I love trying to listen to things that will help me. I think on a spiritual path, you do need a few guides, even if it’s Deepak Chopra or reading a few books. I think science and religion are both a quest to uncover the mystery of what God is. We’re all searching for truth. I think it shows a way to essentially love other people. We’re all interconnected. We should act that way.

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

—  Michael Stephens