The thin red line

WHO’S YOUR  DADDIES? | William Marshall Warren plays a cross-dressing orphan in this new satire.

Musical parody ‘Trannie’ toys with controversy but (sort of) rises above it

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

It’s amazing how two little letters added to a word can make such a big change. By taking the legendary Broadway musical, Annie, and putting a simple “TR” in front, a small-town theater has created a parody that will forever change the way you look at cute little red-headed moppets singing about mañana.

Despite what a lightning rod the mere word “trannie” is to controversy, in the context of this new musical, it’s a necessary evil in order for the whole gag to succeed. It’s never made completely clear whether the title character is transgender or a transvestite, but the orphan’s search for her two dads and meaning in the world defies most labels. Except funny, which would apply wholeheartedly.

Tucked away in a tiny theater that looks like an old garage in Grapevine, Ohlook Performing Arts Center is just the kind of place you want to see pregnant teens dancing about and singing a song called “It’s A Knocked Up Life.” The fact that it’s BYOB and has late-night-only showtimes makes the cheap admission even more enticing. And what’s not to like about a show where the length of intermission is only as long as it takes patrons to use the single public restroom? Two members of our party were even asked to go pee behind a trailer so the show could go on.

Written by Matthew Lord and directed by his wife, Jill Blalock Lord (yes, this comes from a straight couple), the show has genuine moments of inspiration and some truly demented lyrics. It’s got the high-school-drama-club charm of a single piano accompanying the singers, but it’s that homespun quality that keeps the X-rated dialogue that much more off-kilter. Taking place at Unplanned Parenthood, a gay bar called The Manhole and Hooker’s Alley, and with musical numbers like “STD,” “Sleazy Street” and a newly imagined “Tomorrow,” it’s full not just of showstoppers, but pretty solid parodies.

In the lead, William Marshall Warren is a wisp of a man, but he infuses Trannie with just enough heart and old-fashioned gumption to elevate the whole thing to something with a sincere message and not just pondering. Sure, some people may not find the joke as funny as others and some may be put off by the low-budget production, but in the end, it does exactly what every small theater company should do: Experiment. Take risks. And make sure there’s at least one sight gag involving anal beads.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Your son’ll come out, tomorrow

SLEAZY STREET | Redneck Tenor Matthew Lord takes more potshots at the Bush Administration than gay people in his parody of ‘Annie.’

What’s a straight guy doing mocking a classic with the word ‘Trannie’? Making people laugh, that’s what

MARK LOWRY |  Contributing Writer
marklowry@theaterjones.com

It’s a beloved tale of musical theater: girl escapes orphanage, goes on quest for her parents, sings about tomorrow and ends up with a life of luxury and love — not to mention a spiffy red ’fro — with her new Daddy.

Make that two daddies. Trannie, a full-out parody of the aw-shucks family musical Annie, makes its world premiere this weekend in a tiny shed in the shadow of Grapevine’s squeaky-clean Main Street district.

The show follows the adventures of a transvestite (not transsexual) who leaves behind her prostitute pals and searches for the men who gave her up when gay couples were denied adoption rights. She sings in a nightclub called the Manhole, eventually discovering her dads, thanks to a cherished pearl necklace they once gave her.

Songs in the show include “I’m Gonna Come Out Tomorrow,” “It’s a Knocked-Up Life,” “S.T.D.” and “Sleazy Street,” which any musical queen will recognize as trash parodies of Annie hits. But despite being created by a heterosexual man, this is not a case of straight folks making fun of the T in LGBT. Nor of the G, L or B.

“I’ve been on the phone with my gay friends about this for a year, asking them ‘Can I write this?’” says Matthew Lord, the straight guy who created it. “I didn’t write this lightly. But I decided that if everybody wrote to whom they are, then nothing would ever get written.”

Lord grew up in San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s, using his vocal talents to make a career of musical theater and opera. He has performed at the Met, originated a role in Andre Previn’s opera A Streetcar Named Desire and, as Nero, made out with three countertenors nightly in a production of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea. But he’s best known as a founding member of the locally based 3 Redneck Tenors. That group, which made it to the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent in 2007, performs opera, Broadway and popular as trailer-dwelling mullet-heads, so satire is in Lord’s veins.

As for credibility with the gay community, he knows he has nothing to worry about.

“I was one of two straight men in the San Francisco Opera chorus in the ’80s, I would go to their birthday parties at The Stud,” he says. “I grew to have this incredible understanding of not understanding why the rest of the world [didn’t accept] homosexuality. Except for the sex part, I’m as gay as they come.”

Trannie was born from a casual conversation after Ohlook, Lord’s theater company, had performed Annie. The theater is a school that performs more traditional musicals, but also does a late-night series with shows like Evil Dead the Musical, Reefer Madness and The Rocky Horror Show (Ohlook’s two-time Rocky was Jeff Walters, now Clay Aiken’s boyfriend).

For anyone upset about the use of the un-P.C. title, it’s all in good fun.

“Trannie is the most sane character in the show,” Lord says, adding that it addresses issues like prostitution, homelessness and closed-minded politicians. “It makes fun of everything and it makes fun of nothing, you know what I mean? There’s nothing hurtful in it.”

Well, there are slams at the Bush administration, with a parody of the Annie song “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover,” substituting the lyrics for the policies of George W. Bush.

Will it be irreverent, filthy and touching? Yes, yes and that’s the plan. Will it be funny? Bet your bottom dollar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright