Livin’ the Vida

Richard Vida revisits ‘Les Miz’ in a grand revival

La-Vita

MASTER OF THE HOUSE | Rirchard Vida returns to ‘Les Miz’ 18 years after his B’way run.

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

“Show people don’t have holidays,” Richard Vida says with a sigh. Though he’s not complaining. In fact, he kind of likes it.

“In New York City, Christmas is packed. You’ll always have a show Christmas night, though on Christmas Eve, it depends. Before 9/11, we always had matinee and evening shows on New Year’s Eve. When I was doing Les Miz in the old days, when it was still three hours and 15 minutes, it got out at 11:45 and we were right in Times Square at midnight.”

A lot has changed since those days. Evening shows in Dec. 31 are canceled and Vida is on tour, not in New York. But one thing hasn’t changed: Vida is still doing Les Miserables.

Not the entire time, of course — and not in the same way. Vida was a replacement in the original production back in the 1980s, playing the thieving Montparnasse for two years. He loved the show.

“I was a dancer at the time, doing all the big dance shows. Les Miz was my first non-dancing show but I was blown away by it.

The original production of Les Miz ran until 2003 — closing a decade after Vida’s run in it. He went on to act in numerous TV shows, movies and musicals in the intervening years. “So imagine my surprise, 18 years later, to be playing Thenardier in the 25th anniversary production.”

Surprised, because as much as he enjoyed the experience, he’d had it. So when his agent asked if he’d be interested — advancing from one the bandits to their sleazy leader, Thenardier — he passed. His agent asked, before deciding, if he would go see the production. He did.

“It was the best version I have seen,” he says. “It’s been reorchestrated and newly conceived. Technologically it’s just beautiful — no more turntable! The backdrops are actual projections of Victor Hugo paintings. It’s so imaginative.At intermission, I called my agent and said not only am I interested in doing it, it’s mine.”

The process has been illuminating, now that he approaches it not as young dancer but as a seasoned actor in middle age.

“I already knew the role, but what is interesting was, when I re-read all 1,236 pages of the book and as an older person, I understood it better. I have the life experience to play this unredeemable, despicable human being. The comedy comes through, but he’s dark. And it’s so completely the opposite of who I am in real life.”

Les Miserables is one of the most successful — and divisive — musicals in history, a long-running hit about the failed 1832 Paris uprising. It’s a sweeping epic based on what is generally considered one of the great novels of the 19th century, but has its detractors as bombastic, although the characters are sharply drawn and the complexities of the book are masterfully synthesized.

Hmmm… students who take up arms against the rich hierarchy in the streets. Sounds a little like Occupy Paris, no?

Vida’s not so sure.

“In some [curtain speeches], Several presenters have said this is the French Occupy Wall Street, but I’m not so sure patrons are making that correlation. I don’t see it being the same thing. I think of it more as an allegory, and the religious awakening that turns your life around,” he says.

It’s certainly turned Vida’s life around. This is his eighth national tour, and the first one where he’s been able to travel with his partner, who is the show’s musical conductor.

“It’s fantastic that we are working and traveling together after 18 years,” Vida says.

That’s almost enough to soften the hardest of hearts … maybe even Thenardier’s.

… Nah, don’t count on that.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Enter, stage left

After a decade, Uptown Players, Dallas’ gaylicious theater troupe, finally gets its Pride on with Performing Arts Fest

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GAY PLAY BUFFET | Uptown Players’ inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival features musicals, plays, staged readings, comedy and cabarets, including, ‘Beautiful Thing,’ left, ‘Last Sunday in June,’ below and ‘Crazy Like Me,’ above.

Seeing how Uptown Players always gives Dallas theatergoers a big gay outlet, it would only seem natural that as the city celebrates Pride in September, the troupe would be in the thick of things, presenting some of their gaycentric shows while the rainbow flags are unfurling.

But that has rarely been the case, and the big hold-up was always limited space. Now that Uptown calls the Kalita Humphreys Theater home, the company finally can go all out, as it will with its inaugural Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival.

“It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” says producer Craig Lynch. “I’m excited to do two weeks of shows that really celebrate the community and to have the opportunity to see it all come together.

With 11 different performances spread across two weekends, Uptown will be able to showcase shows in both the main stage and the upstairs black box theater, Frank’s Place. Juggling drama, comedy and even cabaret, Lynch feels that Uptown, even after a decade, will put the company on the map with a larger audience.

“I’m excited to get some people in here that may not have been here,” he says. “I think people will be able to say, ‘There’s a great theater company here and we need to come back.’ And it’s another way to bring the community together and sort of remember our roots.”

Lynch also thinks it’s a nice alternative to the usual night out.

“Hey, you’ve seen one shirtless twink, you seen ‘em all,” he says.

So true.
— Rich Lopez

………………………

MAIN STAGE

Crazy Just Like Me directed by Coy Covington. Simon, Mike and Lauren find that the love of their lives may not be who they thought it would be in this musical. Stars Alex Ross, Kayla Carlyle, Angel Velasco, Corey Cleary-Stoner and Ryan Roach. Sept. 9, 11, 14 and 16 at 7:30 p.m.

lead-2Beautiful Thing directed by B.J. Cleveland. The story of two teenage boys who discover their love for each other and the optimism that goes with it. Based on the popular indie film, the production benefits Youth First Texas. Sept. 10 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept 17 at 2 p.m.

Pride Cabaret Concert: From Chopin to Show-tunes featuring Kevin Gunter and Adam C. Wright. This musical cabaret takes a whirlwind look at theater music. Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen close the festival with their brand of music and comedy. Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

FRANK’S PLACE

The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode directed by Andi Allen. The 2009 cast, including Paul J. Williams as Mrs. Garrett, reunites for this spoof of the 1980s sitcom. Sept. 9 and 14 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 10 at 9:30 p.m.

The New Century directed by Andi Allen. Allen teams up again with Williams alongside Marisa Diotalevi for this new Paul Rudnick short play of tales of gay men and the women who love them. Sept. 10 at 3 p.m., Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 4 p.m.

A Taste of Beauty staged reading is a workshop of a brand new musical by Jeff Kinman, John de los Santos and Adam C. Wright. Audience feedback is encouraged. (Staged reading.) Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.  and Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.

Asher, TX ’82 written and directed by Bruce Coleman. This world premiere by Coleman finds four youths in Texas confronted with violence and how it affects their lives forever. Max Swarner (Equus) and Drew Kelly (Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits) are among the cast. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.

Click/A Midsummer Night’s Conversation directed by Kevin Moore. These two shorts by Austin playwright Allan Baker are presented in conjunction with Asher. In Click, two guys try to hook up online but for different reasons. In Midsummer, a same-sex couple finds its time to get real honest with each other. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.

Last Summer at Bluefish Cove directed by Cheryl Denson. A key work to lesbian literature, this play by Jane Chambers tells the story of an unhappy married woman discovering a newlead-3 world with a fresh set of friends who all happen to be lesbian. (Staged reading.) Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.

Last Sunday in June directed by Rick Espaillat. This Jonathan Tolins play follows the perfect gay couple on a not-so-perfect gay Pride day. The cast includes Chris Edwards, Jonathan Greer, Lon Barrera, Rick Starkweather, Robert L. Camina, Jerry Crow and Lee Jamison. Sept. 13 and 15 at 8 p.m.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘¡Gaytino!’ tonight at Latino Cultural Center

Latin flair

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing).

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

—  Rich Lopez

Latin flair

comedy
MUY FUNNY | Dan Guerrero works for laughs while being gay and Latino in his one-man show.

Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots

rich lopez  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.

“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”

Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.

And then came ¡Gaytino!

“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.

When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”

With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?

“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”

What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.

“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”

……………………………………

QUEER CLIP: ‘BEGINNERS’

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Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.

Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.

McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.

Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.

Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.

—Arnold Wayne Jones

Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

John Travolta likes well-hung Middle Eastern types. Join the club

It’s one of the best-kept, worst-kept secrets in Hollywood that John Travolta is gay (Scientology allegedly promises to “cure” you of your homosexuality) — a fact that, despite evidence (remember the candid lip-lock photographed on him kissing his late son’s male, umm, “nanny”?) that has been respectfully ignored most of the time by the mainstream press.

This is nothing new. I was at the Samar party last week, jawing with some straight male media friends, and all of them were shocked by my “secret” list of commonly accepted gay celebs … including Travolta. People believe what they wanna believe. It’s how Lindsey Graham is still in a leadership position with the GOP.

Anyway, the most salacious of rumors about Travolta have been published on Gawker, and the language used is surprising. Well, not to me, but most hausfraus out there will probably be astonished to find that the man who gained fame in musicals and had his last hit as a cross-dressing woman (in a musical!) likes to go to bathhouses and apparently has a penchant for Middle Easterns (guilty as charged, I admit it).

Some of the allegations made include that Travolta abused himself in a steam room and came onto the author; that he has both given and received oral sex from other men in public; and that he uses his celebrity to attract his type (which usually means well-endowed men of color).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

An afternoon with ‘Night of the Hunter’ at Lyric Stage

From creepy book to noirish film to a musical?

If you need to know how a story about an ex-convict murders his wife,  stalks two children who happen to have a whole lotta loot and pretends to be a minster can turn into a musical, we have an answer. Or rather, Lyric Stage does. Stephen Cole and Claibe Richardson have turned the Davis Grubb’s novel into just that. We’re curious how they will pull it off, because there’s  not a whole lotta happy going on in the story. And aren’t musicals all about the happy?

DEETS: Irving Arts Center’s Carpenter Hall, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd. 2:30 p.m. $25–$50. LyricStage.org.

—  Rich Lopez