A good head on his shoulders

For actor Matt DeAngelis, the flower power musical ‘Hair’ isn’t just a time capsule — it’s a reminder of the transformative effect of theater

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

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HAIR
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St.
Sept.. 20–Oct. 2
ATTPAC.org

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Matt DeAngelis wasn’t even alive when the hippie Summer of Love took place, but for the last two years, he’s happily relived it eight times a week as one of the original cast members in the Tony Award-winning revival of Hair.

“I didn’t know a lot about the show before I was cast in it,” says the 28-year-old Boston native who now makes his home in New York. “I’m sort of a contemporary rock musical theater singer and always have been, so when I started doing Hair I said, ‘How did I miss this for this long?’ But my parents never listened to it — they didn’t listen to the Beatles either, so I missed that, too.”

DeAngelis and other members of the original cast bring the show to that reddest of reds when they open at the Winspear Opera House Tuesday as part of the Lexus Broadway Series. In fact, this company is coming directly from the New York production, where they spent the summer.

That means DeAngelis was in New York when same-sex marriage was legalized in the Empire State. To commemorate it, three gay couples wed on the stage of the St. James Theatre while the Hair company looked on.
“I was standing center stage for that,” DeAngelis boasts. “A doorman and usher at different theaters were one couple, an actor whom I didn’t know and a playwright were another couple, Terri White and her longtime girlfriend got married — Terri’s a legend in our industry. It was fantastic!”

Combining theater and activism seems like a perfect fit for a show like Hair.

“Gay rights are important to theater people, ya know? Gavin Creel, who was our original Claude [and who performed at last year’s Black Tie Dinner], inspired us to do a bunch of work with Broadway Impact. We did a big benefit in London, we marched on Washington for the marriage equality rally. We have such a special group of producers — they lost $150,000 to let us go to Washington. But it’s such a special cause for our company, because right is right. We’ve all taken the message of Hair and the idea of advocacy for what you believe in.”

Don’t expect to see similar commitment ceremonies on the stage of the Winspear, though.

“To me, marriage isn’t symbolic — it is real,” DeAngelis says. “I wish we could [perform a same-sex marriage] every night in every city. But that was really just a victory lap for us: It said in the biggest metropolis in the U.S., you can get married. If it wasn’t legal it wouldn’t have mattered.”

Hair is a slightly formless musical, set in 1967 (before the madness of 1968 — the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the escalation of the war in Vietnam) where free-love (including then-provocative issues of interracial dating and homosexuality), drug use and counterculture attitudes are vigorously embraced. Still, some of the controversy over it, especially its notorious nude scene, puzzles DeAngelis.

“I think it’s an incredibly powerful moment in the context of the show. We had one walkout where a woman grabbed her daughter and stormed out. People get all bent out of shape because we took our clothes off for 30 seconds, and it’s not even sexual. But we do far more offensive things in the show with our clothes on: humping, drug use, language. I sing a song called ‘Sodomy’ — though granted, people walk out during that too,” he laughs.

A show like this may be a good fit in gay-friendly NYC, but DeAngelis likes the idea of bringing the message to the people, and not just preaching to the choir.

“Not always playing to a liberal New York audience is sort of the point of the show for us,” he says. “It’s such a message show; taking it to the people is important. Just because you come see Hair doesn’t mean you need to leave as a flower child. We say what we have to say and confront people. If we change a few minds, that’s awesome, but what we really want to do is force people to think about it.That’s the art form. Theater is important — I couldn’t do it for a living if I didn’t believe that. It really has an impact on people, shining a light on the darkest of corners.”

And, like few other musicals, Hair certainly does let the sunshine in.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Frau wow

HOUSEKEEPER FROM HELL  |  Joanna Glushak’s Frau Blucher gets one of the best gay songs in ‘Young Frankenstein:’ ‘He Vas My Boyfriend.’

Joanna Glushak helps turn ‘Young Frankenstein’ into something rare: A tour that outshines the original

STEVEN LINDSEY  |  Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

When Mel Brooks turned his iconic 1970s black-and-white comedy, Young Frankenstein, into a big-budget Broadway musical, it had all the components of a smash hit: Huge stars, a beloved story, spectacular production values. The result was a fun night at a New York theater, but it didn’t live up to expectations.

Then it went on tour and everything changed for the better. And Joanna Glushak’s delightful scenery chewing as Frau Blucher is a major reason why.

“I think a few things happened,” explains Glushak, who has portrayed Young Dr. F’s housekeeper since the show began touring in September 2009. “The cast is different in a good and bad way: The [original cast] was a very, very contentious cast because they had all these stars vying for attention and jokes and I think there was a lot of tension on that stage.”

Another change was scaling back the sets, which were competing with the actors themselves.

“The sets were humongous — we actually used those sets on the first leg of the tour. We downsized to a much smaller version, so we got rid of the big lab towers that flew up in the air. This gives you more focus on the actors and the humor. All that flying and all the mishegas kind of dwarfed the humor. We’re all sharing the stage now and playing with each other. I don’t think they were doing that as well on Broadway.”

The camaraderie among the new cast is apparent to anyone in the audience. There’s a gleam in their eyes and even moments when it seems that the actors are introducing new lines or jokes to make each other laugh. But in the end, they’re working from a classic comedy script, so some things will never change — even character traits from the original film. And Glushak had some big shoes to fill, following several notoriously campy icons on screen and stage.

“Each role comes to you differently,” Glushak says. “For this one, I watched Cloris Leachman’s performance [in the film] and tried to steal what she did. I’m not like her, but I could feel what she was doing. It made sense to me. I saw Andrea Martin [on Broadway], and it was different, of course, but it gave me a sense of freedom that I could take from both of them and still bring my own thing to it. So my feeling is you steal from the best and then you make it your own. You don’t turn your nose up at something that works.”

Glushak says the Frau Blucher role is a dream job for a character actress and one she’s thrilled to have landed.

“Mel Brooks writes with a rhythm, a very Jewish rhythm at times. Being Jewish, I get it. It’s in my blood. So I feel like I was born to play this role, I hate to say. It sounds so tacky, but in a way, I get it,” she says. “I come from the same background as Mel Brooks in a sense.”

One of the highlights of her stint in the show was the opportunity to meet Brooks.

“He’s been absolutely wonderful. That was the highlight of my life. I grew up looking at his movies, I never thought I’d meet him and talk to him and spend time with him, but I did. It’s amazing.”

Her favorite song, of course, is Blucher’s big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” which is very popular among gay audiences, probably due to the double-entendre laden lyrics about getting banged and plowed. Or maybe that her boyfriend won a three-legged race … all by himself.

“I don’t know if you know this, but the gay men’s choir [of Washington, D.C.] did a version of it,” she says. “I know it’s a big draw. It’s something new to sing at the musical theater bars!”

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

—  John Wright