The Tonys, as always, are super-gay

The Tony Awards are hands-down the gayest of the major awards shows, from host Neil Patrick Harris (who called it “50 Shades of Gay”) to presenters and performers like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ricky Martin and Raul Esparza … hell, even the nominees (Cynthia Nixon, writer Joe DiPietro) and winners (Newsies lyricist Jack Feldman, Death of a Salesman producer Scott Rudin) are gay, or gay-adjacent (Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Judith Light). And with Hugh Jackman presented a special award by his wife (in terrible shoes) and the Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar clad in crotch-hugging iridescent pants and Dallas’ own Cedric Neal clearly featured in best revival of a musical winner Porgy & Bess … well, it was a queerly delicious evening.

It was even better from the seats in the Winspear Opera House, where ATTPAC hosted a free Tony-watching party, marred only by co-host Sandie Newton’s ghastly banter (she cooed over how pretty Bernadette Peters looked, then sniped at John Larroquette as looking old while taking the cop-out “it’s a four-way tie!” approach to the costume contestants, when the team from Evita clearly won).

The big winner was the musical Once, with eight awards, and the play Peter and the Starcatcher with five. Only one of the four musical nominees was not based on movie; sigh.

Here are the winners:

MUSICALS

Musical — Once

Revival — Porgy and Bess

Director — John Tiffany, Once

Actor — Steve Kazee, Once

Actress — Audra McDonald, Porgy and Bess

Featured Actor — Michael McGrath, Nice Work If You Can Get It

Featured Actress — Judy Kaye, Nice Work If You Can Get It

Lighting Design — Once

Set Design — Once

Costume Design — Follies

Sound Design — Once

Score — Newsies

Book — Once

Orchestrations — Once

PLAYS

Play — Clybourne Park

Revival — Death of a Salesman

Director — Death of a Salesman

Actor — James Carden, One Man, Two Guvnors

Actress — Nina Arianda, Venus in Fur

Featured Actor — Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher

Featured Actress — Judith Light, Other Desert Cities

Lighting Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

Set Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

Costume Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

Sound Design — Peter and the Starcatcher

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas connections to the 2012 Tony noms

The 2012 Tony Award nominations came out this morning, with the new musical Once (based on the Irish film) getting the most nominations (11). But actually a couple of other productions are even more interesting to Dallas audiences.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which features Dallas actor Cedric Neal, received 10 noms, including best revival of a musical. And Lysistrata Jones, which began as a world premiere at the Dallas Theater Center (under the name Give It Up) received a nom for best book of a musical for Douglas Carter Beane. He’ll go up against fellow gay writer Joe DiPietro for Nice Work If You Can Get It. Unfortunately, Liz Mikel, who wowed Dallas and New York audiences, was not singled out for her performance.

This is the Tonys, so gay nominees abound. The revival of Sondheim’s Follies scored a number of nominations (including, for my money, likely winner Jan Maxwell). Gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz got a nod for best play for Other Desert Cities. Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (with a gay twist) was nominated for best revival of a play as well as best actor James Earl Jones; he’ll face against John Lithgow, who was nominated for another gay play, The Columnist (which also features former Dallasite Brian J. Smith as Lithgow’s  six-pack-ab’d trick). Lesbian actress Cynthia Nixon is up for her performance in Wit.

Jeff Calhoun, whom I interviewed last year, is nominated for best director of a musical for Newsies. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark got only two design nominations, though ironically, the new movie Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, was nominated for best featured actor in a play for Death of a Salesman.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Going bi (coastal)

2 weeks, 2 cities, 2 coasts! Part 1 of our U.S. winter east-to-west tour: NYC

follies-30

BERN THE FLOOR | Bernadette Peters returns to B’way for more Sondheim in the smash revival of ‘Follies.’ (Photo courtesy Joan Marcus)

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

What’s it like to, in one week, clock time on both major coasts in America’s two largest cities? For New York in winter, it’s all about theater; in Hollywood, it’s about the movies (and the weather, a welcome break from the cold). And both have great places to eat.
First up: NYC. This time of year, the wind bites through you there, so a trip has to be based on the theater season, which is at its midpoint. Some of the hits have become apparent and new ones promise something great in the spring.

Follies isn’t the not-to-miss Sondheim experience that A Little Night Music was last year — at least after Bernadette Peters took over for Catherine Zeta-Jones — but it is all Bernadette, without replacement — though she shares the limelight with Jan Maxwell, who almost steals the show. Seldom staged because of its huge cast, elaborate costumes and sets, Follies is a nostalgic take on the fate of musical theater as viewed from 40 years ago; little has changed.

But it also crystallized Sondheim’s peculiar thematic preoccupation with nostalgia. See it, and you instantly realize how many of his shows are about the wistful, bittersweet resignation from looking back on one’s youth: In Follies, the younger selves of the ageing chorus girls; in Sweeney Todd, a life lost to a corrupt judge; the rekindling of a long-dead romance in Night Music; the simplicity (or not?) of the fairy tale world of Into the Woods. This production is a wonderful reminder of that and much more, beautifully performed by an exceptional cast.

Follies closes this weekend; not so Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which officially opened last week. The quintessential American opera, set along Charleston’s Catfish Row, it evokes rural life through the sound of the spiritual mixed with honkytonk abandon. This new production, with the incomparable Audra McDonald in the lead and Dallas’ own Cedric Neal among the company, was the only show every employee at the TKTS booth unconditionally recommended … and for good reason. Get up and see it.

Both of those shows are revivals; original musicals are in short supply this season — at least those with any staying power. Bonnie & Clyde and the Dallas-bred Lysistrata Jones died quickly (the latter despite a rave in the New York Times; still, look for Liz Mikel a possible Tony nominee in May). Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark continues to draw crowds in amounts equal to the contempt held by the theater community, but it has been around since 2010 thanks to a record-setting six months of previews.

The big new musicals of the season have yet to open: Rebecca, Once, Newsies, Ghost and the pastiche Nice Work if You Can Get It (more Gershwin). So go up now for some plays, which are significantly less expensive to see and good seats are more readily available.

Another revival, Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca, isn’t totally successful, although its tight second act — featuring a tremendously devilish performance by Jim Dale as a sleazy preacher in South Africa trying to trick an old lady into giving up her house — nearly vindicates the logy first act, which prattled on endlessly and without seeming point. By the end, though, you realize the message of faith versus religion versus spirituality, plus you get to see a classic theater actor, Rosemary Harris, onstage right next door to Spider-Man (she played Aunt Mae in the film versions — how’s that for coincidence?).

The best new plays now running should be on any theatergoer’s list. Seminar is Theresa Rebeck’s smart, fast-paced comedy about a pompous but oh-so-perceptive writing teacher instructing four aspiring novelists about how bad they really are … and how they could be great. As the sardonic anti-hero, the magnificent Alan Rickman commands the stage. At a climactic point, he delivers a monologue that could have seemed trite and mawkish, except that Rebeck’s writing is so strong and he’s such an accomplished actor it works wonderfully. Hamish Linklater provides a terrific foil, and Lily Rabe, as a tart upper-class dilettante, handles Sam Gold’s bullet direction masterfully. No one even pauses for the laughs. That’s a good way to get audiences back  — so they can hear the jokes they missed this first time.

David Henry Hwang returns to Broadway with his best play since the gender-bending M. Butterfly. Chinglish(which closes Jan. 29) pits a plainspoken Midwesterner against the opaque business customs and complex social rules of China, but the point is broader. The problem of communication is not just between two cultures, but between men and women, and business-folk trying to gain an edge. Intelligently plotted and sharply directed by Leigh Silverman (the use of supertitles projected on the dazzlingly versatile set is inspired), it benefits from a memorable performance by Jennifer Lim as a canny Chinese functionary.

PUBLIC_Library_Detail

GRADE A | Public, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Nolita, offers great food in a high school themed setting. (Photo courtesy Public)

Of course, a theater trip to New York necessarily includes more than theater: You have to eat while you’re there, and the tradition of the pre- and post-theater meal is as honored as the show itself. It’s easy to get stuck along the stand-bys around Times Square (I always stop by John’s Pizzeria), but two newish restaurants — one far uptown, one far down — make for inventive off-the-beaten-path dining experiences.

Public, a Michelin-starred resto in Nolita, boasts something few Midtown restaurants can: space. Inspired by a public high school: Its dining rooms are lined with card catalogues, its security-glass doored bathrooms so authentic you expect to get a swirly, its menus presented on clipboards in a style that calls an exam paper (for a minute, I worried the waiter would grade me on how well I ordered). If it were all gimmick and no follow-through, these conceits would probably seem annoyingly twee, but they take a backseat to the food.

Its fusion dining from chef Brad Farmerie, with diverse dishes like roasted foie gras on a buttered brioche that’s richly flavorful, both fruity and salty; the scallops, while not fully caramelized, were so well-dressed with a miso salsa as to make you forgive that. For entrees, the Chatham cod’s fleshy, moist but well-charred preparation is not to miss, nor are the medallions of rare venison on a chewy blue cheese mash evocative of gnocchi. Add a great wine list, and Public is the perfect out-of-the-way find that makes a New York trip fun.

Red Rooster from celebrichef Marcus Samuelsson is out of the way in a different direction. Born in Africa but adopted by Swedes, Samuelsson gained fame at Aquavit, which made Scandinavian food hip. Now, he’s embraced the food of the African-American community.

He dropped Red Rooster, which opened about a year ago, in the middle of Harlem at the famed intersection of Lenox Avenue and 125th Street (the Apollo Theater is around the corner), giving neighbors, savvy downtowners and adventurous out-of-towners a polished (if slightly pricey) take on down-home cooking.

Samuelsson offers up droll reinventions of soul food classic like must-have “yard bird” (that’s just chicken — $24) fried in a crisp batter that has hints of cinnamon, perched on a bed of cheesy mashed potatoes and with a spicy-spicy house sauce that could bring out the secret flavors in a rice cake.

His Helga’s meatballs ($24) are equally delish, a kind of strange take on Thanksgiving with a lingonberry relish and paper-thin but crunchy housemade pickles, served alongside dill potatoes. It’s remarkable, how this comfort food warms you even though you’d never had it before. Hint: Start your meal with a side of mini tacos and tostadas ($9), four bite-sized bits of ceviche that are the perfect way to whet your appetite.

The bar is exceptional both in appearance (a bulbous horseshoe, topped in shiny copper) and substance — a drink menu worth repeated visits. Try the flight of craft beers ($9), or the Brownstoner ($12), a dazzling modification of the Manhattan. There’s even live music some evenings, giving you the true Harlem experience without having to brave a pub-and-club crawl in the frigid cold.

You don’t have to worry about the cold in Los Angeles … which will be the upcoming part 2.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Rex Reed introduces you to Ira Gershwin tonight at the Eisemann Center

Famous for his bitchy film criticism, Fort Worth-born Rex Reed  turns his eye (and his ear) to music with Ira Gershwin revue

Watching too many movies can be a bad thing. After years of deconstructing films and either ripping them apart or praising their genius, Rex Reed has finally had enough. For now at least.

“You have no idea of the crap I sit through. Movies today are ghastly,” Reed says. “I gotta get out of this rut. Everybody has to do something in life that’s a little bit of fun and I love this a million times more than reviewing.“

“This” refers to The Man that Got Away: Ira without George — The Lyrics of Ira Gershwin, a show Reed created to celebrate the work of the lesser-known songwriting brother. The production makes its first stop outside of New York in North Texas Nov. 12 at the Eisemann Center.

“This show is a celebration of his genius,” he says. “I feel this kind of music is our culture; it’s America’s greatest gift to this world and it’s in danger of disappearing.”

Along for the ride with Reed are performers Tom Wopat, Marilyn Maye and Susan Mays, who sing songs from Gershwin’s catalog. They help Reed do his part in preserving a part of American culture, in which he gave preferential treatment to his favorite lyricist. He created this show to bring Ira from under his brother’s shadow, despite Ira having the longer career. But with George’s huge signature pieces, Reed still has to remind people that they aren’t going to get what they think they came for. Either that, or they don’t know the difference between the two siblings.

“George has always had his share of fame and praise even though he rarely made a move without his brother,” he says. “It was time he got his fair share. This is not about George. We’re not gonna have Rhapsody in Blue or Porgy and Bess. This is all Ira on his own.”

DEETS: The Man that Got Away: Ira without George — The Lyrics of Ira Gershwin. Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. 8 p.m. $39–$72. EisemannCenter.com.

—  Rich Lopez