Stage reviews: ‘Mame,’ ‘Silent Sky’

For more than seven years, Jay Dias has been delighting local audiences by taking the original, full arrangements of classic broadway shows — The Most Happy Fella, Anything Goes, The King and I, My Fair Lady and more — and remounting them with 30-plus piece orchestras at Lyric Stage in Irving. Having accomplished most of what he set our to he do, he raised his baton on the final show he’s doing for Lyric (other than occasional projects) last night, Jerry Herman’s Mame. And what a lovely note to go out on.

Based upon Patrick Dennis’ memoir of his irrepressible aunt — a flapper who became a Svengali to an impressionable young man by living life to its fullest (“life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!” was her motto) — Mame was Herman’s follow-up to Hello Dolly about another flamboyant broad. His style as a composer exemplifies the brassy showmanship we usually associate with the Broadway style. But as big and sentimental as the showstoppers can be, Herman is equally gifted in small moments with beautiful music and touching lyrics. “Open a New Window” and “If He Walked Into My Life” capture both the ebullience and the humanity of Mame, who struggles to provide for her nephew while remaining committed to being a role model for progressivism. She’s the fun relative we all wish we had (though in real life would be exhausting).

Herman and Dias are aided immeasurably by Julie Johnson as Mame. Even in this concert version (orchestra onstage, using minimal sets and blocking) Johnson’s charisma exudes from every pore. She hits the big notes like a Streisand and plucks the heartstrings. It’s a big show with big numbers and a big leading role, and she has the personality to match. Indeed, most of the principal actors — Christopher Sanders, Jack Doke, Daron Cockerell — are just as fabulous. The lone exception is Amy Mills as Vera Charles, Mame’s best friend and supposedly the greatest stage actress of her day. Mills just doesn’t have the presence to stand up to Johnson — she shuffles around the stage in dowdy black looking more like Mr. Chipping than Helen Hayes, and seems far out of her element. But who can hold focus with Johnson drawing your eye and Dias’ conducting engaging the ear. The show only runs through Sunday; see it while you can.

You’ll also want to catch another based-on-a-true-story production, this one in Addison. Three smart women, called “computers,” work diligently in the male-dominated field of science, with none ever getting the recognition they deserve, despite their fabulous contributions to our understanding of outer space. I’m talking, of course, of Hidden Figures… well, that, and Silent Sky, now onstage at WaterTower Theatre. Like the film, Silent Sky gives us a long-overdue alternative history of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (Anastasia Munoz), whose work at Harvard study cepheid stars at the turn of the last century forged the way for our understanding of how vast the universe really is … and how we can calculate astronomical distances. Edwin Hubble fully credited her with opening doors and making his work possible. The named a telescope after him; you’ve probably never even heard of her.

Which is the point of Lauren Gunderson’s play. She presents a Henrietta who was smarter than the men around her but considered a troublemaker also by women who saw her as defying conventions of femininity and not knowing her place. A good point, but the play tends to rest of cliches as it rewrites history with large doses of poetic license, including a fictionalized romantic interest and a squishy timeline. Gunderson tends to write in modern idioms, making the characters sound a little to 21st century. I wish the play itself were stronger, but I have no quibble with the production. Munoz shines as the fiercely intelligent Henrietta, and Shannon J McGrann provides perfectly-timed comic relief as one of her co-workers. The rapport between them and Marianne Galloway as an early suffragette holds the play together, even during the overlong first act, when seems to lurch toward four different breaks before finally settling on one.

Clare Floyd Devries’ set and Kelsey Leigh Ervi’s direction add to the wonder and beauty of the universe. Try not to be inspired by the legacy these nasty women left.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’

GGLAM Tour 3In the 1940s and ’50s, Britain’s Ealing Studios dominated the landscape of sophisticated dark comedies. The Man in the White Suit, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers all starred the great Alec Guinness as the deadpan anti-hero in outrageous adventures that were far to smart to just be labeled farces. One of Guinness’ best roles, though, was actually eight roles: All the family members (young/old, male/female, gentle/wicked) tapped as victims of a murderous social-climbing illegitimate heir to an hereditary earldom in the cultural commentary Kind Hearts and Coronets. A comedy about murder? It might not have been the first, but it remains one of the best, and gave Guinness a signature turn at creating multiple memorable characters with abandon. (In recent years, no one but Eddie Murphy has really tried to replicate that feat, or at least done so successfully.)

The 2014 Broadway musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder isn’t a carbon-copy of the Ealing film (the ending is different, and of course it’s a musical), but it’s just as withering in its dissection of the British classes… and it gives actor John Rapson free rein to horse around as all the members of the D’Ysquith family, soon to be knocked off my young, ambitious Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), the disinherited black sheep of the D’Ysquiths who wants to become earl so he can marry his gold-digging girlfriend … even though he’s actually falling for his distant cousin.

This production, at the Winspear through Sunday, had the good sense to be as fluffy and delightful as cotton candy, with a stage-within-a-stage that adds a layer of artifice: It’s an old-style English music hall, a vaudeville of jaunty songs and colorful costumes and sets. (The show it most calls to mind for theater queens might be The Mystery of Edwin Drood.) Nevertheless, writer Robert L. Freedman sneaks in some saucy political commentary among the one-liners. It’s a fanciful and clever show, a bright respite from the summer heat.

At the Winspear through Aug. 28.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Xiu Xiu’s “Beauty Towne”

In this Friday’s issue, I’ll have a review of avant-popsters Xiu Xiu‘s new album Always which drops March 6. But the band is already on a roll with its second single. “Beauty Towne” is a sort of companion piece to their early song “Clowne Towne,” but their growth is clearly evident. Keeping true to their obscure notions, the band doesn’t appear in the animated video which plays like a not-so-creepy animatic rough cut of the haunted video from Ringu (the original Japanese version of The Ring).

Queer singer Jamie Stewart and his gang have announced tour dates yesterday on the band’s website. For now, the only Texas dates include Austin on June 6 and Marfa (WTF??) on June 5.

Watch “Beauty Towne” after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

Movie Monday: ‘House of Boys’ in limited run at the Texas Theatre

Where the Boys are

House of Boys is basically Burlesque with men, Mohawks and leg-warmers (and without Cher) — an otherworldly allegory about humanizing the denizens of the gay subculture. As such, it’s both depressing and titillating. It convincingly recreates the era’s sexual openness, but also its dirty authenticity: Sex in the shower with a young punk may be hot, but you know the tub is moldy. (European films seem unnervingly comfortable portraying the murky reality of life — and Udo Kier in a gold bustier and blonde Marilyn wig is about as real and murky as life gets.)

For the entire review click here.

DEETS: Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. 9:20 p.m. 117 min. Not rated. Through Thursday. TheTexasTheatre.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Banks Appointed to Citizen Police Oversight Board

Kris Banks

Kris Banks

On Wednesday the Houston City Council confirmed Mayor Annise Parker’s appointment of Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Kris Banks to the Independent Police Oversight Board.  The Oversight Board provides a way for Houstonians to have input into allegations against police officers involving use of excessive force, discharge of firearms, serious bodily injury or death or mistreatment of citizens.  The Board also makes recommendations on recruitment, training and evaluation of police officers; and considers community concerns regarding the Department.  Houstini talked with Banks about his new role:

[Houstini] Why have you agreed to serve on the Oversight Board?

[Banks] I believe the Oversight Board performs an important and vital function that benefits all involved. Police officers are granted extraordinary powers over their fellow Houstonians. They can, under legally sufficient circumstances, detain people against their will, walk into other people’s homes without their permission, and even use physical force to make people comply. We grant police officers these powers because they are necessary for the officers to do their jobs. However, with these great powers come great responsibility, and the Oversight Board exists as a check on those powers, thereby protecting the public against the very rare officer who uses her or his powers irresponsibility or excessively. It also benefits the police department. With the assurance that the Board is providing oversight, members of the public can be more confident of the police department, and form a better working relationship with officers.

[Houstini] What do LGBT Houstonians who have concerns about police behavior need to know about the mission of the Oversight Board?

[Banks] Historically, the LGBT community has had concerns about very broad and obvious police harassment, like bar raids. Incidents like these still occur (see Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth), but they tend to not be the focus of issues that exists between the LGBT community and the police department. Concerns between the community and the police department now tend to be over specific incidents that sometimes come to light and sometimes do not. That being said, the IPOB will review internal police investigations for complaints of excessive force, any discharge of a firearm, any time there is a death or serious injury, or any matter the police chief refers to us. We make recommendations, and the chief has ultimate discretion. What I want to highlight here is that a complaint has to be made for the IPOB to have any role. Complaints have to be sworn, either by the complainant, or, if the complaint is anonymous, by the person taking the complaint.

LGBT Houstonians should also know that I take my role as a community representative very seriously. I will not only take my perspective as an LGBT Houstonian to the police department, I will also take the knowledge I gain back of police procedure back to the community. For instance, I mentioned anonymous complaints above. In the training I have received so far, I learned that organizations can be deputized to take anonymous complaints (LULAC and the NAACP are both deputized). Anonymous complaints are, unfortunately, a big concern for our community. Whether because our congress has failed to pass job protections, family concerns, or any other personal reason, there are still many, many people in the closet. But being in the closet does not mean that a person is not protected. I will learn more about the deputizing community groups and take that back to organizations in our community like the Caucus, Community Center and Transgender Foundation so they can begin that process (as a caveat, I do not have a full list of deputized organizations and any of these organizations may already be deputized).

—  admin

Movie Monday: ‘Weekend’ at the Magnolia

Start week out with the ‘Weekend’

Weekend conjures moments of early Gus Van Sant, like My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy: It’s full of textures and naturalistic moments that feel unforced. Haigh is a master of long takes that are voyeuristic without seeming prurient. When Glen and Russell meet up again, their banter is both meaningless and confessional, which creates a palpable tension. Their body language points to hormones racing, but they are determined not to make this relationship only about sex, even though the sexual energy is undeniable. This makes the scenes romantic and erotic, and when they explode with passion, you don’t feel like the director has inserted a de rigueur sex scene, but encapsulated the dynamics of the hookup-turned-real-relationship dance (including the slightly scary obsessiveness of “Is this the one?” angst).

Read the entire review here.

—  Rich Lopez

Movie Monday: Gus Van Sant’s ‘Restless’ at the Angelika

Get a little Restless today

Any other director would almost certainly have turned Restless into a maudlin tearjerker (even the disrespectfully crass Judd Apatow made the mawkish disaster Funny People). But Van Sant operates on about two settings: Crazy genius (Milk, To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy) and disastrous boondoggle (his misguided Psycho remake) …. though he throws some impenetrable art films in as well (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). Restless is really none of those, though it is very good — a lighthearted look at death that never seems off-beat for its own sake.

Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Starring Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska. 95 min. Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

‘The Tempest’ tonight at the Wyly

DTC delivers Shakespeare like no other

There are several such gasp-inducing moments in his staging of The Tempest, starting with the opening scene, set on an airplane instead of a boat. As the wizard Prospero (Chamblee Ferguson), like Desmond from Lost, rips the jet from the sky, the stage instantly transforms into a barren wasteland, as stark and beautiful as any set the Dallas Theater Center has ever produced. There are trap doors and bits of magic and flying fairies. It will make you say, “Wow.”

Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Wyly Theatre, 2401 Flora St. Through Oct. 9. $25.  DallasTheaterCenter.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Movie Monday: ‘Warrior’ in wide release

Here’s the beef

There are worse ways to spend two hours in a movie theater than watching hulking, half-naked man-meat wail on each other — in fact, it’s hard to imagine a better way. That’s at least part of the appeal of Warrior.

Set in the world of mixed martial arts, it’s a fiction film (it’s from Gavin O’Connor, the director of Miracle, about the real-life 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team) about two estranged brothers who face off for the ultimate glory: One (Joel Edgerton), a family man in financial straights, the other (Tom Hardy), a troubled Gulf War veteran with something to prove. If that sounds cliched, just try watching it.

No really, do — because, as predictable and manipulative as Warrior is, it’s also damned entertaining, in the way only the hokiest of sports movies can be. I grew up in a sports household, so have long held a soft spot for movies like Million Dollar Baby, Rocky III and The Fighter, all of which this resembles more than passingly.

Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton. 139 minutes. PG-13. Three stars.

—  Rich Lopez

The uber-gay original ‘Fright Night’ (NSFW)

In this week’s edition, I review the remake of the 1985 cult hit Fright Night with Colin Farrell. Walking down memory lane to my childhood (OK, I was in college), I got to thinking just how gay the original version was. How gay? Well, in addition to the vampire being portrayed as pansexual if not outright queer (he’s very fey as portrayed by Chris Sarandon), here are a few other elements that make it still a Very Gay Movie:

• Other than Sarandon, the name-brand star of the film was gay actor Roddy McDowall.

• 1985 marked the film debut of co-star Amanda Bearse, who played the hero’s love interest. Bearse later went on to star in Married… With Children before coming out as lesbian in 1993.

• Stephen Geoffreys, the actor who played “Evil” Ed, is openly gay. How openly? Well, you might know him from some of his other screen performances — under the name Sam Ritter — in films like Cock Pit or Guys Who Crave Big Cocks. Yep, Evil’s second career is in hardcore gay porn, pictured below.

Ah, I miss the ’80s.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones