2011 Year in Review: Concerts

Minaj-89

Nicki Minaj

The ladies ran the world this year — or at least the concert stage, whether dives or arenas.

1. Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae (Verizon Theatre). These two crashed the venue with the year’s most amazing live performances. Monae, in all her spastic glory, ran across the stage and into the audience, proving why she is the next Prince. And with her futuristic-themed album Archandroid, her band was loud and live minus any apparent electronic help. Mars did the same but recalled old-school showmanship, channeling Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Smokey Robinson as he and his own band filled the place with raucous horns, slamming percussion and Mars’ charisma.

2. Nicki Minaj (American Airlines, pictured). Britney sputtered before her concert hit its stride halfway through, but Minaj brought it from the get-go. With military precision, she and her troupe marched and danced while the audience roared, spanking the American Airlines Center as if she were the headliner, making everyone in the crowd her bitch. And all were on board. Her ovation with Spears was proof that Minaj’s star has arrived.

3. Jackie Hall (Lakewood Bar & Grill). A surprise at the May edition of Twist LGBT, stepped in with local band One Night Stand to end the night with a bang. Even as the crowd dwindled, Hall went full bore, working up those left into a frenzy with powerful covers. This lady sings the blues and rock and pop, but turns them out like no other.

4. Scissor Sisters (American Airlines Center). There is no way to steal a show from Lady Gaga, but the Sisters didn’t need to, giving a workout of a show. Ridiculously pumped Jake Shears burned a million calories with his high-energy antics (and that ass-reveal, a great bonus). Ana Matronic held her own as Shears’ equal with funk and sass. True fans were breathless.

5. Brandi Carlile (Granada Theatre). Without much fanfare, Carlile and her legions of fans in the mid-sized Granada were like one entity fused together. Her fans gave her space to sing softly, to go unplugged and to simply love her. She gave it right back with both grit and tenderness that were triggering all the ladies’ pheromones.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

— R.L.               

—  Kevin Thomas

Let’s misbehave

Turtle Creek Chorale, from Cole Porter & beyond

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

OLD  KING COLE | The Turtle Creek Chorale, led by artistic director Jonathan Palant, above, closes the season with an ode to queer American composer Cole Porter.

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NIGHT AND DAY
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. June 23 and 26 at 8 p.m. $37–$65.
TurtleCreek.org

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The name Cole Porter conjures in most people an erudite American composer, the one who wrote the witty ditty “Anything Goes.” But who knew he was kind of a perv — at least, as a lyricist?

While the members of the Turtle Creek Chorale plan to keep their composure in the upcoming concert Night and Day: The Music of Cole Porter, artistic director Jonathan Palant reveals that Porter had an edgy side. His song titles alone are some obvious giveaways, but hidden lyrics about penises and post-op eunuchs are shocking.

“He was really smart, but yeah, a little dirty,” Palant says. “We’re not singing those lyrics of course, but it’s not hard to figure it out with songs like ‘I Wanna Be Raided By You’ and ‘Rub Your Lamp.’”

And then there’s the snicker effect when Palant discusses the tunes that thread throughout the concert.

“The songs that link the show include ‘Blow Gabriel Blow,’ ‘You’re the Top’ and… yes, I know,” he says. “The TCC blows and tops Cole Porter — that could be your headline!”

The concert will, in true Turtle fashion, feature a heavy dose of fabulousness. It isn’t just a celebration of Porter, it’s a choral romp with showmanship. Michael Serrecchia directs and choreographs the show, which will feature the Turtle Tappers, a group of 15 dancers with a twist, dueting puppets, circus clowns and strongmen. Add featured vocalist Denise Lee and lead dancer Jeremy Dumont, and it will become an event.

Even while steeping in standards from the American Songbook, Palant and Serrecchia bring a modern take to the program with some mashups, like Lee fusing “Let’s Misbehave” and “Let’s Fall in Love” in what Palant calls “a duet with herself.” Yeah, and puppets.

“She’s so funny and clever,” he says. “The puppets are twins but she’s the voice. We’re thrilled to welcome her back to the stage. She has such a rapport with the men and the audience. You just fall in love with her.”

“This is very much a fun, Friday night out at the movies show,” Palant says. “It doesn’t pull at heartstrings, there’s no memorial, no loss but not ‘ooey gooey.’ It’s just fun and people can come and enjoy. They don’t have to think, they can just be entertained — which is one of the pillars of our mission.”

With that, he does hint at what to expect in the near future. The chorale will mark its upcoming 32nd season with special guests including the Fort Worth Symphony and the return of the United States Army Chorus.
And, Palant promises, “an ode to Madonna.” Both Madonnas, actually.

Until then, it’s about Cole Porter and what he wants the audiences to not only enjoy, but learn from. Palant bets people are more familiar with Porter than they think: His melodies permeate everything from commercials to elevator music. For Palant, that is part of Porter’s legacy and magic.

“When I listen to the radio, I go through the station until I find a song I like,” he says. “Then I stay on that station to hear other songs. Porter’s music transcends through history and sparks familiarity, so people will hear his popular songs but learn about new ones.”

Which is just de-lovely.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

From light to darkness

‘B’way Our Way’ takes it up a notch; ‘Language of Angels’ best left unheard

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

BOW-2011-Show-stills-592
PUTTIN’ ON THE GLITZ | Coy Covington and Drew Kelly display some sassy showmanship in Uptown Players’ annual fundraiser, ‘Broadway Our Way: Divas Rising.’

I kind of miss the old Broadway Our Way, Uptown Players’ annual comedy-musical showcase that served as a season-kickoff and fundraiser for the gaycentric theater troupe. When the company performed at the Trinity River Arts Center in a 120-seat auditorium, there was intimacy and love as local actors, musicians and directors volunteered their time with limited sets and costumes to put on a show the old-fashioned way.

Now that the show (like all Uptown shows) is performed at the historic Kalita Humphreys Theater, there’s more gravitas and less camaraderie. It’s not just a fundraiser; it’s An Event.

When you walk into the latest incarnation, Divas Rising, you can’t help but be impressed by the monster set, the use of the giant lazy susan stage, the many costumes and two-dozen performers. It’s a true production.

We can lament the all-in-this-together quality falling by the wayside, but we have to acknowledge how important it is for Uptown, in its 10th season, to have come so far so fast. This is slick theater — and still mounted, as a labor of love, by the talent onstage and behind the scenes — as usual, Andi Allen wrote and directed, with hip parodies of Glee and a swishy camp sensibility that plays well with the mixed audience.

Among the performers are some of Dallas’ best, who sing songs originally written for members of the opposite sex. That allows Wendy Welch to soar on the (now-lesbified) love ballad “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd and Rick Starkweather to jerk unexpected tears from my eyes on “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked. It gives Natalie King a perfect-fit 11 o’clock number in “Memphis Lives in Me” and host Paul J. Williams free rein to vamp with the audience as Sister Helen Holy.

This year’s version of BOW is perky in Act 1, downbeat in Act 2, but then, like Glee, it ends with “Don’t Stop Believin’.” We believe guys;
we still believe.
If BOW keeps it light and gay, Language of Angels, in the appropriately cavernous space at Theatre Too, is dark as night.

The premise is intriguing: While out with friends, a teenaged girl disappears in the labyrinth of caves in the North Carolina mountains. Was she killed? Did she slip? Or did something else entirely happen to her? And why?

These kinds of mysteries are perfect grist for drama, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the new AMC series The Killing to Peter Weir’s allegorical film Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s OK for these stories to luxuriate in the unanswerable, to raise existential questions and challenge us to understand.

Language of Angels does none of that, though it tries — oh, how it tries. It’s a muddle of naïve and conflicting ideas told out of time with deep pretension.

Playwright Naomi Iizuka is so fond of her own sense of language, she makes her characters say things they never would. (One beer-swilling mountain boy describes the “fuchsia” accents on his girlfriend’s tattoo; I doubt even the gay boys in Carolina say fuchsia, for crying out loud.) And it all takes place in near darkness. I doubt even the enhanced interrogation techniques usedat Gitmo to squeeze bin Laden’s location out of Taliban loyalists could be more excruciating than the first half hour of this play.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

 


—  Kevin Thomas

Review: Elton John in Fort Worth

When Elton John stepped onstage of the big but charmless auditorium that is the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena on Saturday, the near-sellout crowd went crazy. But it would be another half-hour before he played or sang a note. Instead, he introduced his co-headliners for the evening, Leon Russell. And thus began a rollicking and nostalgic marathon of music.

Russell, whose snowy mane and white Resistol made him look like Gandalf interpreted through a western idiom, banged out some piano-based acoustic bluesy folk songs given an acid-electric background — think “Layla.” Or for that matter, Elton himself. Russell has the same nasally wail that Willie Nelson has perfected, and took to five songs in his 20-minute set — including his signature “A Song for You” to a respectful, sometimes enthusiastic audience – before Sir E emerged. Then things went wild.

Elton kicked off, appropriately enough, with “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting,” and proceeded through 40 minutes of his classics: “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and most impressively, a The Who-length (18-minute by my count) extended version of “Rocket Man” that generated several applause lines. (Watch video below.)

In the current AGE (by which I mean, of course, After the Gaga Era), the two badly placed screens and retro graphics were old-fashioned, even quaint, but not bad. In fact, the images took me back to my early youth during the bicentennial, when Elton reigned alongside The Captain and Tennille and The Carpenters. (Indeed: He is still standing.) It conjured the great ’70s era of what we thought flamboyance and showmanship was — only there were also great lyrics.

There were some great lyrics, too, when Russell joined him for another set off their new T-Bone Burnett-produced album, The Union, which has some beautiful melodies and rockabilly soul, but old or new stuff one thing’s clear: Elton still has it. Sure, he couldn’t hit the highest notes of the register (he didn’t even attempt the “no, no, no, no” on “Rocket Man”), but he looks good (if heavier) and sounds even better than he deserved to. The bitch is back? Damn, seems like he never left.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones