N2Narnold1Stage, it is said, is an actor’s medium, and that is true with the local theater community, who did excellent work last year. Pam Daugherty and Jerry Crow breathed comfortable authenticity in Theatre 3’s contribution to the Foote Festival, The Roads to Home; seven months later on the same stage, Sally Soldo and Sonny Franks transformed the domestic musical A Catered Affair into a kitchen-sink master class in acting for the musical genre.

Larry Randolph, in the nearly-one-man show The Madness of Lady Bright, was a dazzling tragic tour-de-force of a drag queen in winter, nearly matched by Barry Nash’s entirely-one-man show Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of the Self, both running at the Festival of Independent Theatres — Bright from 1:30 Productions, Birdnow from Second Thought Theater. Second Thought was also represented by the threesome of Drew Wall, Natalie Young and Alex Organ, in the most compelling drama of the first half of 2011, Red Light Winter; Organ scored again (at comedy) in WaterTower Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, stealing the show in several roles.

The men offered the “wow” factor to DTC’s The Wiz, with Scarecrow James Tyrone Lane, Lion David Ryan Smith and Tin Man Sydney James Harcourt buoying that production. Oozing charisma, Wade McCollum’s sinewy, villainous M.C. in Cabaret turned a part often played for androgyny into a testosterone-laden sex show. Max Swarner oozed something different — goofy likeability — in ICT’s How to Succeed.

Comic women shone at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, with Emily Scott Banks and Catherine Wall standouts in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, while Shannon J. McGrann plucked her way through Bad Dates. The entire cast of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Kitchen Dog Theater “got” the humor in a sickly perverse comedy. Angel Velasco’s brain-dead beachcomber was a comic hoot in Level Ground Arts’ camptacular musical Xanadu.

But a trio of actors at Uptown Players made 2011 special. First Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd, pictured, turned the quasi-opera Next to Normal into Uptown’s best production to date, exploring music, family life and mental illness with tenderness and strength.

If I had to pick one performance I can’t shake all these months later, it would be Lulu Ward in, of all things, the Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century. Over a 25-minute monologue as the craft-happy mother of a son with HIV, she delved into the quirky charms of a kitschy Southerner to the depths of pain a mother feels watching her child die. Between fits of uncontrollable laughter was a cascade of tears from the audience as she choked back hers. You couldn’t walk away from what seemed like a frivolous comedy without feeling transformed by Ward’s performance. That’s what made her the actor of the year.

— A.W.J.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Gay wedding (the other kind)

A wedding spins out of control in the insightful musical ‘A Catered Affair’


FATHER OF THE BRIDE | A penny-pinching cabbie (Sonny Franks) argues with his wife (Sally Soldo) over the cost of their daughter’s reception in Theatre 3’s charmer ‘A Catered Affair.’


ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Not every marriage-minded gal is a bridezilla — not that anyone will believe it. Jane Hurley has simple tastes: A civil ceremony at the courthouse, followed by a quick honeymoon getaway driving a car cross-country for a friend. No place cards, no guest list, no nosegay — just a license, a vow and groom, with mom and dad watching.

Only who would buy that? Jane’s mom, Aggie (Sally Soldo) does, as does her dad (Sonny Franks), who’s happy not to exhaust his bankbook throwing a party for someone else. But the groom’s parents don’t like it, and the gossipy neighbors suspect such a quickie wedding bespeaks of a pregnant bride.

A Catered Affair is based on a 1956 movie (and an earlier teleplay) starring Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, but while the original was a schmaltzy comedy along the lines of Father of the Bride, the musical — adapted by Harvey Fierstein, with a score by composer John Bucchino — is something else entirely.

There are broad comic moments, most dealing with dad’s penny-pinching, but the core of the story is deeper, more meaningful. (The “dad’s a cheapskate” angle has been played out too many times to count, and takes a backseat here.) Jane has lived in the shadow of her brother, who was killed in Korea; her Uncle Winston (Chris Wagley) is profoundly wounded that he isn’t invited to the ceremony attributing it to Jane’s disguised embarrassment over having a gay relative. And the tension between her parents churns up long-standing resentments that threaten their marriage.

Bucchino has composed a nice chamber musical with Sondheim-esque sensibilities (an asymmetrical rhyme scheme strung on staccato motifs that are occasionally lovely but defiantly unhummable). He’s more concerned with telling a story and revealing character than creating earworms for the drive home.

Fierstein’s script expands on the gay content, making Uncle Win simultaneously flamboyant, coy, brittle and defensive. In fact, the book explores issues of social convention (who wants the wedding and why) with unexpected insight.

Director Jac Alder paces the show well, and strikes a tricky tone. This isn’t Death of a Salesman: The Musical. It shouldn’t be dour and heavy, even as it frankly addresses issues about war and child rearing and the ends of marriage.

This is Soldo’s best work. Her hair snapped into a tight, graying bun, clad in a frumpy housedress, she exudes a working class ma from the Bronx, boiling hambones to stretch her food dollar. It’s not a glamorous role, but she gives it not just authenticity, but weightiness, especially on “Our Only Daughter.”

Soldo is matched by Franks, who looks so unlike what you’d expect a musical comedy performer to look like, he’s one of the best there is. Their pairing works even as the script toggles between comic fable and serious social document. They are the heart and soul of A Catered Affair, and certainly make it worth an RSVP.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas