Ohlook revives “Trannie” late-night, kicks off gay-friendly summer season with “Hairspray”

Your son may not come out tomorrow, but Trannie will.

Ohlook Performing Arts Center, which debuted the weirdly sweet musical Trannie — about a cross-dressing teen searching for her two daddies — in 2011 at its previous home in Grapevine, is reviving the musical satire at their new home. It’s still a late-night, adults-only kind of show, written by Matthew Lord (he of the Redneck Tenors), with songs like “It’s a Knocked Up Life.”

It also caps off an otherwise pretty gay season planned at Ohlook: The summer season opens Friday with Hairspray (running through July 8), followed by Spring Awakening (July 13–22) and Xanadu (July 27–Aug. 5) — a triumvirate of queer-centric musical comedy (though I wouldn’t describe Spring Awakening as funny). Those shows start at 7:30 p.m., with Trannie running June 29–July 14 starting at 10:30 p.m. (on Sundays, it starts at 7:30 p.m. following an afternoon matinee). (The second half of the season features Scary Musical as the late-night show.)

We like Trannie the first time around, and Ohlook — which often performs shows aimed at children — is one of the most gay-friendly small theaters in North Texas. We like that, too.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Spring Awakening’ tonight at WaterTower

Coming of age

“This rock musical adaptation of an 1891 German play is set against the backdrop of a progressive and provincial late 19th century Germany.  Spring Awakening tells the timeless story of teenage self-discovery and budding sexuality through the eyes of three teenagers.  Haunting and provocative, Spring Awakening celebrates an unforgettable journey from youth to adulthood.  The musical won multiple Tony Awards (8 awards including Best Musical).”

— from WaterTowerTheatre.org

DEETS: WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. 7:30 p.m. $20–$50. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Rich Lopez

An awakening of their own

How Baylor classmates Josh Gonzales and Matt Tolbert teamed up onstage — and in real life — for WaterTower’s ‘Spring Awakening’

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UP AGAINST THE WALL | Gonzales and Tolbert will share their first scene — and first onstage kiss — as the gay couple in WaterTower’s sexually frank musical ‘Spring Awakening.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

Matt Tolbert may be just barely old enough to drink legally (he’ll turn 23 in October), but he’s already an experienced theater hand.

Four months ago, he was finishing up his last semester at Baylor University before a May graduation, but he’d already made his professional debut earlier this year, hanging upside down as a torture victim in WaterTower Theatre’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Soon after that, he co-established a theater company and produced a show for the Out of the

Loop Fringe Festival; as of last week, his day job is assistant to WTT’s producing artistic director, Terry Martin.

“I guess you could say I’m aggressive about my career,” Tolbert concedes, “though I say I’m just highly motivated.”

And one thing he was motivated about was getting cast in WaterTower’s upcoming production of Spring Awakening. Ever since Tolbert learned of the show, he’d wanted to be in it, so when WTT put it on their 2011-12 schedule, he knew he’d audition. But even more, he wanted to be in it with his partner Josh Gonzales.

The two met several years ago while both were studying at Baylor (Gonzales is still there, with plans to graduate next spring); for the past two years, they have been a couple. But while they have been in shows at the same time, they have never shared a scene. Spring Awakening seemed like a good chance for them to do a musical together.

“I was in love with the show and when I heard WaterTower was doing it, I jumped at the chance,” says Gonzales, 21. “[Matt and I] have been in five shows together before — this will be our sixth — but we very rarely interact onstage. This is our first time to get to act.”

The plan was for Tolbert to play Hanschen, the slightly predatory gay teen, and Gonzalez to play Ernst, the object of his lustful urges in the explicit, sexually charged musical about the yearning of 19th century youth (which oddly echoes the same feelings of youth in the 21st century). Still, getting cast was hardly a sure thing, even with Tolbert’s connections at the theater.

So this summer, Tolbert studied voice with Mark Mullino, who was about to start work as the music director on Spring Awakening. Tolbert planted seeds with Mullino that he and Gonzalez would be interested in doing the show.

Alas, it seemed destined not to happen.

“Matt went to the audition but I couldn’t go because I was in New York,” sighs Gonzales. Not only that, but once the call-back list was released, Tolbert was asked to re-audition… for the role of Ernst.

“I thought, ‘Darn! I missed my chance,’” says Gonzalez.

But, despite the downbeat message of Spring Awakening, true love was determined to find a way.

Martin, who is directing the show, decided to do a second round of call-backs. Gonzales thought maybe he could try out for Hanschen, “even though Matt would be a better Hanschen than me. Or I could just be in the ensemble — I would do anything,” he says.

Tolbert and Gonzales auditioned together; Martin asked them to sing one of the show’s signature songs, “The Bitch of Living,” with each other. They did it once. Audition over.

It wasn’t until the next day they were both cast as they’d hoped: Tolbert as Hanschen, Gonzales as Ernst. It’s a dynamic that has been fed by their own relationship.

“It was a lot easier to do once we started rehearsals,” Tolbert says. “We didn’t need to choreograph the kiss. But we like [recreating] the awkwardness of the seduction — even though Hanschen is the seducer, it’s his first time, too.”

Still, art does not imitate life — at least not in this instance.

“Ernst is a little confused throughout most of the show, because he’s not exactly sure what he wants, but ultimately he just wants someone to be intimate with,” Gonzales says. “The tragedy is that Hanschen just wants someone to have fun with.”

In real life, the couple is truly committed. Gonzales is still in school in Waco, meaning he has to commute several times a week to attend rehearsals. When he’s able, he stays in town with Tolbert. Well, sort of — they both stay at Tolbert’s parents’ house, though in separate rooms.

“It’s interesting because our families don’t know we’re gay — we just came out to our close friends this summer,” Tolbert explains.

That’s likely to change soon. Especially after opening night.

“Obviously there’s a little chemistry — how could there not be?” Gonzales admits. Tolbert agrees the friends and family they are not out to yet will probably figure it out. But until they do, it’s enough to combine work and romance.

“It’s great we can share [the kiss]. I trust him completely… and I don’t want him to kiss another guy. Our goal is never to have our understudies go on,” Gonzales says.
Ah, young love… .

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

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: ‘Hair’ — The mane event

You could sense of a lot of the shock and discomfort from the audience at the Winspear Opera House as a bunch of half-naked hippies descended into their seats, swigging from their chardonnay glasses and grabbing their crotches (and hugging audience members) and handing out flowers like veterans at an airport. The ’60s were before a lot of these folks were born, and most of the ones who lived through it valeted for 25 bucks in Lexus Red Parking, so they are perhaps less receptive to the communal, pot-smoking free-love message of the play than audiences a generation ago. And in fact, after intermish — which begins with 20 fully frontally naked men and women wagging their business — virtually the entire row of seats in front of me cleared out, presumably to go pray for all us sinners who hung around for Act 2.

That’s the magic of Hair.

This production, which arrives direct from closing on Broadway, is full of the energy and the spirit of the original, which set the culture on its ear in 1968. That’s been awhile, of course, and what has often been called the definitive “rock musical” seems less rockin’ than, say, Spring Awakening, written by an actual rock musician, or Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or American Idiot. We’re uses to loud numbers and nudity onstage now.

But also, not. The message of the show — trippy, anti-war and pro-youth, sexually frank and equally fluid — is, in an era of talk about “job creators” and “Obamacare” and FoxNews, equally radical, even if the songs have entered the realm of show-tune classics more than hippie anthems. It feels oddly relevant again — especially as it deals with the draft, on the morning of the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” All the sexual liberation and “what-makes-a-good-American” talk has renewed depth.

The production itself is fun, though it suffers a lot as it always has from  problems — a long Vietnam fantasy in Act 2, marginal character development, rituals like draft-card burning that may not resonate with an audience weaned on an all-volunteer Army — though the bromance between Claude and Berger, and the hot, heroin-chic bodies of the men, add a layer of homoeroticism that you’re kinda glad makes the audience a bit uncomfortable. It’s good to shake people up sometimes. Peace out.

Through Oct. 2. Attpac.org.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower’s 2011-12 season

WaterTower Theatre tonight announced several premieres or locally produced Tony Award winning shows, including Spring Awakening and August:Osage County. Here’s the schedule:

Spring Awakening, the 8-time Tony winning musical with a score by Duncan Sheik, opens the season on Sept. 30. The play about sexual repression in the 19th century was choreographed by Bill T. Jones.

Rockin’ Christmas Party returns Nov. 26. The jukebox musical features rock versions of Christmas carols returns after an absence of a few years (pictured is the 2007 edition).

The Diary of Anne Frank opens 2012, starting Jan. 6. It tells the story of a Jewish girl and her family hiding out in an Amsterdam attic during World War II.

August: Osage County, Terry Letts’ remarkable panoramic play about an Oklahoma family, opens March 30. Rene Moreno, who direcyed a version of it last year out of state, will direct WaterTower’s version. The play won the Tony for best play and the Pulitzer Prize.

Boeing Boeing, Marc Camoletti’s sex farce about a man dating three flight attendants, opens May 25.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe, another jukebox musical featuring the songs of Leiber and Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Woman”) closes the season with a July 20 opening.

Also returning is the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, running March 1–11.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stage: Year In Review 2010

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

1-GE6_81212010 proved to be an oddly uninvolving season at the theater.

The tours, even the good ones, were often retreads of past shows (I love Avenue Q and Wicked, but have seen them already — a lot) or dreadfully overproduced, crap (the unwatchable Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the appalling Shrek).

Local companies tried to be creative, with mixed results. There were high points — and when they were high, they were spectacular — but mostly it was middle-of-the-road stuff and disappointing, unfulfilled promise. And when things were bad, as they were with the disastrously under-realized reinvention of It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman! at the Dallas Theater Center, they almost made me red-faced with rage. But there was still enough to warrant a “best of” list, and here they are.

10. August: Osage County and 9. Spring Awakening (Lexus Broadway Series). The two best tours of the year were both part of the new series at the Winspear. Neither was quite as good as the New York productions, but August, with its epic take on the family dynamic, and Awakening, with its frank, modern spin on sexual yearning, made the hassles of going to the Arts District worth the effort.

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WINNER’S CIRCLE | Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre managed two of the best shows of the year: ‘Opus,,’ left, and ‘Bach at Leipzig,’ both of which made classical music exciting.

8. The Beauty Plays (Dallas Theater Center). Give credit to the DTC for tackling three Neil LaBute plays often relegated to more “alternative” theater companies by putting them in rep in the 99-seat Wyly black box. These are uncomfortable plays to watch, with the versions of Fat Pig and Reasons to Be Pretty outlapping The Shape of Things, but the series itself was a welcome bit of daring programming.

7. SubUrbia (Upstart Productions). Taking on its second Eric Bogosian play in a year, and on the heels of This Is Our Youth, Upstart showed an admirable facility with modern plays about aimlessness.

6. Boom and 5. Charm (Kitchen Dog Theater). Two vastly different comedies — Boom, a futurist tale about a gay guy wanting to repopulate the world, and Charm, a period piece about a feminist icon — turned basically unfunny ideas into beautiful, almost surrealist bits of whimsy.

4. Our Town (WaterTower Theatre). After a few disappointing seasons, WaterTower got back on track with this American classic. Defying conventional wisdom that it’s an “easy” piece of sentimental tripe, director Terry Martin fathomed its iconic, homespun realism. It’s a more peculiar piece than it gets credit for, and the realization here was exquisite.

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FEMINISM GONE WILD! | Tina Parker, right, played an independent woman in 19th century America in Kitchen Dog’s aptly named ‘Charm.’

3. My Fair Lady (Lyric Stage). The best musical on the list was Lyric Stage’s gussied-up, NEA-granted, original orchestrated mounting of one of theaterdom’s crowning glories. (It’s probably the best book of a musical ever written … which you can attribute to Shaw.) Magnificently costumed and designed, and directed with panache by Cheryl Denson, it was like a time machine to 1954, and proved why Steven Jones is North Texas’ finest theater producer.

2. Bach at Leipzig and 1. Opus (Circle Theatre). Fort Worth had it all over Dallas (and Irving!) with the two best shows on the year. In Bach, playwright Itamar Moses conceived of his play — a comedy about Baroque composers — as a theatrical fugue, and director Robin Armstrong made it happen with gorgeous sets and a cast that understands that farce is more than pie-throwing, but the melding of wordplay and swordplay in equal doses. But Circle Theatre also claimed the best show of the year, also about music, with Opus, in which a gay couple’s breakup nearly ruins a famed string quartet. If all classical music were this enchanting, Mozart will still be on the pop charts.

…………………………………….

ACTOR OF THE YEAR

The stage — especially local theater — is a great medium for actors to stretch themselves. There were some strong ensembles this year, in both of the top plays, Bach at Leipzig (especially Steven Pounders and Andy Baldwin — and excluding the actor who played Bach himself, who missed his only cue) and Opus, as well as the three leads in the No. 3 show, J. Brent Alford, Kimberley Whalen and Sonny Franks in My Fair Lady. Terry Martin made a good Stage Manager in Our Town, but it was the performances he elicited as the director from Joey Folsom, Maxey Whitehead and Ted Wold that stood out most. Folsom was strong, too, in SubUrbia. Tina Parker led a great cast in Charm with her patented wide-eyed energy.

DTC_031010_FATPIG_dress_078Sometimes what most impresses you, though, is someone good in a show that doesn’t deserve it. Morgana Shaw made Closer to Heaven a hoot (despite a deeply problematic script), and Gregory Lush’s flamboyant turn in Sherlock Holmes in the Crucifer of Blood gave the show a jolt. Wendy Welch transformed the likeable revue Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits into the comic highlight of the fall. And the up-and-down revision of Henry IV was made hilarious with the return to the DTC of Randy Moore. R Bruce Elliot’s interpretation of Beethoven in 33 Variations almost saved that rambling show. Almost.

But the actor who I will judge 2010 by will always be Regan Adair. He took on two roles in DTC’s Beauty Plays  — Fat Pig, where he played a conflicted yuppie (pictured above with Christina Vela), and Reasons to Be Pretty, as a working class lech — so vastly different you could hardly recognize him from show to show. His way with Shakespearean dialogue in Henry IV and his harried but touching take on Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol showed how effortlessly he can assault a variety of genres.

Adair is moving away from Dallas in 2011 — a terrible loss to our artistic community; he’s been a frequent finalist on my year-end list. But even if he weren’t leaving, he deserves to be recognized as the actor of the year.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Spring Awakening’ opens at Bass Hall tonight

Just two days for ‘Spring’ break
Once you get past the darkness of the original version on Monday, do a 180 with the updated musical Spring Awakening. Musician Duncan Sheik penned the music and the touring show features local actress Elizabeth Judd. She’s kind of a big deal as the female lead.  So is the show which won eight Tony awards including best musical.

DEETS: Bass Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth. Nov. 9–10. 7:30 p.m. BassHall.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Q Live! debuts with ‘Spring Awakening’ at McDavid Studio

Q Cinema branches out
Frank WederkindQ Cinema debuts their spinoff this week with some precision timing. QLive!, the new theater branch presents a staged reading of Frank Wedekind’s 1893 play Spring Awakening: A Children’s Tragedy.  The show’s two teens struggle with homosexuality, suicide and rape. Wederkind’s work is a dark contrast to the the musical which opens on Tuesday.

DEETS: McDavid Studio, 301 E. Fifth St., Fort Worth. 8 p.m. $10. QCinema.org.

—  Rich Lopez

DFW Theater Critics bestow annual awards

'Opus' at Circle Theatre took awards for direction and ensemble.

Every year, members of the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum (which this time numbered a record 10 critics participating) gather in an East Dallas house and hash out the best in local theater during the preceding season. It’s usually a spirited debate with tears and blood and regretful recriminations, but this year it went very smoothly. Too smoothly, if you ask me. (I suspect Al Qaeda had a hand in it.) One reason might have been that there were a lot of good shows to agree upon, leading to an astonishing number of awards — more than usual. It was also a strong year for actresses.

For the first time in a long while, the winners’ list was led by the Dallas Theater Center, which took 11 citations (plus a special award) for seven shows, including all three “Beauty Plays:” Reasons to Be Pretty, Fat Pig and The Shape of Things.

Diana Sheehan and Pam Dougherty took actress awards for 'Grey Gardens' at WaterTower Theatre.

Coming up behind was Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre, which took seven awards across three shows (Bach at Leipzig, which just closed, Opus and Something Intangible), and young Upstart Productions, which won six awards for its two shows of the season (Talk Radio and subUrbia). Gay theater troupe Uptown Players took one, for actress Wendy Welch in Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits.

A lot of gay themed shows and out members of the community took honors, including Lyric Stage’s world premiere musical The Road to Qatar!, actors Regan Adair and Elias Taylorson, and three of the four touring production winners (Spring Awakening, Xanadu and The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac).

The critics also announced a new award for emerging artist, presented to actor Joey Folsom for his exceptional season.

The complete list of winners appears after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones