Lyric Stage reveals 2015–16 season lineup

At the opening night of Lyric Stage‘s season closer, South Pacific — which is awesome of course — we learned what’s on deck for next season as well.

It kicks off in September with Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (Sept. 4–13), followed Grand Hotel (Oct. 30–Nov. 8) and then the rarely seen operetta that introduced most audiences to Oscar Hammerstein II, The New Moon (Jan. 21–24, 2016). All will be performed in the large Carpenter Hall. Next is Irresistible (Feb. 12–20),  a tribute to the music of Edith Piaf, in the smaller Dupree Theater. The season ends a year from now, with Cole Porter’s original 1934 Anything Goes back in the Carpenter (June 17–26).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What to watch: The latest DVD and Blu-ray releases

IntoTheWoodsInto the Woods. Throughout her longstanding career as Acting God, Meryl Streep has used her cinematic superpowers to, on occasion, expertly polish turds, turning them into beautiful pieces of holy excrement. But even La Streep has her limits. Mamma Mia! was a scenic snafu no matter what notes the actress nailed; Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of gay icon Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, luckily, extinguishes the leftover fumes from that ABBA stinker. This musical is not the Streep Show, however. Though she maintains a godly presence as the morphing witch, the dark magic is more than just Meryl’s. The actress, of course, gives heft (and some seriously solid singing) to the film’s heart, but praise is due all around — to Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, to Chris Pine as her Prince and to the fantastically paired James Corden and Emily Blunt, The Baker and his Wife. What’s lost in the translation from stage to screen — a minor gripe — is redeemed by way of transformative sets and Disney’s surprisingly faithful retelling of Sondheim’s upturned “happily ever after.” Deeper in the woods, there’s a fair array of supplements on the Blu-ray release, though none of them will change your life more than this one: “She’ll Be Back,” the Streep number not seen in the final film.

Selma.  Martin Luther King Jr, we’re sorry. We’re sorry that your life was spent standing for racial equality, and yet here we are a half century later, black people still violently targeted on the basis of skin color. In light of recent events, then, the Oprah-produced MLK story, Selma, resonates with painful truth: strides still need to be made. The drama harrowingly depicts the civil rights movement in full swing, as MLK relentlessly pushes for the end to legalized segregation through demonstrations such as the historical Montgomery-bound march of 1965. A watershed cinematic experience, Selma is a galvanizing portrait of a fearless leader, brought to life with spirited authenticity by a spellbinding performance from English actor David Oyelowo. More than a mere by-the-book history lesson — and under the meticulous direction of Ava DuVernay — it’s a moving masterpiece, from the gut-punch beginning to the heart-healing conclusion. Among the bountiful extras are a featurette called Recreating Selma, centered on adapting a true story for film, and two commentaries, both with insight from DuVernay.

Layout 1Maude: The Complete Series. Before wisecrackin’ her way into the hearts of every homo as Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls, Bea Arthur was already earning her queer icon cred on Maude. Playing the classic TV comedy’s namesake for six years in the mid ’70s, the Broadway actress earned affection (and Emmys) by proving she could dial up the sass simply by flashing her iconic stone-cold stare. Bold, prickly and politically liberal, Maude epitomized the qualities worthy of gay worship, and the character — in all her button-pushing brilliance — busted the doors down on topical, controversial political and social issues: race, homosexuality and abortion, to name a few. Arthur infused the hard-hitting commentary with her iconic comedic genius and sharp, acerbic wit, all while showcasing her signature real-life speaking voice. All 147 half-hour episodes of Maude are finally culled for the first time on DVD in this vast collection that includes never-before-seen footage, featurettes (among them: And Then There’s Maude: Television’s First Feminist) and Maude-centric episodes of All in the Family, the series that launched Bea into queer-culture stardom.

Interstellar. The mind-bending ways of Christopher Nolan (don’t pretend you’re still not trying to figure out Inception) return to exhaust your mental capacity during this dense, time-twisty behemoth. Forget details, though. Screw logic. You’re gonna erupt into a geyser of waterworks even if you can’t make sense of it all. Nolan goes all out, grounding his flashy CGI-prettied space odyssey with the emotional heaviness of a hero torn between leaving his family and saving the world — you know, just everyday problems we all have. Technical concepts and heady philosophical affirmations express a relatively simple antithesis to the hard science on hand: the enduring power of love. Poignancy comes courtesy of Matthew McConaughey, who radiates a deep emotional bond with his daughter (the always-radiant Jessica Chastain) that only strengthens as the three-hour epic culminates into a dizzying display of wondrous speculation about life on earth… and beyond. An entire supplemental disc delves into the film’s key scientific observations; the 50-minute, McConaughey-narrated feature on the visuals, theories and science behind Insterstellar is particularly intriguing.

DearWhitePeopleDear White People. The black people of Dear White People want you to know that, no, they aren’t all into Tyler Perry movies, and yes, they like, even love, Taylor Swift. Out writer-director Justin Simien’s funny and frank directorial debut wryly spotlights an astounding number of stereotypes and cultural misappropriations pertaining to a group of “don’t call us African-Americans” at a white-heavy Ivy League. As individual stories thread through a satirical narrative — one arc involves an aspiring gay journalist — race issues in post-Obama, 21st-century America are exposed by blowing the lid off “weaved” black chicks and black guys with big, thick…. Even the film’s classical chestnuts (the whitest of white music) have something profound to say about the racial divide that Dear White People blasts. The sneers don’t end there; “The More You Know” offers six minutes of stereotype debunking via PSA-style segments and “Racial Insurance” is essentially black eye for the white guy. Outtakes, deleted scenes and a making-of are also included.

The Theory of Everything. Whether he’s Marilyn Monroe’s boy-toy, the real-life physicist Stephen Hawking or, in the forthcoming The Danish Girl, a trans woman, Eddie Redmayne’s versatility is as alluring as the shiny, happy actor himself. And now he has an Oscar to prove it. Winner of best actor for his spot-on portrayal of Hawking in the magically moving The Theory of Everything, Redmayne fully embodies the shattered-but-inspiring life he depicts, perfectly capturing the charming sincerity, undying humor and gradual physical impairment required of someone afflicted with motor neuron disease. Special features are few: a director commentary, a brief behind-the-scenes and a handful of deleted scenes.

BirdmanBirdman. The ego is a screaming nuisance in Birdman, an insane acid trip starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor who hangs out in the deep, dark corners of his own head. It’s messy in there, and for someone whose career has taken a nosedive — he’s aged out of “Birdman,” the superhero role that earned him notoriety — Riggan Thomson is plagued by being, well, Riggan Thomson. Keaton excels as a neurotic narcissistic whose hallucinations get the best of him as he attempts to reclaim his heyday glory with a Broadway production, unraveling in the process. Adding to the insanity is Emma Stone as his delirious daughter and the technical zippiness of the seemingly-but-not-actually ceaseless shot. Besides a peek into the making of Birdman, there’s also a striking exchange between actor and director during A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

Olive Kitteridge. Just in case you somehow forgot that Frances McDormand is one of the greatest living actresses of our time, Olive Kitteridge is here to remind you. As the titular protagonist in this beautifully bleak four-part HBO miniseries, the Fargo dynamo is a despicable monster, bound to a graceless existence due in large part to a mentally unstable lineage. Why do you still feel so deeply for someone who’s so intolerable? Because McDormand. The masterclass mines the mind and heart of someone suffering mental illness, scaling her every emotion and experience to full effectiveness. At once dreary and life-affirming, Olive Kitteridge is television at its most poetic. Extras are non-existent, but with four hours of McDormand’s brilliance, it hardly matters.

tThe Babadook. Real-life horrors are, oftentimes, more horrific than the made-up yarns of the cinematic frights creeping our psyche. Paralyzed by her own, Amelia, a widowed mother (a sympathetic Essie Davis), falls into a psychological fit on the anniversary of her husband’s untimely death. The trigger? A children’s book called The Babadook, an ominous pop-up that devours Amelia’s mentally unstable, grief-stricken mind. The demon within is often the worst kind, as we learn in this clever and surprisingly touching nail-bitter about the toll tragedy can take, and the unbreakable bond between mother and child. Director Jennifer Kent’s original concept, the short film Monster, is included among a haunting heap of bonus features.

Wild. Reese Witherspoon leaves the pink résumé paper at home in Wild. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, the Legally Blonde bend-and-snapper steps into Strayed’s hiking boots, packing her bags and the shattered bits of her heart for a trek through the Pacific Crest Trail. The hope of healing her grief-stricken wounds and abating her recklessness follows her through this 1,000-plus-mile stretch of enlightenment and renewal. Jean-Marc Vallée directs a standout performance from Witherspoon, who acts alongside the also-compelling Laura Dern (as her mother in flashbacks), during his raw, picturesque followup to Dallas Buyers Club. Strayed relates the movie to her own life during the extras, which also include a Vallée commentary, deleted scenes and a look at the rustic Oregon shoot.

— Chris Azzopardi

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cocktail Friday: The Sondheim Sour

Sondheim SourInspired by the gay composer, who turns 85 on Sunday, this cocktail will take you into the woods and conjure a little night music about all the follies you’ve engaged in with company. And it’s far less complex than one of his musical scores.

2 parts Disaronno amaretto

1 part fresh lemon juice

1/4 part simple syrup

Making it: Shake all ingredients and strain over ice. Garnish with lime wedges.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theatre 3 announces 2013-14 season

OnTheEve_SimoneJoseph_JennyLedelBrianWickTheater 3, currently featuring the crackerjack play Enron on the mainstage and the saucy Avenue Q downstairs, announced its lineup for the 2013-14 season, and it’s pretty gay.

So Help Me God!, a re-discovered 1929 comedy by Maurine Dallas Watkins (Aug. 8–Sept. 1). The author best known for the play on which the musical Chicago was based wrote this equally racy tale of back-stabbing divas.

Assassins, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman (Sept. 26–Oct. 27). The gay composer’s oft-praised but infrequently performed Tony Award winner will reach Dallas in time for the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It tells the stories of famous political murderers and wannabes, from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley.

Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz (Nov. 21–Dec. 15). This recent Tony nominee from the gay creator of Brothers & Sisters makes its Southwestern premiere about family conflict.

On the Eve, music and lyrics by Seth Magill and Shawn Magill, book by Michael Federico (Jan. 16–Feb. 9, 2014). Already announced as playing this season, this production revives a show staged locally last year at Fair Park’s Margo Jones Lounge, pictured, was my No. 1 show of 2012.

Less Than Kind by Terence Rattigan (Mar. 6–30, 2014). This play by the late, gay British playwright, well-known for such classics as The Winslow Boy and Separate Tables, will receive its American debut after being forgotten for decades after the playwright died.

Seminar by Theresa Rebeck (Apr. 24–May 18, 2014). I saw the Broadway version of this play by Smash creator Rebeck last year, and it’s juicy, hilarious stuff getting its Southwest premiere.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark by  Lynn Nottage (June 19–July 13, 2014). The story of a headstrong African-American actress from the 1930s.

Additionally, Theatre Too will continue to run Avenue Q until audiences grow weary (no sign of that yet), or January, when the gay-authored I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change returns for a month-long run.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

After a slightly slow patch for both theater and concerts, this week things are heating up — especially for those looking for something with gay appeal.

Gay crooner Jay Brannan returns to Dallas on Monday for an appearance at Sons of Hermann Hall, and The Voice‘s Nakia is generating buzz in the bear community — he’ll be at All Good Cafe Friday night. And the local singers are nothing to sneeze at, either, as the Voice of Pride contest has its final round in the Rose Room on Sunday night.

Over at Level Ground Arts, John de los Santos directs Andi Allen and Shane Strawbridge in Sondheim’s masterpiece, Sweeney Todd. Meanwhile, the very gay-friendly shows Present Laughter, The Importance of Being Lovely, Avenue Q and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continue their runs (Joseph closes on Sunday). Then on Tuesday, Chicago opens at the Winspear for a two-week run.

The Bourne Legacy — the espionage series reboot with Jeremy Renner as the new superspy — opens Friday alongside Zach Galifianakis as a superfey congressional candidate in The Campaign.

On the more interactive side, both AWOL — The Leather Knights’ A Weekend of Leather event — and Fruit Bowl get underway this weekend. Whichever you go to, expect to see a lot of balls.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: WaterTower’s (very gay) new season

Addison’s WaterTower Theatre released the schedule for its 2012-2013 season, and the line-up is among the gayest for the company in recent memory.

• The season begins in September with The Mystery of Irma Vep, experimental gay playwright Charles Ludlam’s hilarious send-up of melodramas revolving around the strange goings-on at a spooky estate. (Sept. 28–Oct. 21.)

• The holiday show will be It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. This is a new concept for WTT, which typically stages a musical comedy or revue with a Christmas  theme. This production will transport the beloved film to the studio of a 1940s-era radio station for an authentic recreation of the old-school radio play. (Nov. 24–Dec. 16.)

• The season picks up again in January with Putting It Together, a musical revue featuring the music of gay composer extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim. Diana Sheehan, who played Big Edie in WTT’s Grey Gardens, stars. (Jan. 11–Feb. 3.)

• This past year, WTT’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival was super-gay — it often is. Next year’s line-up won’t be announced until early next year, but you can always count on odd and engaging new works. (March 7–17.)

• WTT’s gay artistic director Terry Martin, who recently starred in the Dallas Theater Center’s production of Next Fall, pictured (Martin’s on the right), will direct Frank Galati’s award-winning adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath, about the Joad family’s journey from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to the fields of California in the 1930s. (April 5–28.)

• Prolific playwright A.R. Gurney, who mined the field of WASP culture in plays like Love Letters, tackles the formal wedding toast in Black Tie, a comedy about a father trying to maintain some dignity at his son’s upcoming nuptials, only to have his own late father appear as a ghost, offering advice. (May 31–June 23.)

• The season ends next summer with one of the gayest musicals ever conceived: Xanadu. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s hysterically campy adaptation of the godawful 1980s movie musical, released in the waning days of disco, inserts pop music into a revised plot about the establishment of a roller disco. (July 26–Aug. 18.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Music Issue: The Sondheim variations

Sexy gay pianist Anthony de Mare’s love of showtunes spurred his experimental concert tour inspired by the music of Stephen Sondheim

DeMare

I’M STILL DE MARE | The gay pianist and showtune addict will tackle Sondheim at his Cliburn Concert.

GREGORY SULLIVAN ISAACS  | Contributing Writer
gregoryisaacs@theaterjones.com

Dark, handsome and obviously buff, Anthony de Mare’s charm oozes out of his publicity photos. Smiling at you from behind his piano, he seems to have just said “Hello” and is waiting for you to answer.

Wishful thinking, at best. De Mare is happily partnered to Tom Spain, a publishing executive; they live in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York with their Pomeranian, Cowboy. (“He is actually a very large dog, for a Pom,” says de Mare with a laugh.)

It’s unlikely he’d have time for you anyway. De Mare is in the middle of an ambitious concert project that started in Canada last spring and has already taken him to New York City, Chicago and more. On Saturday, he’ll play that concert, Liaisons: Re-imagining Sondheim for the Piano, at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth as part of the Cliburn Concerts Series.

The concert is a natural fit for de Mare, acclaimed as an interpreter of contemporary music. In fact, if was his idea.

Already a big showtune fan, de Mare organized this project, which enlisted 36 composers to create short, solo piano pieces based on the music of Stephen Sondheim — not arrangements, mind you, but original compositions that use a Sondheim song as a cantus firmus. It’s the fulfillment of a concept that has been brewing in him since childhood.

“I was always a fan of Sondheim,” he says. “I trained as a dancer and pianist and always felt at home in theater. Besides, it was one of the best ways I could think of to be able to play this music in concerts.”

The concert ends up being something of a showcase for gay musicians. In addition to de Mare and Sondheim, among the participating composers who are openly gay are Ricky Ian Gordon, Eve Beglarian, Fred Hersch, Nico Muhly, Eric Rockwell, Rodney Sharman and Jake Heggie. “And there are a couple of others I am not so sure about,” he adds with a chuckle.

De Mare left the parameters open for the composers, giving them as much freedom as they needed. But he did have some policies about what he wanted to play.

“I didn’t really want any of the songs to be deconstructed, making them unrecognizable,” he says. “I told them to maintain the melodic material even if it is a loose reference to the song. I also asked them to make the pieces no shorter than three to four minutes, and no longer than eight or ten.” (Most run four to eight minutes.)
That may sound like an easy assignment, but it wasn’t.

“Many of the composers told me this turned out to be a very challenging assignment because the songs are so perfect just as they are,” he says. “It is hard to do something original without doing something completely different.”

For example, minimalist composer Steve Reich tackled “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George. “You know right off the bat that it is Reich, but the melodic material is still there,” he says. “David Rakowski had only one song in mind, ‘The Ladies who Lunch’ from Company. It was not originally on my list, though it is one of my favorite songs from the show. It is so character driven I didn’t think it would work as a piano solo. But he brought it to life brilliantly with all its bitterness and core of disappointment — he gets there without the lyrics.”

The program at the Modern will be held in the intimate lecture hall at the museum — an ideal venue for a piano recital. Shields-Collins “Buddy” Bray, a fine pianist himself, will serve as moderator, initiating a discussion about the pieces. De Mare will play about 13 of the 36 musical meditations commissioned, but even he isn’t quire sure which ones.

“I am still deciding,” he says.

I vote for “I’m Still Here.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Sorry? No, ‘Grateful’

John Bucchino calls Stephen Schwartz his best friend and Stephen Sondheim his mentor. So how come he’s not a huge fan of musical theater?

I WRITE THE SONGS  |  Composer John Bucchino has his turn performing his music with a cabaret show at Theatre 3, which is holding a mini-festival of his music this fall.

I WRITE THE SONGS | Composer John Bucchino has his turn performing his music with a cabaret show at Theatre 3, which is holding a mini-festival of his music this fall.

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

………………

AN EVENING OF CABARET
Theatre 3, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Nov. 17. 7:30 p.m.
$50. Theatre3Dallas.com.

………………

If you look at John Bucchino’s web page, you’re immediately struck by how, under “biography,” he lists only the compositions he’s written and recordings made of his songs and awards he’s received. No date of birth, no hometown, no pet peeves. It’s as if his life story can be expressed through his work alone.

And the thing is, Bucchino doesn’t really disagree with that.

“I guess I do feel that way,” he says with a sudden flash. “I figure on a website, it’s not about me as a person but me as a songwriter. I do feel the work — especially It’s Only Life and the albums — are incredibly open and incredibly vulnerable insights into me. Ninety percent of them are directly from experiences in my life. I’m so wrapped up in what I do — probably unhealthily so — but I’m perfectly open. I need to get those two things in a better balance.”

In fact, doing so might make for a good song.

It’s not as if Bucchino doesn’t have a fascinating story of his own. One of the most respected composers of cabaret songs for more than two decades, he broke into Broadway with the acclaimed 2008 musical A Catered Affair, which wraps up its regional premiere at Theatre 3 Saturday. But that’s hardly your last chance to experience Bucchino. On Nov. 17 — his birthday! — he’ll perform his one-man show at Theatre 3, and the next day, previews of his revue It’s Only Life begin in the Theatre Too space. It’s a mini-festival of Bucchino in Uptown.

It’s surprising — to Bucchino, especially — that he’s become a staple of Theatre 3’s schedule, since he personally never had much interest in musicals. Even today, while he numbers Stephen Sondheim as a mentor and calls Stephen Schwartz his best friend of 25 years (he even claims credit for getting Wicked made; more on that later), he doesn’t really “get” lots of theater references. In fact, he never intended to be a composer at all.
“When I started writing songs, my goal was to be a singer-songwriter,” he says. “I started out playing piano at age 1; it became my favorite toy and still is. I just started noodling around with songwriting, which naturally evolved out of playing piano in high school. I figured I’d be a [piano playing pop star] a la Elton John or Billy Joel. But noooobody was interested in me — they wouldn’t give me the time of day. It wasn’t on my radar that other people could sing my songs, but that’s what took off.”

His songs have been recorded by everyone from Barbara Cook (“It doesn’t get better than Barbara Cook — her version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ just knocks my socks off. But her version of anything knocks my socks off”), Kristen Chenoweth, Audra MacDonald and Patti LuPone; he wrote the music for a children’s book by Julie Andrews and her daughter; he calls Grateful probably his most important work. The song was also a watershed for him.

“It was Saturday. I was cleaning house and suddenly found myself at the piano playing the chorus for ‘Grateful’ and I just started to cry. But that’s as far as it went for month. Then came the sweat of crafting these lyrics and bridge around this perfect chorus,” he says.

Bucchino invited his friend Art Garfunkel over to listen to it and give feedback. As soon as it was over, Garfunkel said, “Don’t give that to anyone else: It’s mine.”

“From that reaction, I knew something was going to happen with it,” he says.

Still, his ascension to Broadway was a long one.

“I didn’t really know about live theater. I kind of thought of pop songwriting as somehow cooler — theater writing as less complex and two dimensional,” he says. “But Stephen Schwartz is the one who encouraged me to write for the theater.”

How can a gay guy involved in music not be a theater queen? Bucchino seems unfazed by the idea. He says he “wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with Stephen Sondheim” when Broadway’s greatest composer-lyricist called to say he was “really excited by my work.” But then came the pressure to produce something he wasn’t wholly conversant in. “It became terrifying to write for musical theater, because all these lofty people were encouraging me.”

A Catered Affair is his only show to open for a Broadway run, but his song cycles have been staples of regional theaters; Theatre 3’s Terry Dobson has been an especially enthusiastic supporter. (“I’m still not a musical theater geek just because I’ve done it,” he says.)

So how does he take responsibility for Wicked?

“Holly Near [for whom he has been a long-time accompanist] and I had gotten a gig to do a lesbian music festival on Maui. Stephen [Schwartz] was working on [the score for the animated film] Prince of Egypt in Los Angeles. I told him to come with me and we could hang out. He did. We were on a snorkeling trip with Holly and her partner and she said, ‘I just read the most interesting book.’” It turned out to be Wicked. When she described it to Schwartz, he immediately saw the potential to become a musical. “So if I hadn’t invited Stephen to vacation with us, it would never have happened!” Bucchino crows.

Bucchino acknowledges some have called his songs “not immediately hummable,” but that’s a good thing.

“That’s because you haven’t heard them before. I’d like to think that’s a reflection of my unique voice. What I go for in my writing is surprising inevitability — a chord progression or turn of phrase that makes you say, ‘I didn’t expect it to go there but, gee! How satisfying.’ I think the songs that are immediately memorable are derivative or formulaic in a way,” he says.

He also strives for a timelessness of sentiment, which is why, although often recorded by gay artists, his songs are usually gender neutral.

“If you look at the love songs on the Grateful CD, because I had not come out or to terms with my sexuality, I just decided not to use pronouns. There are no ‘he’ or ‘her,’ but ‘you.’ Maybe that’s a copout but also makes them more universal. We’re all people — gay or straight, male or female, we all go through the same stuff. I’m trying to reach that commonality which transcends gender or sexual orientation. Sometimes I wish my art were more overlapping into commerce, but I’m happy doing what I do.”

What’s the word? Oh, right: Grateful.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens