Terry Dobson, longtime actor and musician, has died

11182129_10153223194264417_6063514439171344223_nTerry Dobson, who for 30-plus years served as a music director, keyboardist, actor, playwright and bon vivant in the Dallas theater community, died last night. He was 59.

It was hard to miss Terry. Standing six-foot-six and cutting a lanky silhouette with a Marty Feldman-esque mug, he towered over theater lobbies. But much of his career, mostly as the musical director at Theatre 3, was spent behind the scenes, arranging scores of the musicals performed there, usually leading the band and playing keyboards. He once arranged a piece for Stephen Sondheim which the composer was pleased with; he loved to tell that story.

But Terry could also be frequently seen in front of the limelights. He performed in the Tony Award-winning three-hander Art at FMPAT, as well as numerous shows at Theatre 3. He last trod the boards in Assassins playing the would-be presidential murderer Sam Byck.

But the show Terry will be most closely associated with will surely be My Own Private Diva, a more-or-less solo show about his journey from his native Slapout, Ala., to the big city of Dallas. The play was also a love letter to his best friend and muse, local actress Sally Soldo.

Soldo was with Terry and members of his family when he passed away last night in New York City. Plans are currently underway to arrange for a cremation. Dallas memorial services are pending.

Terry was a longtime HIV survivor, and was very open about his status. About a year ago, his health took a serious turn which necessitated him stepping down from his duties at Theatre 3. But in recent weeks, he had bounced back. Personally, I ran into Sally and Terry about a month ago at the Dallas Summer Musicals. He was in good spirits and alert and friendly. “He was in great shape and happy,” Soldo told me. “We were [recently] at [Theatre 3's production of] Hot Mikado and a big Easter celebration with his extended family. This was very sudden.”

His fatal illness was not only unexpected, but unrelated to his HIV status.  A few weeks ago, Terry took a trip to New York City to take in some Broadway shows. The day after one, he fell quickly ill and was admitted into a hospital. He had developed sepsis owing to a perforated ulcer. He was treated with antibiotics and seemed to be improving. Then he developed some abscesses and his condition worsened over the weekend. Soldo flew to his side Tuesday to meet with the family.

This is one of several sadnesses visited upon Theatre 3′s staff recently. The company’s founding producer, Jac Alder — the longest-serving artistic director of an arts organization in the U.S., having helmed it for more than 50 years — was recently admitted to Baylor’s ICU for treatment of pneumonia. Until he is released, which will hopefully be in a few days, plans for a memorial for Dobson are on hold.

“Terry hated memorial services,” Soldo said. “When he had to play music for them, he ducked out as soon as it was over. So I don’t know what we will be doing, but I am sure it will involve chocolate.”

Terry would have appreciated that.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theatre 3 announces 2012-13 season

Theatre 3, which for 50 years has been run by Jac Alder, pictured, begins its 51st season this summer with a schedule that includes a world premiere and the regionally-produced debut of a queer hit.

The unofficial start of the season is Avenue Q in the downstairs Theatre Too space. A sassy puppet show with adult themes and gay characters, it’s the first time the show has been mounted locally, although the national tour has been through numerous times. Unlike in recent years, this (and the Valentine staple  I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) are the only shows scheduled for the smaller space. It opens June 29.

The remainder of the seven-show schedule upstairs is as follows:

Present Laughter (Aug. 2–Sept. 1). Gay bon vivant Noel Coward’s witty farce.

Freud’s Last Session (Sept. 20–Oct. 20). An imagined exchange between the atheist father of psychoanalysis and Christian author C.S. Lewis.

Godspell (Nov. 15–Dec. 15). T3′s music director, Terry Dobson, recently met with Stephen Schwartz, who dubbed him one of his “official” arrangers. That will no doubt apply to this revival of the off-Broadway classic musical.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Jan. 10–Feb. 9). Rajiv Joseph’s recent Broadway hit starring Robin Williams, narrated by a giant cat.

Idols of the King (Feb. 28–Mar. 30). Longtime T3 collaborator Ronnie Claire Edwards debuts her new play about Elvis Presley.

Enron (Apr. 25-May 25). A quasi-musical drama about the notorious collapse.

City of Angels (June 13–July 13). The season closes with the Tony-winning hit about the movie business.

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Labor Day play with ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’ at Theatre Three

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

DEETS: Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Bed time story

Art imitates life (sorta) in Theatre Three’s musical love triangle  ‘Songs from an Unmade Bed’

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

THREE’S COMPANY | Gary Floyd, center, straddles the fence between his two lovers played by Patty Breckenridge and Christopher Wagley. (Photo by Ken Birdsell)

UNMADE BED
Theatre Three’s Theatre Too,  2800 Routh Street, Suite 168. Sep. 3–Oct. 3. $20.
Theatre3Dallas.com.

………………………………

The chamber musical Songs from an Unmade Bed was written as a song cycle to be sung by one gay male character. But when Terry Dobson — the musical maven at Theatre Three as well as an occasional director, actor and playwright there — heard it, he couldn’t get an idea out of his head: That the musical made more sense if it was performed not from one point of view, but from three.

“I read the reviews from when it came out, and many mentioned that it lacked theatricality,” Dobson says. And he knew how to make it more theatrical: Turn it into a love triangle between a bisexual man and his two lovers: a straight woman and a gay man. Call it Sunday Bloody Sunday (in the Park with George). The result promises to be one of the edgier queercentric productions of the fall.

Dobson employed an informal audition process, seeking out people he wanted to work with who would combine musically and emotionally in sync with his conception of the show. And in a weird instance of art imitating life, the cast of three includes two old friends and a newcomer, all of whom are gay.

Dobson jokes that several local actors who lobbied for the plum role of the bisexual will be gunning for Gary Floyd, but few would argue with the wisdom of his casting. Floyd was already a popular and admired singer and recording artist for decades before he tackled his first acting role in 2003’s Pump Boys and Dinettes, and he fast became a go-to guy for musical roles.

Floyd met Patty Breckenridge in 2006 in what became her breakout role in Aida at Uptown Players. The next fall, they teamed up again for City of Angels at the Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre, but this is the first onstage pairing since then for the close friends.

“It’s about time!” Floyd laughs.

“I kinda dropped out of theater for a while, just enjoying married life,” says Breckenridge, who married her wife Carrie Anne last year (the couple are currently expecting a baby in the spring). “But I was getting that itch to go back onstage. Then Terry called me and said, ‘I want to head in a different direction with this.’”

Breckenridge was onboard.

If there was an intimidation factor being odd-man out, Christopher Wagley doesn’t show it — or at least, he can use it to get into his character. Stepping into the chummy twosome has been easy for the newcomer to Dallas in his first show here.

Wagley spent 12 years in New York, acting and waiting tables early on (“I loved being an actor but hated being a waiter” he says), before moving to Dallas last year. Within a month, he was singing with the Turtle Creek Chorale’s Encore! group, which Dobson leads.

“There has been no issue at all,” Wagley says. “The fact we blend together so well musically is a byproduct of getting along together so well.”

Musically, they all related to the show, written by lyricist Mark Campbell with a score contributed by 18 different composers, including Jake Heggie, the gay musician who wrote the world premiere adaptation of Moby-Dick for the Dallas Opera this year.

“The lyrics are so universal, it could be a straight woman or a gay man or a bisexual,” Floyd says. Wagley agrees.

“The lyrics are so smart and absolutely universal, yet so incredibly specific to a gay man’s experience, whether it’s body issues or casual sex,” he says. Although Dobson had assigned all the songs to the cast, many tweaks have occurred during the rehearsal period.

“The other day, Terry asked me to sing one of the songs about not having a great body to myself [in a mirror] instead of to Gary — wow! It makes it so much more personal. We all have those moments.”

“I had heard of the musical from [my best friend, actor] Donald Fowler but hadn’t listened to any of the songs,” says Breckenridge. But she immediately became enchanted by it. “I have a couple of favorite songs. Everyone in the audience is going to relate to ‘Oh, To Be Stupid Again.’ I know I’ve been there. And ‘To Sing’ is why I became a performer.”

A lot happens in a quick one-hour show performed without intermission. “There are lots of poignant moments,” says Wagley.

None more poignant for the two old friends than one scene where Floyd has to simulate oral stimulation of Breckenridge.

“There’s no other woman in Dallas I would do that for!” Floyd avers.

“And there is no other man in town I’d do this with!” quips Breckenridge.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens