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

Drama, queens

NBC’s hyped ‘Smash’ wants one thing: To be the next ‘Glee.’ It succeeds

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HELLO NORMA JEAN | The making of a stage musical about Marilyn Monroe creates a competition between two actresses (Katharine McPhee, Meg Hilty) in the aptly-named ‘Smash.’

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

Smash has one goal in mind: To out-gay Glee.

The much-hyped hour-long drama series (NBC is hawking it by tying in to the Super Bowl, even though the real singing competition The Voice airs after the game; Smash is on Monday) has musical performances interwoven with a melodramatic storyline about the next Broadway star. Forget competing against other teens at regionals: This is the whole enchilada. (Although no one in the cast looks like they have ever eaten an enchilada. Too many carbs.)

A musical theater team — gay composer Tom (Christian Borle) and fag-hag lyricist Julia (Debra Messing) — get suddenly inspired to turn Marilyn Monroe’s life into a Broadway musical. That’s usually a years-long enterprise, only hot stage producer Eileen (Angelica Huston) needs a new show to replace one tanked because of her divorce. Marilyn sounds perfect. The key, though, will be getting the right star.

It’s instantly a showdown between two women: Veteran belter Ivy (Meg Hilty) and fresh newcomer Karen (Katharine McPhee). The sleazy British director Derek (Jack Davenport) wants to sleep with one, which may skew the vote, but the thing is, you really want both to get it. This isn’t Black Swan, it’s A Chorus Line.

Creator Theresa Rebeck is an old hand at New York theater, and Smash oozes insider knowledge gussied up for TV: The catty personality conflicts, the references to other shows and composers, the cumbersome, do-we-know-what-we’re-doing rehearsal process. These routines sometimes devolve into cliché (episode 2 is less deliciously addictive than the pilot, but still entertaining), but the style of the series — with rehearsals magically transforming into idealized fantasy stagings of what the show can be — works, keeping the show visually interesting.

Rebeck also knows her market: Theater queens. When Derek snipes that he doesn’t like gay people, Eileen shoots back that he picked the wrong profession; every assistant and chorus boy seems like a friend of Dorothy, and Tom gets his princess attitude going. Smash is less over-the-top than Glee, as if these characters are the same high schoolers a few years after graduation. Add American Idol runner-up McPhee into the mix (she’s a good actress) and fallen-from-Grace Messing, and Smash has everything a gay boy could want.

Break out the Playbill and grab an orchestra seat — Smash is in for a long run.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Man and Manolos

A Texas transplant’s love life fuels comedy in ‘Bad Dates’

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IMELDA OF THE WEST SIDE | Haley (Shannon J. McGrann) has a shoe fetish that doesn’t help her with me in the one-woman comedy ‘Bad Dates.’ (Photo courtesy George Wada)

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

The sly trick of Bad Dates is that its leading (heck, its only) character — Haley (Shannon J. McGrann), a Texas transplant who unexpectedly “makes it” in the Big Apple, and is only of late re-entering the dating world — is such a likeable, genuinely try-hard kinda gal, you are firmly on her side … before you realize she’s not exactly the perfect mom. As with Pyscho, where Hitchcock got you to sympathize with Norman Bates, playwright Theresa Rebeck has you rooting for Haley, sometimes against your better judgment. It’s the power of the unreliable narrator put starkly to work.

It helps that men and women, gay and straight, will see something familiar in Haley, who spends two hours as the only voice in this one-woman show, talking about relationships, family (especially her gay brother), dating and career. She dates gay guys, who are priggish. She dates bug experts, who are weird. She dates a great guy who… well, there’s always something wrong with a great guy. Trust me.

You can’t over-estimate the skills it takes to do a character monologue that has to be funny and poignant and not drone on. For two hours. This isn’t standup comedy; it’s comedy standing up, lying down, changing clothes and occasional slapstick. That’s a lot of baggage resting on McGrann’s narrow shoulders, but she carries it like a Sherpa. Bad Dates rises and falls on the strength of the actress playing Haley — approaching middle age with a cynic’s experiences but still determined to stay cautiously upbeat, she’s an underdog with an Imelda-sized shoe collection. Does that make her insufferable or needy? Or both?

Screen shot 2011-10-27 at 1.14.55 PMNeither with McGrann, who maintains a twinkle that is crucial to making the role work. (“Twinkle” is an undervalued asset in theater.) She modulates Haley’s self-doubt, over-confidence and general good nature in digestible bits. Whether it’s her or Rebeck who deserves the most credit for steering the tone away from maudlin is difficult to say. But for a comedy that takes a sudden turn into drama, Bad Dates never feels manipulative or melodramatic.

Robin Armstrong directed in a manner similar to how she designed the copious costumes: With generosity. There’s a light touch at work here that allows McGrann the freedom to work the stage, interacting with the audience with the gossipy joy of a coffee klatch. Unlike Haley’s Jimmy Choos — or her date with the gay guy — it’s a good fit.

………………………..

‘LUCIA’ IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS

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The Dallas Opera scaled back its season for budgetary reasons, but that wasn’t obvious at the opening of Lucia di Lammermoor, which powerfully conveyed the beauty and depth of Donizetti’s finest piece in a flamboyantly intoxicating performance.

The story — about a bride gone mad when the man she loves is kept from her — boasts one of the great coloratura roles for any soprano, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone besting Elena Mosuc (pictured, in her DO debut), for beauty and control as well as dramatic commitment. It’s not merely her technique during “Il dolce suono,” but her passion that makes this Lucia shine.

There won’t be another full mainstage production until April. This teaser has certainly whetted the appetite for what’s to come.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St.
Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 6 matinee at 2 p.m.
DallasOpera.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas