Dick does Dallas

Van Dyke brothers Dick and Jerry let the ‘Sunshine’ in with Neil Simon comedy

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE | Song and dance legend Dick Van Dyke teams up with his brother Jerry and Denise Lee for a production of ‘The Sunshine Boys,’ marking his return to performing in Dallas — the last time was in the 1940s.

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

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THE SUNSHINE BOYS
Eisemann Center for Performing Arts,
2351 Performance Drive,
Richardson. Sept 8–9.
EisemannCenter.com.
Casa Manana Theatre, 3101 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth. Sept. 10. Ticketmaster.com.
All showtimes 8 p.m.

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It is 8:31 a.m. Pacific time when Dick Van Dyke calls for our interview, and he apologizes for being one minute late. “I had been to the grocery store and was unloading when I looked at my watch and said, ‘Oh, I have a call to make!’” he says.

The thought of Dick Van Dyke doing his own food shopping is peculiar enough, but so early? But at age 85?

“My wife makes me,” he explains.

No, his wife is not Mary Tyler Moore, though in the 1960s, it would have been difficult to convince most of America they weren’t a real-life couple. Even though they slept in separate beds on The Dick Van Dyke Show, they had real chemistry — the first sitcom marrieds who seemed to actually have sex.

“Although Bob Newhart was the first guy who actually got to share a bed with his wife,” Van Dyke points out.

There’s something about Dick Van Dyke that makes you want to chat about the old times, as if you shared them together. In some ways, you did: He started on Broadway, nabbing a leading role in the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie opposite Chita Rivera. But the performer famous as a “song-and-dance man” could barely keep a beat when he landed the role.

“I love being called that because I didn’t start out as a singer or a dancer,” Van Dyke says. “My dancing style was eccentric, really — [director/choreographer] Gower Champion just took what I could do and worked around it. When we were out of town, the [songwriters] wrote ‘Put on a Happy Face’ overnight for Chita. Gower said, ‘The skinny kid doesn’t have anything to do in Act 1 — give it to him.’ That changed my life and I won a Tony.”

Soon after, he launched The Dick Van Dyke Show, a critical and popular success than ran five seasons and brought him an Emmy. Movies followed, especially the family-friendly musicals Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, as well as the film version of Birdie.

“They really did Hollywoodize it,” he sighs. “The Broadway show was a two-hour romp; the movie was used as a vehicle for Ann-Margret. They lost a lot of the musical numbers and lost the energy — and Chita! Chita Rivera was the star of the play — probably the most electric performer who ever walked on stage. Janet Leigh was fine, but Chita was irreplaceable.”

He has similar kudos for queer icon Paul Lynde, who actually was irreplaceable — along with Van Dyke, he was the only original cast member to reprise his role in the film.

“Nobody was like him,” Van Dyke says admiringly.

Van Dyke brings it all full-circle this week, returning to the stage — and to Dallas — to star in a limited-run production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, opposite his brother Jerry and Dallas’ own Denise Lee.

It’s been a while since Van Dyke was in Dallas last, but he remembers it well: “We played at the Adolphus Hotel in the late 1940s when I was doing my nightclub act,” which consisted mostly of lip-synching to albums. (“It was very popular at the time,” he says.) But while he doesn’t miss the grind of eight shows a week, he still likes live performing the best.

“Stage [performing] is probably the most fun — you’ve gotta have an audience. On the TV show we had an audience, so it was like doing a little play every week. They do their half of the work,” he says.

The Sunshine Boys also offers brothers Dick and Jerry a rare professional union.

“We did four episodes of the Van Dyke show, and he did a guest spot on Diagnosis: Murder, but that’s it,” he says.

To make the show work required some rewriting, though.

“It’s really about two old Yiddish comedians,” he says. “We took a whole Yiddish comedy sketch and took that out and put in our own stuff. Neil Simon approved of the whole thing, which was great because people who have worked for Neil say every ‘I’ has to be dotted perfectly — he writes a comedy with a certain rhythm.”

One of the change-ups involves a gag with Dick and an ottoman, echoing the opening-credits gimmick of his sitcom.

“I put it in early when we did it in rehearsal one day,” he says. “We had two, actually: One where I trip, and one where I step around it. We found out years later people were gambling on which one it would be each week.”

Van Dyke seems comfortable about his iconic status, joyfully answering questions about his favorite shows (The Music Man — “I did that show for a year and never ever got tired of it”) and favorite songs (“I love ‘I Have You Two,” a song I sing with the children in Chitty — I love that song. And ‘Hushabye Mountain’”), as well as his missteps.

“The Runner Stumbles was probably my biggest failure as an actor,” he readily admits. “They talked me into doing it and knew I was in over my head. But I did a movie for television called The Morning After about a middle-aged, middle-class alcoholic; I think it was the best thing I ever did dramatically. They show it in treatment centers I hear still — it does not end happily.”

Thankfully, for him and the rest of us, Dick Van Dyke’s story does seem destined for a happy ending.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Best bets • 08.26.11

Friday 08.26

Don’t rec yourself
After completing the new member clinics on playing volleyball, virgin recreation level players in DIVA will put everything they learn to the test Friday night. Sure it’s nerve wracking to come into a new sport and have balls fly at you at so many miles per hour, but once that’s done, the rest of the season is a blast.

DEETS: Texas Advantage Sports, 4302 Buckingham Road, Fort Worth. 7:30 p.m. DivaDallas.org.

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Sunday 08.28

What’s your identity?
Identity Festival, the first-ever exclusively electronic music tour, hits the Big D including queer faves Hercules and Love Affair, pictured, the neo-disco project from New York backed by gay DJ Andy Butler. Steve Aoki, The Crystal Method and Nervo also perform at the all-day event.

DEETS:  Gexa Energy Pavilion, 1818 First Ave. 1 p.m. $35. Ticketmaster.com..

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Thursday 09.01

Theater king
TITAS brings in Broadway leading man Brian Stokes Mitchell for a one-night engagement. The Tony Award winner performs a night of songs proving he can carry a show well on his own.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 8 p.m. $12–$200. TITAS.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Augus

—  Michael Stephens

Katy Perry & Robyn tonight at Verizon

Pop fantasia

Take one part radio friendly diva, another part alt-pop queen and put them on tour together and bam, it’s like Candyland for pop music. Where Katy Perry delivers irresistible bubblegum treats, Robyn gives steely dance gems and the audience wins with both on hand the same night. DJ Skeet Skeet opens up the night for this stop of the California Dreams Tour.

Both artists weren’t too much in the interviewing mood, but we kinda dig Cat Downes’ faux interview with the two here.

DEETS: Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. 7:30 p.m. $45. Ticketmaster.com.

PS. If you’re a  fan of Robyn, catch her DJ set after the show at the Rio Room.

 

—  Rich Lopez

Weekly Best Bets • 07.22.11

Friday 07.22

Green thumbs beware
When a good idea turns into a blood-craving monster plant — well, lives get turned around. WaterTower Theatre premieres the fun and frantic Little Shop of Horrors, where Seymour, a lowly florist, tries to turn his fortune around and ends up with a big mess. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs only add to the wacky flair of it all.

DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Through July 31.
$30. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

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Saturday 07.23

Who are those masked men?
The Dallas Eagle knows how to throw a bash. As part of Leather Pride Week (who knew?), the club hosts Masquerade: A Night of Men, Leather, Fantasy and Intrigue. OK, you got us — we’re intrigued. The leather and fetish ball assures no Cinderellas on hand. Gear and masks are encouraged. Just don’t be that guy without one.

DEETS: Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave.
10 p.m. DallasEagle.com

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Thursday 07.28

Is she your teenage dream?
Katy Perry is either brilliant or ballsy. Her radio hits will carry her show into party mode, but having the dynamic Robyn as an opener could put Perry into a corner. She’ll likely come out swinging. The audience definitely wins this night.

DEETS: Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. 7:30 p.m.
$45. Ticketmaster.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Vampire Weekend plays the Palladium Ballroom tonight

Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij brings your Afro-pop listening pleasure

Hipsters unite! The buzz keeps going for indie popsters Vampire Weekend and they bring their consistently well-reviewed live show back to Dallas today. We spoke with gay memeber Rostam Batmanglij about his place in the band and in the community last week. Thankfully, he gave us quality tidbits of insight before the phone disconnected us twice. Ouch.

DEETS: With Beach House. Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. $42. Ticketmaster.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Vampire strikes back

Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij could be the new face of gay — if it matters

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

FORGET TEAM EDWARD OR TEAM JACOB  |  Batmanglij, left, and the rest of Vampire Weekend bring their live show back to Dallas Wednesday to win over the city again after their spring show back in April.
FORGET TEAM EDWARD OR TEAM JACOB | Batmanglij, left, and the rest of Vampire Weekend bring their live show back to Dallas Wednesday to win over the city again after their spring show back in April.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND
With Beach House.
Palladium Ballroom,
1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 6 at 8 p.m.
Ticketmaster.com.

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Face it: Society is getting kind of used to the celebrity come-out story. Ricky Martin comes out and we applaud; Chely Wright becomes the first out country singer and now we know her name — ho-hum.

But when Rostam Batmanglij talks about being out as part of the big-buzzed indie group Vampire Weekend, nobody seems to notice.

Maybe it’s Batmanglij’s everyman look — he’s handsome but doesn’t smolder like Martin. He’s the understated hipster dude in the funky clothes. He just … is, minus the whole producer/multi-instrumentalist bit he performs for the band.

“I think sometimes there is so much pressure to conform to a straight identity,” he says. “But also, there’s pressure to conform to stereotypes of gay identity. I hope that’s less and less a pressure nowadays.”

Nothing about Vampire Weekend’s vibe is particularly threatening, but their music is innovative enough to stand out. The sound is happy with reggae-ish beats and endearing lyrics. Their scruffy image proffers likeable appeal for college- and high school-aged kids that includes a new generation of LGBT youth unrestricted by labels. Like Batmanglij, they are living a life that doesn’t find the need to thrive on completely gay environments as may have been the case 20 years ago.
“Just like there are different kinds of straight people, it’s the same for gays,” he says. “But now there are various gay role models.”

Batmanglij came out to the media last year, saying it was something he felt he should do. It didn’t have the shockwave impact of other musical coming outs, but it didn’t have to for Batmanglij. Really, he just finds it tough to figure if his coming out had any kind of impact on either the band or himself.

“It’s hard to perceive,” he says. “I certainly believe we had gay fans before I talked about it. I just don’t know if gay people would approach our band based on that fact.”

What does weigh heavy on Batmanglij is not his gay identity, but his Middle Eastern heritage. When asked about the Washington Post’s article where he discussed having issues with “whiteness,” Batmanglij dismisses the condensed version of his life in that article, but also shifts to a troubled tone when talking about his heritage.

“I have a complex relationship with being of Iranian descent and now more than ever,” he says. “There are a lot of things not talked about in America and so much is repressed and kept in the dark. Middle Easterners aren’t represented well. I think that I’ll continue to have an issue with it. There are ways to look at things without the cynicism.”

Thus it’s actually harder to be Middle Eastern than gay, right now?

“Certainly in America,” he laughs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Adam Lambert brings the glam to the Palladium Ballroom tonight

Glamberts unite!

Adam LambertWe’ve decided that if any of us go on American Idol, we’re shooting for second place. That’s where the real stardom is. Especially for the gays. Clay Aiken started it, but Adam Lambert ran with the runner-up fame and turned into one surprising showman. Whether he’s this generation’s Freddie Mercury remains to be seen, but he’s going to have a blast trying.

And his Glamberts are a force to be reckoned with. You don’t ever want to say a bad thing about Lambert — ever. They will cut you.

DEETS: Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar Road. Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. $39. Ticketmaster.com

—  Rich Lopez

Concert notice: Brandi Carlile comes to House of Blues in March

I just received word that out musician Brandi Carlile has included Dallas on the second leg of her Give Up The Ghost Traveling Show tour. I heard she killed at the Granada earlier this year with her gritty Americana rock. She is slated to perform at the House of Blues Sunday, Mar. 7 at 7 p.m.

Pre-sale tickets will go on sale tomorrow via Ticketmaster at 10 a.m. but only to those on her mailing list. General sale starts Friday at 10 a.m.

Above is video of her Granada show back in May.

—  Rich Lopez