ACTOR OF THE YEAR

N2Narnold1Stage, it is said, is an actor’s medium, and that is true with the local theater community, who did excellent work last year. Pam Daugherty and Jerry Crow breathed comfortable authenticity in Theatre 3’s contribution to the Foote Festival, The Roads to Home; seven months later on the same stage, Sally Soldo and Sonny Franks transformed the domestic musical A Catered Affair into a kitchen-sink master class in acting for the musical genre.

Larry Randolph, in the nearly-one-man show The Madness of Lady Bright, was a dazzling tragic tour-de-force of a drag queen in winter, nearly matched by Barry Nash’s entirely-one-man show Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of the Self, both running at the Festival of Independent Theatres — Bright from 1:30 Productions, Birdnow from Second Thought Theater. Second Thought was also represented by the threesome of Drew Wall, Natalie Young and Alex Organ, in the most compelling drama of the first half of 2011, Red Light Winter; Organ scored again (at comedy) in WaterTower Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, stealing the show in several roles.

The men offered the “wow” factor to DTC’s The Wiz, with Scarecrow James Tyrone Lane, Lion David Ryan Smith and Tin Man Sydney James Harcourt buoying that production. Oozing charisma, Wade McCollum’s sinewy, villainous M.C. in Cabaret turned a part often played for androgyny into a testosterone-laden sex show. Max Swarner oozed something different — goofy likeability — in ICT’s How to Succeed.

Comic women shone at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, with Emily Scott Banks and Catherine Wall standouts in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, while Shannon J. McGrann plucked her way through Bad Dates. The entire cast of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Kitchen Dog Theater “got” the humor in a sickly perverse comedy. Angel Velasco’s brain-dead beachcomber was a comic hoot in Level Ground Arts’ camptacular musical Xanadu.

But a trio of actors at Uptown Players made 2011 special. First Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd, pictured, turned the quasi-opera Next to Normal into Uptown’s best production to date, exploring music, family life and mental illness with tenderness and strength.

If I had to pick one performance I can’t shake all these months later, it would be Lulu Ward in, of all things, the Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century. Over a 25-minute monologue as the craft-happy mother of a son with HIV, she delved into the quirky charms of a kitschy Southerner to the depths of pain a mother feels watching her child die. Between fits of uncontrollable laughter was a cascade of tears from the audience as she choked back hers. You couldn’t walk away from what seemed like a frivolous comedy without feeling transformed by Ward’s performance. That’s what made her the actor of the year.

— A.W.J.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Carol’ charming

The lion, the ghost and the wardrobe changes of Carol-er David Ryan Smith

DTCs-The-Wiz

FROM OZ TO DICKENS | David Ryan Smith got a chance to work at both DTC home bases in 2011, playing the Cowardly Lion in ‘The Wiz’ at the Wyly, and now multiple roles in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Kalita. (Photos courtesy David Leggett and Karen Almond)

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

David Ryan Smith isn’t a Dallas native, he just seems to play one onstage.

The  New York-based actor has made the Dallas Theater Center almost a second home in 2011 — first playing the Cowardly Lion in last summer’s The Wiz (one of the triumvirate of friends of Dorothy, along with the Tin Man and Scarecrow, who stole the show), and currently in several roles, most notably the

Ghost of Christmas Present, in DTC’s annual revival of A Christmas Carol.

So what accounts for his sudden honorary Texan status? Even he doesn’t know.

“I’d never even been to Texas until this summer,” he says. He grew up in Asheville, N.C., before attending school in Indiana and later San Francisco; he moved to New York six years ago. But he “had a great time” here.

Really?! He liked spending a record-settingly sweltering summer in a furry lion suit? Well, yeah, kinda.

“I’m not a big musical-theater actor, but I’d always wanted to do The Wiz,” he says. He’d auditioned for the DTC before when the company held casting calls in NYC, but actor and part never quite clicked before. Still, he agreed to assist the casting director, helping read other actors for parts. Then the casting director suggested he would be right for the Lion. DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty agreed, and his Texas tour was on its way.

“The Theater Center is great — the facility and the people. And working with the Dallas Black Dance Theater was amazing, they are all so talented.” He even became friends with his Wiz co-star Liz Mikel, who is in New York right now preparing for her Broadway debut in Lysistrata Jones.

But Smith also wanted to work with DTC’s Joel Ferrell. “Liz and Cedric [Neal] told me, work with him if you can,” he says. So when Ferrell returned this year to direct A Christmas Carol again, Smith jumped at the chance.

It actually wasn’t his first experience with DTC’s annual holiday show — Smith had worked in San Francisco with former DTC associate Jonathan Moscone, who mounted a version of Christmas Carol in the 1990s. “He was really proud of that show,” Smith says.

So what’s it like staying in the holiday spirit 10 times a week since Halloween? Not as hard as you might imagine, Smith says.

“We do original music, not the same old Christmas carols you hear everywhere, so at least it doesn’t make you cranky,” he says. “And wearing those boots [as the Ghost of Christmas Present] takes you into a whole other reality. I see my job in that role as forcing [Kurt Rhoads, who plays Scrooge] into changing. Kurt’s a wonderful acting partner.”

An even better partner is Smith’s boyfriend of five years, Josh. How do they handle Smith being on the road so much?

“It’s part of the job,” he sighs. “Usually he comes to visit, but because of how the holidays fall this year, he won’t get down here, though he visited during

The Wiz. And actually it makes the time we spend together all the better.”

That’s the way to stay in the holiday spirit — especially for a man playing a holiday spirit.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Pumping tin

Playing a sexy ax-man in ‘The Wiz’ has been rewarding for Sydney Harcourt

TAKE IT EASY | Sydney James Harcourt, above, deals with the Texas heat by wearing gym clothes everywhere — except, of course, onstage in ‘The Wiz,’ where he’s layered in a heavy costume, opposite, that has sweated off two waist sizes in four weeks. (Photos by Arnold Wayne Jones and David Leggett)

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

When Sydney James Harcourt signed to play the Tin Man in Dallas Theater Center’s new production of The Wiz, he didn’t know he’d have such a tough act to follow… or that that act would be one of his best friends.
Wade McCollum, who played the MC in DTC’s Cabaret, is one of Harcourt’s closest friends. McCollum’s legions of gay fans swooned over his ripped, muscular frame — a legacy Harcourt became all-too-aware of very quickly.

“I can’t hear enough about Wade’s abs,” he says with a sigh. “Everyone has a story about how ripped he was — abs, abs, abs. Well, the part I’m doing right after this is Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe in San Diego, where I’m wearing nothing but a gold Speedo.” And the specter of McCollum’s physique is enough to give him an inferiority complex.

Not that that’s likely to happen. True, he’s been in training with a low-fat regimen to get his body in peak shape for Rocky. But just playing the Tin Man eight shows at week at the DTC has worked wonders.
“I’ve probably dropped two waist sizes since I started,” he says. And there are still two more weeks to go.

He’s not complaining. Wearing the costume has been spectacular for helping him develop the character. He’s so constricted, he knows what it must be like to have rusted in the woods.

This isn’t the first time Harcourt has had to contend with a complicated costume — he spent 18 months on Broadway, playing Simba in The Lion King eight times a week. The headdress for that costume occasionally made him bleed. But getting decked out as the Tin Man has been a commitment of an entirely different level.

The process begins with Harcourt donning a neck-to-toe Under Armour bodysuit to wick perspiration away from his skin. Then he applies the shiny foil makeup to his face, taught to him by a professional makeup artist. (“It’s changed — I’ve figured out my own way to make it look more reflective,” he says.) That can take half an hour. Next comes sliding into the silver Lycra bodysuit, onto which are stitched most of the components of the Tin Man’s costumes. They are not detachable. And the sweating begins immediately.

“Originally, they were gonna be separate and we could wash the Lycra suit,” he says. “But they are all attached. That suit has not been washed since we started. It started to smell like a pickle. Now they just spray it with Febreze and let it dry in the sun. I used to be self-conscious, but I am no longer the smelliest costume. There are worse.” He refuses to name names.

Next, the arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt describes as “like putting on a snow suit: You have suspenders and a hood and the tap shoes and spats. The last thing is the shell, which is like armor. I cannot get into that without help. And I cannot get out of the costume at all without someone’s help — trust me, I’ve tried.”

All of which means that once Harcourt is strapped in he cannot — ummm … relieve himself. At all.

“The bathroom breaks are carefully timed,” he says. Once you’re in, you’re in for the show. It’s only 90 minutes, but altogether I’m probably in it three hours.” On days when he performs two shows with a three-hour break in between, he gets out of the costume entirely — including the makeup.

“Yeah, it looks weird walking around without the costume,” he says. “It kinda looks like blackface.”

The first time Harcourt actually performed at rehearsal in the costume nearly killed him. After the R&B jive of “Slide Some Oil to Me,” he bent over, panting and exhausted. He them transitioned immediately into the ballad “To Be Able to Feel.” That caught him off-guard when he showed up to rehearsal — the song had been moved by director Kevin Moriarty to much earlier in the show than it was originally.

But the one-two punch of Harcourt’s solos has made the Tin Man — and  arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt — the darling of audiences and critics. And he didn’t see it coming.

“I play him as completely sexual, and some of my jokes didn’t seem to be working,” like when he calls Lion a “pussy… cat.” But when he started in front of an audience, the reaction was intense.

“I think people are responding just to how much I love doing it,” Harcourt says.

For good reason: In his 13-year professional career, this is the first time Harcourt has created a role, rather than understudying someone else’s creation. And he likes it — as well as the reception he’s received on his first stint in Texas.

It’s enough to warm the heart of this Tin Man.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Friends of Dorothy

stage-1
EASE ON DOWN | The Tin Man (Sydney James Harcourt, above left) steals the show in ‘The Wiz’ at DTC, while over at Fair Park, Megan Sikora, right, gives ‘Guys & Dolls’ its jolt.

If only DTC’s ‘Wiz’ had a heart. And I got yer horse right here, ‘Guys & Dolls’

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

If there’s one thing a gay guy can be counted on to know something about, it’s The Wizard of Oz. After all, the death of Judy Garland sparked the Stonewall Riots, and even before that, being a “friend of Dorothy” was code for practicing The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. You wanna change it? Be prepared for theater queens to take note.

And so it is with The Wiz, the 1975 funked-up, all-black musical that serves as the Dallas Theater Center’s season ender.

The appeal of Dorothy’s adventure has always been the exploration of self-understanding with heavy doses of psychology. (The folks she meets in her reveries about Oz mirror real-life people she knows in Kansas.) This rushed 90-minute kiddie show so trims the classic structure of the film (it’s closer in plot to the book, but that’s not a good thing), it feels more like a series of unrelated vignettes than a mythological journey of personal discovery. Dorothy gets to Oz, meets a good witch (not Glinda), hooks up with three buddies (sans Toto, who is only heard barking offstage in the opening), dispatches an evil witch in about six minutes then presumably makes it back home (we never see Kansas again).

DTC is marketing it as a “family musical,” and I suppose it is in the sense that we might start referring to Michele Bachmann’s husband as “family.” The show — even in this abridged version — is gayer than Liberace on Halloween. The Lion, always the nelliest of the bunch, basically admits he’s gay due to an absent father and strong-willed mother; so many men are obsessed with Dorothy’s shiny shoes (here silver as in the book, not ruby like the movie), I expected one of the Munchkins to be Stanford Blatch; and director Kevin Moriarty employs lithe, half-naked dancers from Dallas Black Dance Theater to gyrate their moneymakers — is this Oz from the book or the gay club on Bourbon Street?

Still, this version of The Wiz is just children’s theater without much heart, brain or courage (it’s difficult to tell if that’s the fault of the book by William F. Brown or the direction, which feels stage-2rushed). The style is presentational and flat, with the actors projecting broadly to the balcony with exaggerated emotions.

Although the set famously includes moving “pods” of seats that move the audience around the space, the main actors rarely perform as in true theater-in-the-round, except when the dancers jump into them. I counted a dozen repositionings, but the sense of movement only genuinely grabs you once; during the cyclone, which should make you feel dizzy and excited, the pods move lumberingly around dancers portraying winds. It’s all oddly unsatisfying: It’s there, it ends.

What’s surprising is that there’s not more magic considering how balls-to-the-wall strong most of the singers are. The Tin Man has never been my favorite character — face it: He’s never been anyone’s favorite … until now. Sydney James Harcourt delivers the only truly wrenching musical performance on his solo “To Be Able to Feel,” just moments after the juiced-up eroticism of “Slide Some Oil to Me.” It’s a sexy, charismatic turn in sharp relief to David Ryan Smith’s hilariously flamboyant Lion and James Tyrone Lane’s limber goofing as Scarecrow.

Liz Mikel hams it up, both as good witch Addaperle and her wicked sister Evillene, which gives her the chance to seethe and gnash her teeth at the youngsters in between belt-‘em-out anthems. But Trisha Jeffrey as Dorothy makes little impression. In this construct, without Toto to talk to, the character is a cipher with little to do but watch the rest of Oz upstage her, wondering “Why, oh why can’t I?”

 

Over at Fair Park, the national tour of Guys & Dolls does a good job of reminding us how gosh-durn terrific a songwriter Frank Loesser was. The score plays like a master class in Broadway hits, with standards (the most famous, “Luck Be a Lady,” isn’t even the best) that convey character through complex harmonies with toe-tapping brio. It’s ironic that “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” makes the audience want to jump to its feet.

If only the production were quite at the level it needs to be to showcase those numbers at their best. Four of the five leads — Ben Crawford (Sky Masterson), Steve Rosen (Nathan Detroit), Megan Sikora (Adelaide) and Glenn Rainey (Nicely Nicely) — have great voices, with Sikora stealing the show as the squeaky-voiced stripper. (Erin Davie never rises above the confines of the show’s least interesting role, missionary Sarah Brown.) The book, based on Damon Runyon’s caricatures of New York low-lifes, still has some zingers (and Crawford is especially good at making the dialogue feel contemporary), but it hasn’t aged well.

It doesn’t help that director Gordon Greenberg cleaves closely to outmoded conventions, like a long
introductory ballet (danced only serviceably by a disappointing chorus) and extended, stylized sequences throughout that do little to advance the plot. And with the show clocking in just shy of three hours, there is plenty of room to trim.

Sikora, though, makes it worth a look-see alone, and the songs have more energy and have endured better than those of The Wiz. Given a choice, it’s a crapshoot between the Loesser of two Evillenes.

………………………..

travel Travel Diary

Anyone who has ever been trapped in an airport during flight delays knows the madness can become infectious, but being balanced and serene is worth the effort. Here are some tips to get your Zen on.

Exercise. You might be on vacation, but your body is not. Exercise in your room, in your hotel’s gym, outside (run on the beach!) or find a nearby gym. Investing an hour in working out can reduce stress, improve sleep and increase energy.

Choose the right attitude. If you approach traveling with the attitude of, “Ugh! I hate to fly/drive/sit,” you’ve already decided it’s going to be a terrible experience. Instead, make the decision to enjoy the journey. Find a good book or download some interesting movies on your iPad. A long flight can be hell… or six hours of scheduled “me” time. The choice is yours.

Eat right. There’s no such thing as “vacation” calories. A calorie is a calorie and unhealthy options are as unhealthy at the beach as they are at home. Make food choices that nourish your body and you’ll feel strong and you’ll enjoy your vacation even more.

Do less, accomplish more. Many treat vacations as narrow windows into which they cram in as much “fun” as possible. While tempting, it can result in seeing a lot but experiencing nothing. Instead, do a few things you’ll actually enjoy rather than constantly looking at your watch.

Stay hydrated. Planes have notoriously dry air; make it a point to get some water whenever the stewards or stewardesses offer it. After going through security, buy a large bottle of water. It makes your body infinitely more comfortable, especially on longer flights.

Meditate. Even if you don’t normally meditate, taking 10 minutes a day to sit quietly is refreshing. Ideally, meditation is best in a quiet room, but even on a packed plane you can make it work. If there is chaos around you, make it part of your practice! Tune it out and find your center. Among other things, it will help reduce tension, relieve stress and improve your mood.

Wash your hands. Restaurants and public transportation facilities are rife with germs. Vacations are more enjoyable when you’re healthy, so minimize your risk of getting sick by washing your hands often.

— Davey Wavey

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

—  Kevin Thomas