Not just a ‘9 to 5’ job

Director Jeff Calhoun’s fabulous, unlikely journey from Dolly queen to professional Dolly collaborator

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

JeffCalhounSmileGenJeff Calhoun has been a Broadway baby for nearly 30 years, directing revivals of Grease and Big River, plus choreographing those shows and revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Bells Are Ringing. He’s got a Tony Award nom and is best friends with Tommy Tune. But he’s still hoping for the Holy Grail every theater director craves: That one original show to call his own, the lasting legacy.

“I thought Brooklyn was going to be that for me — the next Rent — which tells you how little I know,” he says of his 2004 show that ran a respectable 284 performances. Then when he heard producers were adapting the Dolly Parton film comedy 9 to 5 for Broadway, he thought he finally had his shot. Only it was not to be.

“I was really disappointed when they hired Joe Mantello to direct,” he says plainly. Then some serendipity occurred: First, 9 to 5 turned out to be a bust on Broadway, running only four months. Then the producers did something that has probably never been done before: They hired a new director to retool the show for the national tour. And that was Jeff Calhoun.

“It was a miracle,” he says.

Directing 9 to 5, which opens Wednesday at Fair Park Music Hall, is an appropriate bookend for Calhoun, who got his start as a 21-year-old working with Dolly Parton on the film version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

“She was in her prime — and so was I, as a matter of fact,” he jokes. “I wanted to do [9 to 5] because, first, I love Dolly; and second, I wanted to do an homage to 1970s variety shows — Sonny and Cher and Carol Burnett and such. I knew this was perfect: It takes place in 1979. But [the in Broadway version] there was no context, other than the costumes and bad hair. You should feel like you’re back in the ’70s, from Charlie’s Angels to Burt Reynolds posing nude in Playgirl.”

Calhoun tackled the show anew, treating it “as if it has its own DNA.” There was a lot of adapting: Some songs were cut, others rearranged; the style was streamlined, jokes were punched up. And working with Dolly was its own reward.

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A GAY MAN’S DREAM | Jeff Calhoun, director of ‘9 to 5: The Musical,’ came full-circle with the show, reuniting with Dolly Parton, whom he first met on the set of ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.’

“It’s been one of my favorite collaborations. I have a picture of her and me together [on the set of Whorehouse] that any fan, especially a gay person, will look at that and oh my god! All I am missing is Cher on my other side.”

 

The touring production also snagged some major talent in Tony nominee Dee Hoty (who worked with Calhoun on The Will Rogers Follies and, coincidentally, plays Miss Mona — the Dolly role — in The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public) and American Idol runner-up Diana DiGarmo, who starred in the tour of Calhoun’s Brooklyn.

Calhoun is a quick wit with a naughty, uncensored side who gets dishy and expresses his opinions without much coaxing.

Broadway is run by “businessmen without imagination,” he says. “That’s what’s great about [the new musical] The Book of Mormon — it’s brilliant and it shows original thought — rare today.” He’s happy bin Laden was killed on Obama’s watch as it “may shut up the naysayers. My parents — I love them and they are great people — but they have this blind spot for Obama. They would vote for Nixon tomorrow if he was running.” And don’t get him started on Sarah Palin.

“I wrote a song about Sarah Palin — it stars with C and ends with unt,” he says. “She’s written a book but she’s never read one? I hate that she has pride in her ignorance — it’s as if everyone in the audience of Let’s Make a Deal became Republicans.”

Politicking aside, next up for Calhoun are two Broadway shows: A musical adaptation of Newsies (with a script by Harvey Fierstein) immediately followed by a show with yet another Texas connection: Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical. For a Yankee, Calhoun has surprisingly strong ties to Dallas.

“I was in Dallas with Busker Alley when you had that big flood and my upside-down rental car was the image that led the news,” he says. “And I love [Dallas Summer Musicals chief] Michael Jenkins — he’s one of my best friends. Yes, I’ve had so many good experiences there, both theatrically and in the bars! I love me some Dallas!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Theatre Three announces 50th season

At a luncheon today at the Chase Bank Rotunda downtown, celebs and local talent turned out to pay tribute to Jac Alder, the longest-serving theater artistic director in America — a stunning achievement. Alder co-founded Theatre Three in 1961 and has been with it ever since. And today, they announced the company’s historic 50th season. The line-up (one mainstage show is still TBA):

Wild Oats, a Wild West adaptation of John O’Keefe’s 18th century comedy, adapted by Texas playwright James McLure (Aug. 11-Sept. 10)

A Catered Affair, a recent Broadway musical adapted from the Paddy Chayefsky teleplay and the Bette Davis film written by Gore Vidal. Harvey Fierstein wrote the books, John Bucchino the score. (Oct. 13-Nov. 12)

La Bete,  about the life of Moliere. (Dec. 8-Jan. 14)

The Farnsworth Invention, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) wrote this acclaimed Broadway play about the invention of television. (Feb. 14-March 17)

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which Tommy Tune recently declared one of his favorite musicals of the last Broadway season about the young soldier and politician. (June 7-July 7)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

New season of Lexus Broadway Series to include ‘Hair,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘American Idiot’

Billy Joe Armstrong

Dallas is finally getting some excellent shows … and some familiar ones return … again.

The Lexus Broadway Series, which was launched with the opening of the Winspear Opera House in 2009 as a national tour series to compete with Dallas Summer Musicals, released its new season. It kicks off around Pride Weekend with the revival of Hair (which on Broadway starred Gavin Creel, the openly gay actor who performed at Black Tie Dinner last year). The sexually fluid show has been a staple for 40 years, but the revival was singled out for praise.

That’s followed in December with the return of Les Miserables, a terrific if bombastic mega-musical which nonetheless gets revived a bit too often. (The original 1987 Broadway production closed in 2003 … only to be revived on Broadway again in 2006.) I’m a fan, but even I’ve grown weary of it.

Then things get cookin’ — though we have to wait almost a year. Next March, Dallas finally gets In the Heights, a not-too-gay urban hip-hop musical with a Latin beat about Dominicans living in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. That’s where my family lived when I was a boy; the set of the show was actually the subway stop I used to get off at. The music is phenomenal. It won a lot of Tony Awards in 2008; when I saw it on Broadway, Rosie O’Donnell was sitting next to me.

In May, the music gets even edgier with American Idiot, the rock musical based on the music of the neo-punk band Green Day. Again, not an especially gay show, except that the group is very gay-friendly and frontman Billy Joe Armstrong likes to get naked a lot (pictured). Plus, Tommy Tune told me a few weeks ago it was one of his favorite new shows — an unlikely endorsement, which should intrigue musical enthusiasts.

The series ends with another old saw, Jersey Boys — again, a fun musical that has been around for a while about the founding of the Four Seasons.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Who’s Tommy?

Tommy
TAP, DOG | Tommy Tune’s new act traces his legendary Broadway career — and it all began in Dallas.

Maybe you think you know gay  stage icon Tommy Tune, but even he’s still learning things about himself

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STEPS IN TIME

Fair Park Music Hall, 901 First Ave. March 15–20. $20–$75. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

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When I get Tommy Tune  on the phone for the first time, I finally get to tell him about my three Tommy encounters: One was on Broadway when he appeared in My One and Only; one was in his one-man show Tommy Tune Tonight! at Fair Park Music Hall; but the first time was in the locker room of the Watergate Hotel where we were both staying. He was changing clothes after a swim. And I confess to him my 30-year secret: That I saw his naked ass.

“How’d it look?” he hoots with an excited cackle. “Great!” I tell him. “Well, you know dancers,” he says with a flirtatious laugh.
This dancer just turned 72 — a number that rather delights Tune: “If you add together 7 and 2, it equals nine. And nine has always been a lucky number for me.”

It has indeed. Tune directed and choreographed the original stage musical Nine, and has won an astonishing nine Tony Awards in four categories over his 50-year stage career — a career that launched, in several ways, here in North Texas.

“I began at the Dallas Summer Musicals,” says the Texas native, whose sister still lives in Fort Worth.“I got my Equity card there. John Rosenfield, who was the king of culture [in Dallas for decades], reviewed my first professional job in Redhead with Taina Elg. In the last paragraph of the review, he wrote: ‘We cannot let this report pass without mentioning Tommy Tune, who handles his incredible long form with grace control and power.’ That was the energy that sent me to New York. I had the courage after that. And I just linked that up.”

Where he links that up is in his new one-man showcase, Steps in Time, which opens Tuesday on the same stage where Tune got his start.

“Everything I do in Steps in Time is the truth,” says Tune. “I’ve done four acts and this one is the most personal and the purest and it works better than the others. It doesn’t have the glitz, but there’s depth.”

It’s also a work in progress. Tune has performed it about 100 times so far, but often in one- or two-night stands; he’ll be in Dallas a week, and the version includes new material he’s only recent added. It also has the added bonus of getting him back to his Texas roots.

“I still like to get my feet in the Texas mud, which is different than all other muds,” he says.

Tune kicks off his show with his arrival in New York on St. Patrick’s Day 1962. His beginnings were auspicious: He auditioned for a show and got the job on the spot. That led to dozens  more shows as an actor (Seesaw, which won him his first Tony), director and choreographer (Grand Hotel, Nine, The Will Rogers Follies). But he’s loathe to choose a favorite experience.

“I’m gonna have to answer the next one will be my favorite,” he says. “Every show I’ve done, I’m not satisfied with. But there is a sense of dissatisfaction that keeps you marching.”

Still, he coos about many of the talents he’s worked with over the years. Raul Julia “was a dream.” With Julia and Keith Carradine he recalls “not one bad moment. It’s so easy for an actor to give a director problems. Actors can be quite contrary. But these two guys worked for the good of the show.” And there was the great Vaudeville hoofer Charles ‘Honi’ Coles, whom Tune co-starred with in My One and Only and who “was the best dancer that I ever worked with. He taught me more than anybody. And when I worked with him he was 76, so he’s still got a few years on me.”

Tune recounts one joyful memory about appearing with Coles: They performed a number together — a charming soft-shoe — that on opening night led to a tumult of uncontrollable applause. It literally stopped the show.

“I was just gobsmacked,” he says. “I leaned over to Charles and said, ‘What should we do?’ He smiled up and said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ So I just broke the fourth wall like you don’t do and said, ‘Let’s take it again from the top of the dance.’ We did it! I just thought, ‘That’s opening night — everything’s up for grabs.’But we did over 1,000 performances together and we never failed to stop the show — it happened every night! It’s when that magic thing happens, when the audience takes control of the show, that you love like theater.”

Which is exactly what Tune didn’t enjoy about one aspect of his career: Making movies. Tune kicked off his film career with a prime role opposite Barbra Streisand in the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Hello, Dolly! but he quickly soured on Hollywood.

“I hated making movies,” he says. “My whole thing is about the audience connection. In movies, you are not performing for the crew but for a machine — the camera — or yourself. It was just so unfulfilling. You never get the joy of performing a number. After Hello, Dolly! they put me in a couple episodes of Nanny and the Professor but I was burning to be back on Broadway. I asked them, will you let me out of that deal? Off I went, and fast!”

And he’s still returning to it — as a performer, director and a patron. His favorite recent shows? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and American Idiot.

“Those are my two favorites. And it worries me that neither has found their audience but both speak to now, but work through then. [The lead in Andrew Jackson] is so good, I saw it four times. It made me laugh so hard. Maybe it was a mistake that they moved it to Broadway, but it was better than the off-Broadway version. They really sharpened it. American Idiot is highlight. I was new to Green Day — I don’t usually do anything more contemporary than the ’50s — and they just knocked me out. I’m so grateful I’ve got to do this with my life. But we need to still be respectful of our fabulous invalid called the theater.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Starvoice • 02.25.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAYTommy-TUne

Tommy Tune turns 72 on Monday. The legendary Tony award-winning dancer, singer, choreographer still keeps busy in the business. Not only does the Wichita Falls-born Texan returns in March with performances in Dallas, he’s also developing a musical based on the iconic club Studio 54 in the age of disco.

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THIS WEEK

Venus entering Aquarius opens new aesthetic opportunities and challenges. Be daring and adventurous in your own presentation and your choices for entertainment and art. The North Node entering Sagittarius opens new challenges to look past apparently logical details to the fuller picture. Both are leaving Capricorn, so break out of old problems with new perspectives.

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PISCES Feb 19-Mar 19
Your social instincts are sharp. Resist the tendency to fall back into the partying embrace of your home and community. Network! Hang out with people who can help you get ahead.

ARIES Mar 20-Apr 19
Being charming and innovative are great ways to promote yourself. The energy is there. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have, but don’t shy away from your own sense of style.

TAURUS Apr 20-May 20
Ask yourself what’s the most beautiful country in the world (besides your own). Do some research and expand your aesthetic vision to open up a much deeper sense of yourself.

GEMINI May 21-Jun 20
New erotic exploration won’t just spice up your sex life but helps you understand where your relationship needs to go — or where one should get started. Invite your honey to surprise you in bed.

CANCER Jun 21-Jul 22
Start a new conversation with your partner about old challenges. A breakthrough will require risks and experimentation, but probably not sexual. Review how the two of you share or divide tasks.

LEO Jul 23-Aug 22
Redecorate your workplace to make it more efficient. Innovate your beauty and health regimen. Dance classes are fun and introduce you to new people. Try something wild and different.

VIRGO Aug 23-Sep 22
Play with new ideas and images. The urge to be the best or to utilize these expressions professionally should take a backseat to expressing youthful visions and affirming your roots.

LIBRA Sep 23-Oct 22
Call your mother, grandmother or an aunt. What starts out as a simple conversation can reveal a lot about your family and more about yourself. Keep it simple, direct and personal.

SCORPIO Oct 23-Nov 21
Grab keyboard or pen and paper; liberate your mind writing whatever occurs to you. Scrapbooking works. Review it a few days later and see what you can learn about yourself.

SAGITTARIUS Nov 22-Dec 20
Set aside some money for a spontaneous indulgence or impulsive whim. Resist the urge to splurge on anyone else. This treat is for you! Get yourself something outré, so wrong that it’s right.

CAPRICORN Dec 21-Jan 19
Take time out — a long walk or a spiritual retreat — to think about who you really are deep inside and who you want to be. Then consider how best to make your outside match your inside.

AQUARIUS Jan 20-Feb 18
Old traumas contain lessons, but better yet review your earliest feelings of love and beauty. Sure, age brings disappointments. So what? You can still keep those innocent ideals alive.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 25, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas Summer Musicals announces 2011 season

The Dallas Summer Musicals’ big State Fair production will be the recent revival of West Side Story, complete with Spanish-language rewrites, as well as a few other revivals, returns … and one new show.

The season kicks off with gay Texan Tommy Tune, the biggest Tony winner of all time. in Tommy Tune Steps in Time with the Manhattan Rhythm Kings. for a one-week run beginning March 15. That will be followed by the return of another dance show, Burn the Floor, for two weeks in April.

The official summer season begins May 18 with the recent Dolly Parton musical of 9 to 5, followed by the returns of Stomp and Monty Python’s Spamalot in June and Guys and Dolls in July.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones