Shabby Shriek of the Week: Meital

We’ve made a slight change here in Shabby Shriek of the Week. We’ve switched out the Sounds Like analysis with a lyric sampling in Words Up, so you can be better informed before making your “shab” or “fab” vote for the next pop princess.

Now, let’s take a look at Meital’s “Yummy Boyz.”

WTF IS Meital?

Apparently she’s a big deal — in Israel. Meital Dohan is singer/actress/playwrite who most American audiences might know from her recurring role on Weeds as Yael Hoffman. She’s also been nominated for two Israeli Academy Awards and won an Isreali Tony Award. Who knew?

Now she’s going after gay audiences with her foray into music. I received a disc of seven remixes of her first single “Yummy Boyz.” The hook has promise, but the lyrics — meh. The song is from her upcoming album, I’m in Hate with Love.

—  Rich Lopez

‘Gypsy’ in her soul

B’way legend and gay icon Patti LuPone brings her powerful pipes to Dallas

concerts-1ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

You might not have seen her name above the title on a movie or welcomed her every week into your house via the boob tube, but when it comes to the stage, there are few contemporary performers who rival Patti LuPone.

“I’m not a movie actress — I think I’m a hard sell in the movies,” LuPone says matter-of-factly. (She is, however, about to shoot a film in New Orleans, playing  J-Lo’s mom.) While the Juilliard-trained actress has met her greatest success in musical theater, it’s her acting chops that have transformed songs like “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (from Evita — her first Tony Award) and “Rose’s Turn” (Gypsy — her second Tony). The latter was a career highlight: The most ferocious role for a woman ever written for an American musical. Two years after it closed, she’s still happy to talk about it.

“It was great,” she beams. “Arthur [Laurents, the director and writer] assembled a spectacular cast — we really were a triumvirate. I don’t think you can act alone. You need partners on stage.”

That the production took place “was really done as a tribute to Arthur’s partner of 50 years, Tom Hatcher,: she says. “Tom had just died, and he’s the one who told Arthur to do West Side Story and Gypsy. Arthur agreed to do it basically to keep him alive. He wanted it to be different than the last one and really have an acted show.”

Although the entire principal cast won Tonys, Laurents did not.  “How could the director not win!” LuPone says, voice filling with outrage. You sense it’s such emotional readiness that has made her a Broadway icon.

LuPone brings that legendary power to the stage of the Meyerson this week, with what she calls a “piano and voice only” concert (no orchestra), titled Gypsy in My Soul. “It’s a collection of songs including some showtunes,” she says.

When an actress so identified with certain composers, especially Stephen Sondheim, performs in concert, she can run the risk of being compelled to perform songs that no longer interest her. That’s simply not the case with LuPone.

“Songs never become old hat to me, “ she says categorically. “Because audiences want to hear one, so I do one — not even because I have to; I want to. If they are really good songs you want to sing them.”

LuPone has, in one venue or another, run through almost the entire Sondheim repertoire: Mama Rose, Passion, Company, Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd (another Tony nomination — “I actually got rotator cuff problems from carrying around that tuba”). Really, only two have eluded her.

“I wanted to play Desiree [in the revival of A Little Night Music, which closed earlier this year on Broadway]. I contacted Trevor [Nunn, the director], who didn’t contact me back,” she says, with a sting. “Really the last Sondheim role for me is the Witch in Into the Woods, which I was originally offered! After it left San Diego they offered it to me; I said I d like to play Cinderella, so I came in and auditioned for that. Then they said, ‘We still want you to play the Witch.’ Then negotiations fell apart.”

Her resume is littered with shows — some huge hits, some personal triumphs.

“I loved Women on the Verge,” she says of her last Broadway venture, which closed quickly last year (though not before landing her a sixth Tony nom). “I think there’s a lot of creativity [on Broadway] now, but I’m sick and tired of the spectacles. My biggest complaint is the sound level: I’d rather be brought to the stage than pushed back in my seat.”

And she’s always looking ahead. “Mandy [Patinkin] and I are coming to Broadway for nine weeks [soon], then we will go out on the road both together and separately. Then there’s stuff happening that I can’t say because I’m not supposed to,” she teases.

You might expect she’d find a pace more suitable for a 62-year-old, but LuPone denies that the demands of eight shows a week wear her out.

“I have Italian peasant energy,” he says. “Even at my age, there is this abundance of energy, especially songs that are physically demanding. I am exhilarated by them.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Brian Stokes Mitchell tonight at the Winspear

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.

—  Rich Lopez

Wiz, meet Liz

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OFF TO SEE THE LIZ | Mikel tackles a villainous character in ‘The Wiz’ at DTC before (fingers crossed) returning to New York for a hoped-for Broadway production of ‘Lysistrata Jones.’ (Photo by David Leggett)

After a devastating fire and the loss of her mom, Dallas’ Liz Mikel wowed NYC — but there’s no place like home

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

Liz Mikel sprinkles her conversation with terms of endearment like “baby” and “child” the way others sprinkle sugar on cereal: Liberally, and to sweeten you up.

Mikel deserves a little sweetness in her life. 2010 proved to be a daunting year for the actress. She was in tech rehearsals for the world premiere musical Give It Up! at the Dallas Theater Center when her house burned to the ground. Four months later, her mother passed away.

“She was a brilliant shining light,” Mikel says, tearing up. “She had a doctorate but she always encouraged me [in acting and singing]. I had no choice — performing chose me.”

Those twin tragedies challenged Mikel, but did not defeat her. Indeed, Give It Up! (now renamed Lysistrata Jones) has become a flashpoint for her career. When the producing team decided to bring it to New York, Mikel was brought along to recreate her role as a sassy madam — a casting decision that led to a full-color photo of her in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times.

“That still boggles my mind,” she says, slightly aghast. “I did not know the magnitude of that. I was just grateful they found a way to get me up there. You plant seeds, and then it opens a different universe for you.”

That universe includes talk of moving the musical to Broadway with Mikel intact (there’s already buzz she’d be in serious contention for a Tony Award), and though she’s crossing her fingers “waiting for the call,” Mikel prefers not to think too much about it. “It’s still just an out-of-body experience,” she says. “I don’t even know how to put it in words.”

But Dallas doesn’t need to worry too much about losing Mikel to the Great White Way. “This is my home, baby!” she says almost defensively. “I’ve been [with the DTC, where she is now a member of the resident acting company] since 1990. I’m not going anywhere.” She continues that association with the DTC when she opens in The Wiz tonight.

But Mikel has been familiar to Dallas’ gay community even longer. “If I had been born a man, I would have been a drag queen,” says the 6-foot-1 actress who rarely wears flats in public. “I was about 18 when I started going to The Landing, which is where you’d go to see drag shows. I forced my best friend, whom I had known since the fifth grade, to come out to me by telling him he had to take me there.”

Mikel began singing in piano bars, where she developed a reputation as a full-throated diva with a gospel urgency to her voice. That has translated well onto the stage, especially in musical roles. But her current part, playing the wicked Evilene in The Wiz, is something of a departure for her.

“I usually do nurturing roles, but this is just over-the-top from the word ‘go,’ cracking the whip and screaming at people.”

It’s also a chance for Mikel to take on a role in one of her favorite musicals — sort of.

“I loved watching The Wizard of Oz on TV,” she says, “waiting for that moment when Judy Garland goes from black and white to color.”

The message of the show rings especially true for Mikel after the trials of 2010, as she knows that, no matter what 2011 and beyond may bring, there’s no place like home.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Tony Award wrap-up: Totally gay (again)

It was an untenable situation for the gay Dallasite: Watch the Tony Awards or game 6 of the Mavs? Thank god I had two DVRs. Best of both worlds.

Of course, the Tony Awards are always the gayest of award shows, and they did nothing to disguise that Sunday night starting with the opening number by the telecast’s gay host, Neil Patrick Harris, “‘[Theater] is not Just for Gays Anymore.” He then did a medley duet with Hugh Jackman that was damn funny. (It got even gayer when Martha Wash performed “It’s Raining Men” with cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.)

Then the first award of the evening went to Ellen Barkin for her Broadway debut in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, giving a shout out to the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. She was immediately followed by gay actor and Plano native John Benjamin Hickey for his role in The Normal Heart. (He even chastised his family: “You’d better not be watching the Mavericks game.” Sorry, John, I for one kept flipping between them.) The play also won the award for best revival — a controversial choice, since The Normal Heart never opened on Broadway until this year, usually a requirement for a revival nominations (some thought it should be eligible for best play). Kramer accepted the award. “To gay people everywhere whom I love so, The Normal Heart is our history. I could not have written it had not so many of us so needlessly died. Learn from it and carry on the fight.”

The very gay-friendly Book of Mormon from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone won several off-camera awards, including score of a musical (the composers thanking gay producer Scott Rudin), orchestrations, scenic design, lighting design and sound design, before taking their first onscreen trophy for best direction of a musical to Parker and gay director Casey Nicholaw (The Drowsy Chaperone), on its way to winning nine total awards, including best musical, best featured actress (newcomer Nikki M. James, defeating prior winners Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone and Victoria Clark and prior nominee Tammy Blanchard) and book of a musical.

“This is such a waste of time — it’s like taking a hooker to dinner,” said best musical presenter Chris Rock before announcing The Book of Mormon for the night’s last prize, best musical.

Other winners in the musical category include John Larroquette for best featured actor (How to Succeed…, apparently the only straight nominee in his category), choreographer Kathleen Marshall for Anything Goes, which also beat How to Succeed for best revival of a musical and won best actress for Sutton Foster. Norbert Leo Butz was the surprise winner for best actor in a musical for Catch Me If You Can. One more really gay winner: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert took best costumes, natch.

The big winner in the play category (other than The Normal Heart) was the brilliant War Horse, which won 5: best play, direction, lighting design, sound design, scenic design, as well as a special Tony for the puppet designs of the horses.

Other play winners include The Importance of Being Earnest (costumes), Good People (best actress Frances McDormand) and Jerusalem, a surprise winner for best actor Mark Rylance.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Bi-polar bearable

 

Uptown-N2N-Press-008
SHOCK AND AWE | Stars Gary Floyd, left, and Patty Breckenridge, right, have both worked on hit productions with director Michael Serrecchia, but for ‘Next to Normal,’ they really brought their A-game. (Photo by Mike Morgan)

Understanding ‘Next to Normal,’ a musical about mental illness

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

Patty Breckenridge is entirely aware of the cliché that having a child changes your life. But she can’t avoid it.

Earlier this year, Breckenridge and her partner Carrie became mommies to son Logan, around the same time she changed jobs. Pursuing acting opportunities would have to take a backseat for a while.

And then she heard that Uptown Players was producing Next to Normal. And she made an exception.

“I put all my eggs in one basket and said, ‘This is it; this is the one show I will be able to do for a while [now that I am a mother],’” Breckenridge says. “My wife has been so supportive; Carrie is absolutely my hero.”

Especially since she is a new mom, tackling this role — that of a bi-polar woman coping with deep issues related to her son — struck unnervingly close to home.

“I’ve never done as much work for a role in my life,” she says. “When my brother, and my other friends, saw this on Broadway, they said, ‘This was meant for you.’”

It may have impressed her friends, but one person who wasn’t initially convinced was the show’s director, Michael Serrecchia.

“My first reaction [when I saw a scene performed on the Tony Awards] was, ‘I don’t like it,’” he says with an ironic smile. “Who would watch that?”

But Serrecchia, who teaches acting and voice in town, said his students began to convince him of its appeal; before long, he was “feeling addicted to the score.”

The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, Next to Normal was an unlikely hit and has become a cult favorite, winning a Tony Award for its rock-opera score about the dark, often taboo topic of mental illness. It closed in January.

This is the second consecutive Pulitzer winner they have mounted (following The Young Man from Atlanta), and this marks the first production of the show outside of New York or the recently started national tour. It’s a coup for the company that only last season moved to the bigger digs of the historic Kalita Humphreys Theater.

Next to Normal fits with our mission statement of tolerance and dignity,” says company co-founder Jeff Rane. “And the family issues will be familiar to our audience.” It has sold so well, additional performances have already been added.

That puts the pressure on Breckenridge, Gary Floyd (who plays her husband) and Serrecchia to do it justice. None of them saw the Broadway production, nor do they have personal experience with bi-polar disorder. At least, they didn’t think so.

“I didn’t realize how many people I know who do suffer from it until they found out I was directing it,” Serrecchia says. “I’d say maybe a dozen people have called me.”

To be as accurate and respectful of the material as possible, Serrecchia arranged for a woman, whose life closely mirrors Breckenridge’s character Diane, to speak to the cast about what mental illness is like from the inside out.

“She made me really want to do it justice,” Breckenridge says. “We’re all bringing our A-game.”

That won’t be easy. The sung-through score is the equivalent of “vocal aerobics,” as Serrecchia puts it.

“As a singer, you have to pace yourself,” says Floyd. But it’s also necessary to convey the intense emotions of the songs. Floyd says the cue he was given to understand mental illness is that it is “like walking through cotton candy.”

Serrecchia also wanted to give the audience visual cues to the psychology of the characters. Andy Redmon’s set, a multi-story behemoth, qualifies as one of Uptown’s most ambitious ever.

“The whole play is in 2s,” he says. “There’s all this doubling, these mirror images, these layers. I wanted everything parallel. So you have all these intersecting stairs to show each transition.”

For the cast and crew, just doing a show like this is a major transition itself into the big leagues.

Screen shot 2011-06-09 at 10.45.25 AM

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 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.

………………..

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.

………………..

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

From Broadway to broadcast: London staging of musical ‘Fela!’ comes to Angelika screens tonight

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

When Stephen Hendel first approached out choreographer Bill T. Jones about directing Fela!, Hendel’s hoped-for musical about the life and work of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, Jones had absolutely no experience on Broadway.

But that was OK — neither did Hendel.

“I’d never produced a musical — not any theater show — before. And this was the first time [my wife] Ruth and I had lead-produced before, though Ruthie is a Tony voter. And the show was out of left field from the mainstream fare on Broadway,” Hendel says by telephone from New York.

This week, the culmination of their efforts will be seen by the largest audience ever, as Fela! airs as part of the National Theatre Live series of stage productions filmed for moviehouses opens at the Angelika, starting tonight.

The path was one of mutual enthusiasm by relative novices. Hendel was put in touch with Jones through a mutual acquaintance. Hendel had already spent several years trying to generate interest in his idea for a non-narrative musical overloaded with dance and tribal rhythms. And Jones was very interested.

“I could see he was really, really brilliant and that many of the themes — of an artist in society, of being a political artist and being a black man — were all issues will had spend him career exploring and living. We agreed when and if I got the rights [to the music and story], Bill would direct and choreograph the show.”

It took nearly a year for that to happen. In the interim, Jones got an agent who secured him choreography duties on an off-Broadway play called Seven. One of the hopefuls was not cast, but Jones loved his energy. He would eventually originate the role of Fela on Broadway.
Jones, for his part, made an impact as well, winning an Tony Award for choreographing Spring Awakening and becoming a hot property in the theater community. And Hindel got him started. (Hendel himself has continued his theater work, co-producing American Idiot, another outside-the-box, Tony-nominated musical from last season.)

The journey from New York stage to London stage to, this week, movie screens across the world, was a surprisingly natural progression.
“We opened on Broadway and got amazing reviews, and the National Theatre [in England] came to see it. Nick Hytner, their artistic director, called me to talk about bringing it to the Olivier Stage in London, so we created a production for the National,” Hendel says. He then learned that the National was beginning its second season of broadcasting stage works from its and other London stages to movie theaters across the world.

Hendel was in. The version airing this week at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano was shot with nine cameras at the London shortly before Fela! closed its original Broadway run earlier this month. That means the broadcast is the only way an American can see the show for the time being.

“It’s like having the best seat in the house every minute, only you get things you can’t see sitting in a Broadway house,” Hendel says. And it is just one more way people in the U.S. can experience a musician Hendel has long loved but most people have never heard of.

“People thought we were crazy [doing the show] — who’s ever heard about Fela Kuti and would want to see a show about a Nigerian they’d never heard of?” he says. “It has been a big challenge making audiences aware of what it’s about and why it’s so entertaining and important. We want people all over the world the see the show and why we’ve spent eight or nine years working on it. It’s been a total joy and a total thrill.”

Still, Hendel says the cinema version does not replace seeing it live, which he hopes will happen; he is planning to announce soon a U.S. and international tour to start mid-2011.

Until then, though, the Angelika’s the place to be.

Fela! airs at the Angelika Mockingbird Station Jan. 19 and 20, and at the Angelika Plano Jan. 22 and 23, at 7 p.m. Visit AngelikaFilmCenter.com for details.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

QLive! announces 2011 season

QCinema founder Todd Camp decided to branch outside the bounds of the small screen and into live performance. As part of its 2011 season, the film festival announces QLive!, which presents live theater in addition to film. Like Dallas’ Uptown Players, it will concentrate on gay-themed plays and shows of interest to the gay community. The season includes:

Dying City (March). The brother of a man killed in Iraq confronts his widowed sister-in-law, and suggests something else may have contributed to his death. Christopher Shinn’s mystery play was a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Men from the Boys (April; staged reading). A sequel to Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking play The Boys in the Band catches up with the characters years later.

Brian Gallivan: The Sassy Gay Friend LIVE! (June). The creator of viral videos about the “sassy gay friend” performs a live comedy show.

None of the Above (September). A comedy about the relationship between a 17-year-old and her SAT tutor.

Art (November). Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning drama about how an all-white painting divides three male friends.

Corpus Christi (December). Terrence McNally’s controversial play finally gets its Fort Worth performance.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones