NBC’s “Awake” pits gay actors against each other

One of the gay people pictured isn’t real.

Yeah, we’ve heard that before.

Not the actors of course — Tony and Emmy Award winner Cherry Jones and Tony winner B.D. Wong — but the characters they play on Awake. Both play psychiatrists; both treat the same patient. Only one of them doesn’t exist.

It’s not just that they are two very talented gay actors that I have cleaved to this relatively minor point (that is part of a much bigger concept). It’s because one of them doesn’t — and never did — exist. And they are the only ones.

It’s confusing, as the series, which debuts tonight on NBC, can be. The series would probably fare better on cable, where its quirkiness would play better. The idea is that a cop (Jason Isaacs, hunky as ever) was in a car accident with his wife and son; he survived; so did one of them. But in one reality, it’s his wife who lived; in the other, his son. He’s not sure which.

And that’s where the gay therapists come in.

In his sessions with them — one in each reality — he can admit that he alternates between waking universes, not sure which one is the true on. Both Jones and Wong assure him that their reality is the actual one. Which means one of them is wrong.

There are many other changes in Isaacs’ worlds: Different cop partners, different cases to solve, but all intertwined. It’s only on the psychiatric couch that everything is separate. They are the only characters aware of the competing realities. So I found myself rooting, not for his wife or son, but for which gay actor I wanted to return for season 2.

That’s probably not a problem. As soon as they answer the question, the series is over.  I saw a screener of Awake two months ago before the network even knew when it would debut on the schedule. They dropped it pretty quick — right after February sweeps ended and before May’s begin. Doesn’t show much confidence in it.

Lesbian or the gay man… How to choose? It’s likely to keep me awake.

Watch the trailer after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Idina Menzel to perform at Fair Park in June

OK, we’ve been here before but I’ll take it this it’s true: Idina Menzel will be appearing in Dallas.

This isn’t the first time she was scheduled. Menzel, who won a Tony Award for Wicked, was supposed to perform her show at Fair Park Music Hall last fall, but the shooting schedule for Glee forced her to postpone. She’s now set to bring it to the Park on June 13 — just in time, we don’t mind noting, for National Pride.

Like all gay men, we love Idina, because she (a) starred in Rent; (b) starred in Wicked, (c) appears on Glee and most of all (d) married Taye Diggs. That’s basically the life and career I’d like to have. Tickets for the show go on say Friday at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster. Please don’t disappoint us, Idina! And if Taye wants to sit with me, well, I won’t complain. And if you don’t already know why you should love her, check this out:

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GIVEAWAY: Tickets to “Bring It On: The Musical”

We like our cheerleading competitions enough on ESPN, but when they fall and break something, it’s just too much to bear. So we’ll opt for a musical. From the movie screen to the stage,  cheerleading rivals learn there’s more to life then human pyramids and herkies in Bring It On: The Musical. The show has major Broadway cred behind it, as well. Check out this roster of creatives behind it: Tony Award-winning writer Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q); Tony Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights); Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and lyricist Amanda Green (High Fidelity); Tony Award-winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire (In The Heights); and Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (In The Heights).

Sounds like fun, right? You could check it out yourself. We have a pair of tickets to give away for the opening night of Bring It On at the Music Hall at Fair Park. Here’s what you do. Just list us five different types of cheerleading jumps (we gave you one already) along with your name and contact info, put “Gimme a T” (you know, for tickets) in the subject line and email us here. The winner will be drawn next week.

Good luck.

—  Rich Lopez

Q Live! goes up with full production of Reza’s ‘Art’

Recently, we wrote about Q Cinema’s new live-theater program, QLive! Well, the project’s first fully-staged production, Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play Art, opens Thursday, and runs five nights: Nov. 17-19, 25 and 26, all at the Firehouse Gallery, 4147 Meadowbrook Drive, Fort Worth. Curtain is at 8 p.m. all nights.

“Our staging embraces Reza’s vicious wit but celebrates a new dimension . . . the folly and frequent luxury of youth,”  says Todd Camp, the group’s founder. Set in Paris, the play is about how three friends react to a strange painting: One that appears to be only a white canvas.

There will also be a showing of new works by local artists in conjunction with the play. All of the pieces will be auctioned off to raise funds for QLive!’s 2012 season. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students). There will also be a full bar with donations accepted.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Shabby Shriek of the Week: Nicole Scherzinger

This week, we look at singer Nicole Scherzinger. We’ve received remixes for her songs “Right There” and “Don’t Hold Your Breath.” These two singles come from her debut album Killer Love slated for a December release. How does she fare? Read on.

WTF is Nicole Scherzinger?

The bio on her site is way too long. Seriously, chick? Below are some of the more precious bits from her bio.

“when Hawaiian-born Nicole Scherzinger was growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, she received a Christmas gift of a tiny purple boombox and a cassette of Whitney Houston’s chart-topping 1985 self-titled debut album. ‘That was it for me. Her voice was so powerful; every note she sang just felt like the truth.'”

“…a multifaceted career that has enabled her to lead the multi-platinum pop group The Pussycat Dolls , take home the mirror ball trophy as the tenth season winner of ABC’s Dancing With The Stars and act on How I Met Your Mother and the musical Rent. [Simon Cowell] tapped Scherzinger to serve as a judge on the American version of The X Factor…

“All I’ve ever really wanted to do was sing,” she says. “I didn’t care about being famous. Whitney Houston really touched me and changed my life. She drew me into her world and that’s what I hope to do with Killer Love. I want to create a world inside of the music like my favorite performers did. I want to play in that realm artistically and creatively and see where it takes me, then put it onstage and share it with people. That’s what it’s about for me.”

More after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

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

IMG_6317
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