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

Cross-dressing B’way comedy plays at Angelikas

Lady Bracknell is one of the zoom-bang greatest characters in all theater, the pinched, appearances-heavy doyenne on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The ladies, of course, always get this juicy role. Until now.

Gay actor Brian Bedford donned a frock as the director and leading lady of the current revival of the play, now on Broadway and up for three Tony Awards later this month. But you don’t need to go to New York to see it. The Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano are screening the direct broadcast of the actual play three more times this week: Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Angelika Mockingbird Station, Sunday at 2 p.m. and Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Angelika Plano.

Tickets can be purchased at AngelikaFilmCenter.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Neil Patrick Harris to return as Tony Awards host

Neil Patrick Harris is known to most of his fans as the womanizing Barney on the unwatchable How I Met Your Mother sitcom, but to many others, he’s the openly gay song-and-dance man who turned coming out into a career renaissance. Last year, he did an excellent, camped up job as the host of the Tony Awards, and he’ll be back again this year.

In addition to Harris, scheduled presenters and performers, announced today, include Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe (currently on Broadway in the revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying), Oscar winner and Broadway producer Whoopi Goldberg, gay Tony winner David Hyde Pierce and his TV brother, Kelsey Grammer, who recently left the musical La Cage aux Folles, gay Emmy winner (The Big Bang Theory) Jim Parsons, currently in his Broadway debut of the AIDS play The Normal Heart, co-directed by  Oscar winner and fellow presenter Joel Grey.

The Tonys air on CBS June 12.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Exclusive: Theatre 3′s missing play

Last month, Theatre 3 announced its 50th anniversary season, a line-up that includes the very gay musical A Catered Affair, the Aaron Sorkin drama The Farnsworth Invention and the raucous musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Missing from the season announcement was the fifth show, which executive producer Jac Alder was trying to schedule.

Last night, Jac told me he had just picked the final show:  Art of Murder by Joe DiPietro, a comedy thriller set in the world of fine art that won the Edgar Award for best play. It will probably be a good fit for T3 — DiPietro’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change has been a staple at T3 for a decade (it’s Dallas’ longest-running show ever — three years in its initial run). DiPietro won two Tony Awards last year for the Broadway hit Memphis.

Art of Murder runs April 12–May 12, 2012.

—  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

…………..

STEPS IN TIME

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

…………..

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

‘Spring Awakening’ opens at Bass Hall tonight

Just two days for ‘Spring’ break
Once you get past the darkness of the original version on Monday, do a 180 with the updated musical Spring Awakening. Musician Duncan Sheik penned the music and the touring show features local actress Elizabeth Judd. She’s kind of a big deal as the female lead.  So is the show which won eight Tony awards including best musical.

DEETS: Bass Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth. Nov. 9–10. 7:30 p.m. BassHall.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Ladies: fair, well or other

Lyric brilliantly does Shaw; KDT feels ‘Betrayal;’ Echo wants us to get ‘Well’

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

LOVERLY  |  Kimberly Whalen and J. Brent Alford give soaring performances in Lyric Stage’s masterful version of ‘My Fair Lady,’ with a 38-piece orchestra.
LOVERLY | Kimberly Whalen and J. Brent Alford give soaring performances in Lyric Stage’s masterful version of ‘My Fair Lady,’ with a 38-piece orchestra.

ON THE BOARDS
MY FAIR LADY at the Irving Arts Center, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving. Through Sunday.

BETRAYAL at the MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through Oct. 10.
WELL at the Bathhouse Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Sept. 25.

The opening overture to My Fair Lady was, to every gay boy with a turntable between 1956 and about 1986, the soundtrack that began the coming out process. Hearing the clipped joy of “You Did It,” followed by the romantic strains of “On The Street Where You Live” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” while staring at the Al Hirschfeld drawing on the LP, started many a musical theater queen’s career.

And I’m sorry, but modern musical productions, with their synthesizers and five-piece combos, just can’t compare to hearing a full 38 musician orchestra in a pit recreate what opening night must have been like in the heyday of Broadway.

I know this for a fact, because Lyric Stage has tackled My Fair Lady like no one anywhere has, probably in a generation. A painted curtain; a dancing and singing ensemble well into double-digits. And actors who really know what they’re doing. The cost is so prohibitive that even with arts grant checks in hand, it can run only two weekends; this is the second; and you must see it.

The familiar tale of ‘enry ‘iggins (J. Brent Alford, all but channeling the ghost of Rex Harrison) who turns common guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle (Kimberly Whalen, who should have a few Tony Awards by now if talent had anything to do with it) is perhaps the best musical ever. It’s about two gay men (Higgins and Pickering — what, no one told you?) who play dress-up with a teenager who becomes their living doll.

CHEATERS  |  A romantic triangle gets its post-mortem in Nobel Prizewinner Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ at Kitchen Dog. (Photo by Matt Mrozek)
CHEATERS | A romantic triangle gets its post-mortem in Nobel Prizewinner Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ at Kitchen Dog. (Photo by Matt Mrozek)

There’s no real romance — barely even a kiss. The closest it comes to big production numbers are the sidewalk busking of Cockneys, led by Alfie (Sonny Franks, who’s electrifying). The costumes are frivolous and extravagant, the scene changes numerous and necessary. It shouldn’t work at all. And it works completely.

Director-choreographer Len Pfluger doesn’t fuss much with the original, down to the exquisitely dressed “Ascot Gavotte” number — a high point of Act 1 in which none of the stars appear. You simply don’t find a musical so led by plot more than personality, by character more than conceit, anymore. The Carpenter Performance Hall transmogrifies from a stage to a time machine before our eyes: We’re back when Broadway shaped pop culture. Half a century later, My Fair Lady is again the can’t-miss production of the year.

The first act of My Fair Lady is longer than the entirety of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, now at Kitchen Dog Theater; it doesn’t feel that way. Pinter plays tend to be so… so… Pinteresque: Long pauses, awkward silences, not too much humor.

And there’s the plotting, often labyrinthine, moody and obscure. But when it clicks — even if just for moments — it can be exhilarating. This production has too few of those moments.

Betrayal is one of Pinter’s most celebrated plays, telling the story of a romantic triangle in reverse chronological order: We start with the adulterers (Leah Spillman, Max Hartman) after their affair has ended and work our way back to its inception.

The conceit sounds gimmicky, but it’s actually quite astute. We all experience relationships, especially failed ones, retrospectively. “How did we get here?” we ask. What signs did I miss?” It’s the post-mortem we all want to do with clarity.

Only it’s Pinter, so clarity is a secondary, even tertiary concern. What is the bigger betrayal: cheating on your husband or on your lover with your husband? Or is it really the men (Hartman and Cameron Cobb), best friends, who are cheating on each other with a woman? (Pinter often deals in the subtext of repressed homosexuality.) Can you consent to be being betrayed, or is tacit betrayal called something else entirely — like “life?”

This production, directed by Tina Parker, raised these questions but, like Bryan Wofford’s expressionistic set, doesn’t answer them or even come close. Without much energy to sustain it, it gets its dramatic oomph from tension. And I just didn’t feel much. Passive-aggression is infuriating in real life; it’s not much better on stage.

If I correctly interpreted the message to Well, presented by Echo Theatre at the Bathhouse Cultural Center — and there’s a good chance I didn’t — it’s that lesbianism cures allergies. Yeah, I probably got that wrong.

This quasi-autobiographical tale is about how playwright and actress Lisa Kron (Kristin McCollum) grew up in a family, and a community, where sickness was presumed. It’s not quite hypochondria, but it’s not healthy, either. Lisa herself was intensely studied for severe allergies, which (and the play never makes this clear) may have been all in her head, planted there by her mother Ann (Sylvia Luedtke).

Well is more akin to performance art than play; it interacts with the audience directly, but preciously so (when things go wrong, they are meant to seem like they are going wrong in real time, even though they are scripted). It’s part and parcel with a whole slew of po-mo theater pieces, including The Road to Qatar! and [title of show], where the shows are about the making of themselves. It’s a funhouse mirror room that has begun to wear thin.

This show is a little too loosey-goosey (and, at 90 minutes, too long), though the performances by McCollum, Luedtke and Molly Milligan as uber-sick patient Joy are engaging. I might like to see it on a double-bill with Sick; we could choose a winner and the other would close the next night. That would be Darwinian theater at its finest.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Could the Emmys have been any gayer?

Jane Lynch

The first half hour of the Emmy Awards on Sunday night were gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. And lesbian.

Ryan Murphy, winner of best director of a comedy, kissed his boyfriend before running up on stage to accept his award.

Jane Lynch, who won best supporting actress in a comedy, kissed her wife and then thanked her on stage.

The controversy about ABC’s gay-friendly comedy “Modern Family” has been when will Cam and Mitchell kiss? They answered that question last night. Erik Stonestreet won best supporting actor in a comedy. He kissed his wife and then kissed his TV husband, Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Neil Patrick Harris won best guest appearance in a comedy by an actor. Golden Girl Betty White won best guest appearance by an actress. Harris thanked the Academy for allowing a gay man to host the show two years in a row. (Harris, who hosted last year, is gay. No one would be surprised if Jimmy Fallon, who hosted this year, came out.)

The show straightened up after the first awards, with a few more gay Emmys through the night. Aaron Paul, who won best supporting actor in a drama for his role in “Breaking Bad,” kissed his partner. The writers for the Tony Awards won best writing for a special and “Modern Family” won best comedy.

—  David Taffet

Tony Awards recap

Sean Hayes both hosted the Tony Awards Sunday night and was a nominee for his performance in “Promises, Promises,” but he also was a sassy lightning rod for politics. Hayes made the least news ever last March when, just before his Broadway debut opened, he officially came out as gay. (In other news, the sun set last night.)

Hayes was then the target of a weird thinkpiece in Newsweek (by a gay author, no less!) who claimed that when gay actors come out, they ruin the illusion that they could be straight for audiences; Hayes was singled out as not convincingly playing a hetero man in the musical. His co-star, Kristin Chenoweth — who also has appeared on “Glee,” another target of the article — was vocal in her disdain for the piece.

Without addressing the article directly, Hayes began his hosting duties with a Tipper-and-Al-style prolonged lip-lock with Chenoweth that seemed to establish, for home audiences, that kisses look real when the actors are good. Despite my criticism of the cast recording, these actors are good.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones