Best Bets • 08.26.16

Friday 08.26 — Sunday 10.09

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The stars turn out for ‘Constellations’

Nerd alert! Roland is a beekeeper. Marianne is as Cambridge academic, a physicist who studies theoretical cosmology. They meet and fall and love. And that should be it. But there’s chaos theory and wormholes and tons of other intellectual justifications for the myriad ways this girl-meets-boy story could play out … all of which do in this sophisticated two-hander, a romance with the universe of love at its feet. Alex Organ and Allison Pistorius star in Nick Payne’s Constellations, the season-open for the DTC.

DEETS:
Wyly Theatre
2400 Flora St. (Studio Theatre)
DallasTheaterCenter.org

Saturday 08.27

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Drag Racer Thorgy Thor performs at Marty’s Live

The new All Star edition of RuPaul’s Drag Race is underway, but last season’s quirky contestant, Thorgy Thor, is the draw this weekend in Dallas. She’ll bring her live performance to the gayborhood with a late-night set that promises to be as sassy as she is.

DEETS:
Marty’s Live
4207 Maple Ave.
Doors at 9 p.m., show at midnight.
OneNightINBangkok.org

Friday 08.26 — Sunday 09.11

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‘The Toxic Avenger’ musical makes its North Texas debut

The musical version of The Toxic Avenger is a legend of things that never quite were. It got its initial staging at Houston’s Alley Theatre, before moving to off-Broadway for retooling and an eventual move to B’way. But the move never took place, despite widespread acclaim, and the rights to the show never came free… until Uptown Players snagged them for this cult classic about a green superhero.

DEETS:
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
UptownPlayers.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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Uptown Players co-founders Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch reflect on 15 years of changing the landscape of theater in North Texas

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Craig Lynch and Jeff Rane pose among the posters for shows they have produced over 15 years (they estimate nearly 100 since 2001). Next up will be ‘The Toxic Avenger,’ followed by the fifth annual Pride Performing Arts Festival in September.

By Arnold Wayne Jones

In the summer of 2001, two friends, both local actors — Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch — decided they were tired of looking for good theater; they wanted to create their own. They planned and raised money to produce a play with a gay sensibility called When Pigs Fly. Then 9/11 happened, but that didn’t discourage them. Why would it? This was a one-off, a toe-in-the-water production.

“We wanted to do one show — maybe one every year or two,” Rane recalls.

They gave their production company a name: Uptown Players. They were just playin’, after all. It’s not like this would become a career or anything.

Fifteen years later, it has become far more than they could have imagined.

“The second week into When Pigs Fly is when our patrons were saying, ‘You have to do more,’” Rane says. “So we put together a season, a budget and found funding very quickly. And it has just sort of continued to grow.”

“I think we fell in a really good time when there wasn’t a GLBT-dedicated theater here in Dallas, and the GLBT community was thriving. The Turtle Creek Chorale was becoming big, the Cathedral of Hope had record membership, the community was just gelling back then,” adds Lynch.

“There was just a large need that had not been met, but I don’t think either of us knew how large the need was,” Rane says. “Everything’s happened so quickly. The growth and the interest and the response was amazing.”

They hesitate to speculate about how and why they tapped into a Zeitgeist. Maybe it was a desire of people to get away from going to the bars. Maybe it was because the gay rights movement had hit a sweet spot of empowerment. Maybe it was because they were putting on a comedy around Christmastime, after the whole nation had been weighed down by the sadness of the previous three months.

“We as a community were starting to be accepted more,” says Lynch. “Gay characters were onstage and on TV. It was important in our first year to have fun, but also to cover some history about the GLBT community.”

And while they won’t say it aloud, maybe they were just that damn good at what they were doing.

“I think people very quickly realized that we were doing things that hadn’t been seen. And that was intentional,” Rane concedes. “We weren’t interested in doing Naked Boys Singing and Making Porn — we wanted to do real theater that appealed to a gay audience, and they appreciated that. And that’s what drew so many of them in initially.”

The theater landscape in North Texas has never been the same.

Uptown Players, quite literally, reconfigured what audiences in one of America’s largest cities would become accustomed to. Established troupes like the Dallas Theater Center and Theatre 3 took notice, including more racy, adult content (full-frontal nudity! Men kissing!) and expanding the scope of their seasons.

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“I felt like when WaterTower did The Laramie Project was the first show we thought would be really good for us that went to someone else. That’s when we saw other theaters were applying for titles [they probably wouldn’t have before],” Rane says.

That hasn’t deterred Lynch and Rane from compiling seasons — usually comprised of two musicals, a comedy, a drama, their fundraising Broadway Our Way revue, as well as the Pride Performing Arts Festival and occasional concert-version shows and drag comedies at the Rose Room — that speak directly to the gay community… and a wider audience as well.

“Initially we ended up with a majority of the audience as gay men in that first season. This was another thing to do other than go to bars at night,” says Lynch. “It’s a social outing. “Phillip [Hearne, Lynch’s husband] has a cult following behind the bar — I could plop a cute boy up there, and his regulars will still come to get a drink from him.”

“It has become a four-times-a -year social thing — seven or eight couples will plan their [trips to the theater together],” Rane says. And not just gay men, either.

“People think, ‘I can go to the theater and take my girlfriend from work.’ They bring their friends and their moms and their aunts,” Lynch says. UP’s manager of patron services, in fact, is Nancy Rubin — a married straight lady.

Gay plays aren’t that difficult to come by — heck, they would spend a lifetime just doing plays by Paul Rudnick, Terrence McNally, Del Shores and Charles Busch, all of whom have been represented multiple times. Musicals are sometimes more difficult to curate. Lyric Stage does wonders recreating the classics of past decades; newer, gayer musicals (Fun Home, Kinky Boots, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Book of Mormon) are harder (and more expensive) to get the rights to… and more challenging to do justice.

“I would say Next to Normal [the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about a family coping with mental illness] was the first one we said, ‘We have to do this one right,’” says Rane. “We were the first regional theater to get to do it and the first time, and it was pretty massive: A three story set, etc.” (No surprise: the production was a stunning success.)

He and Lynch agree, however, that one show stands out as the hugest of the huge: The Producers, which came with more costumes than they’d ever seen.

That could be eclipsed in their upcoming 16th season, however, by two shows. First, their production of Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches, Tony Kushner’s seminal work about gay issues in the 1980s. It’s a perfect fit for their mission, and the first time the show will be presented at the Kalita Humphreys Theater since DTC’s controversial staging in 1996. (Reaction from their subscribers was so incensed, a planned production of Part Two: Perestroika, never took place; UP says they fully intend to mount Part Two in their 2018 season.)

Then next summer, La Cage aux Folles should rival The Producers for grandiosity… and once again, dovetail perfectly with the company’s mission to bring art by, of and about the queer experience to their audience.

The question may soon become: How can Uptown up itself?

They haven’t done many repeats — Kiss of the Spider Woman and Pageant are the only shows they have mounted full productions of in separate seasons. But that could happen more in the future. And they are always looking to create an overall experience for their patrons from show to show.

“There are things that, over time, audiences have come to expect. I don’t know that we are necessarily targeting [the works of specific playwrights, for instance], but we are always looking for the freshest things — even if they are older plays,” Rane says.

“We concentrate on developing a season that isn’t all one thing — it has to follow [an arc],” Lynch says. Sometimes they are able to “snatch up” a show that has just become available.

And after 15 years, they are no longer low-troupe-on-the-totem-pole for winning production rights to some primo shows. Their reputation, it seems, has grown with them beyond Texas. They may be called Uptown Players, but the sky’s the limit.

The Toxic Avenger, Kalita Humphreys  Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Aug. 26–Sept. 11. UptownPlayers.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players announces lineup for Pride Performing Arts Fest

ALL THE WORLD’S THEIR STAGE | Music-comedy duo Amy and Freddy bring their famed cruise line act to terra firma this weekend.For the fifth time, Dallas-based Uptown Players will host its Pride Performing Arts Festival, which once again takes place during Dallas Pride in September. This year, though, includes something new: world premieres from the company’s first-ever Pride Write DFW Playwrighting Competition.

The eight-day festival, which takes place Sept. 16–24, will features five place, a staged reading and cabaret acts. It will be made possible thanks to a grant from the Greg Grosh Charitable Fund.

The new local finalist of the competition — Boomer Tyro Coming Home by Bruce R. Coleman and Stigmatic by Ness Everett will get their premieres, with audience members voting on which play will receive the Audience Favorite cash prize. A third play from the competition, Carol Young’s Mom’s Guitar, will also be presented as a staged reading by Echo Theater.

The festival also includes the world premiere of Marty Martin’s The Necessary Luxury Company, to be presented by One Thirty Productions, and the world premiere of James Hindman’s The Drama Department, and the regional premiere of Say You Love Satan by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, both presented by Uptown Players. These six productions will be presented in the intimate upstairs Franks Place venue and next door at Bryant Hall.

Cabaret favorites Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen, pictured — last here in 2013 — return to the mainstage of the Kalita to open the festival. Former Dallasite William Blake will come back from New York City to close out the festivities.

General admission tickets for events in Franks Place and Bryant Hall are $10-$15. Reserved seats for the concerts by Amy Armstrong and Freddy Allen and by William Blake are $20–$30. Festival passes allow you to see all six productions in for $65, and  can be purchased online at www.uptownplayers.org or by phone at 214-219-2718.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

EXCLUSIVE: Uptown Players’ 16th season announced

Coy Covington BOWUptown Players, which opens the third mainstage production of its 15th season tonight, has lined up its 2017 slate of productions — as usual consisting of two plays, two musicals and a fundraiser show — but a few curveballs are headed this way as well.

First, the next season will begin at the Kalita Humphreys Theater this November (rather than in 2017), with their first-ever production of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches (Nov. 4–20). Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning reverie about the AIDS crisis is often considered one of the towering theatrical achievements of the 20th century. Cheryl Denson, who direct tonight’s show, It’s Only a Play, will helm it. Uptown Players co-founder Craig Lynch also assures me that the company plans on doing the follow-up, Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika, the following season.

That will likely be followed in March 2017 by the latest incarnation of Broadway Our Way (March 3–5). The annual revue is a fundraiser for the company.

The next mainstage show will be It Shoulda Been You (March 24–April 9), a romantic musical that ran on Broadway in 2015. At a wedding, secrets are revealed, lesbian relationships unveiled, promises broken and more. The will be followed in the summer by the first-ever UP production of La Cage aux Folles (July 14–30), the flamboyantly joyous and colorful musical about a gay couple who own a drag club and their efforts to hide their business from their son’s conservative in-laws.

The final show of the season will be the regional premiere of Charles Busch’s comedy The Tribute Artist (Aug. 25–Sept. 10). Once again, Coy Covington, pictured, will take over the cross-dressing lead role as a female impersonator whose deception leads to chaotic hijinks.  (This production is slated for Bryant Hall on the Kalita campus, although it may move to the main building depending on the decisions made by the Dallas Theater Center, which retains right of first refusal over the space.)

Aside from the early start to the season, a few other specials emerge. First, Uptown’s Pride Performing Arts Festival will return (right after The Toxic Avenger), to coincide with Dallas Pride. Second,UP will once again team up with the Turtle Creek Chorale for a concert production of a musical — this time, Titanic (May 5–7). It will be performed at the City Performance Hall.

Finally, Lynch said there is “room on the calendar” for a Christmas show in December 2016 (following Angels), although one has not been selected yet.

Individual tickets are $25–$55, and season subscriptions are also available. Visit UptownPlayers.org for more.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 07.08.16

Friday 07.15 — Sunday 07.31

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McNally makes second appearance with Uptown Players’ ‘Only a Play’

Uptown Players’ most recent production was the drama Mothers & Sons, written by playwright Terrence McNally. Well, McNally is back at the Kalita … in a far less serious tone. It’s Only a Play is his riotous recount of behind-the-scenes as a Broadway company awaits their opening night review from The New York Times. B.J. Cleveland and Chamblee Ferguson lead the cast

DEETS:
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
UptownPlayers.org

Thursday 04.14 — Thursday 07.21

SAMURAI-HUSTLE

Asian Film Festival of Dallas back for 15th season

The Asian Film Festival is one of Dallas’ longest-running celebrations of the visual image, and focuses on both films and filmmakers from China, Thailand, Japan and the rest of the Pacific Rim. This year’s fest — its 15th — kicks off with a party in the Foundation Room at the House of Blues, but all the films will play for a week at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

DEETS:
Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station
5321 E. Mockingbird Lane
AsianFilmDallas.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 05.27.16

Friday 05.27 — Sunday 05.29

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Texas Ballet Theater returns with First Looks

Earlier this month, Texas Ballet Theater debuted its latest performance in Dallas — a collection of three dances, including a world premiere. Now it’s Fort Worth’s turn … and anyone else who missed it. First Looks closes TBT’s current season with colorful and playful pieces from three choreographers.

DEETS:
Bass Performance Hall
525 Commerce St., Fort Worth
Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m.
Saturday–Sunday at 2 p.m.
TexasBalletTheater.org

Friday 06.03 — Saturday 06.19

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­­Uptown Players opens first of two Terrence McNally plays this season

Imagine the doorbell ringing and it’s your ex-mother-in-law. And your ex is dead. And you have a new boyfriend. And a child. That’s the fraught premise of Mothers and Sons, Terrence McNally’s Tony-nominated comedy-drama about complex relationships in the modern world. It’s the first of two McNally plays presented this season by Uptown Players.

DEETS:
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
UptownPlayers.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 04.29.16

Friday 04.29— Sunday 05.01

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Purple Party spins a weekend of partying for a cause

Although they call it the Purple Party (singular), there are actually five events all weekend long at this circuit party and fundraiser from the all-volunteer Purple Foundation. It kicks off with the Ignite party on Friday, followed by a daytime pool party at Sisu Uptown on Saturday and the main event that night at South Side Music Hall. Sunday welcomes a tea-dance and then closing-night party. Among the spin doctors coming to town are DJ Paulo, Isaac Escalnate, Eddie Martinez and more. Get your Purple on!

DEETS:
For details of the events, prices on passes and a full schedule, visit purplefoundation.org.

Saturday 04.30

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Steve Grand goes unplugged

We have no shame in admitting we love Steve Grand — sure, his music is good, and he’s an out-and-proud gay man… both excellent reasons to be fans. He’s also quite dreamy. And why not love a performer for how they make us feel as we watch them entertain us? We’re not monks! He performs Unplugged at the COH Saturday.

DEETS:
Cathedral of Hope
5910 Cedar Springs Road
7 p.m.
CathedralOfHope.com

Thursday 05.05 — Sunday 05.08

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Uptown Players returns with Broadway Our Way

When Uptown Players presents their annual benefit revue Broadway Our Way — where the actors flip the sexes of who sings the songs — it usually previews the entire season. Well, this year the first show (End of the Rainbow) came first, and if it’s any indication, you don’t wanna miss what they are up to for the rest of the year. B.J. Cleveland directs an all-star cast, that also features stallwarts like Coy Covington, pictured. Fasten your seatbelts, dolls — it’s gonna be an adventure.

DEETS:
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
$40–$50
UptownPlayers.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players announces playwrighting contest to coincide with Pride Fest

ThinkstockPhotos-483124718Over its 15 years, Uptown Players has grown from producing a four-show season to as many as six shows, a popular fundraiser-revue, co-productions with the Turtle Creek Chorale, bonus productions in the Rose Room and even starting the Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival around Dallas Pride in September. Well, they are expanding their mission once again — this time, into writing.

Co-founders Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch are seeking submissions for a one-act playwrighting contest, to coincide with the Pride Fest in the fall. Each submission needs to contain characters and/or issues that address LGBT issues, or contain a “gay sensibility.” But you don’t have to be gay to submit, or to win. There will be two winners, both of whom will have their plays produced and receive a cash prize.

Here are the deets: You must be at least 18 and be a resident of North Texas. The work must be original, unpublished and unproduced, although works that have had not-for-profit staged readings are permissible. It must run at least 30 minutes but no more than 75. Submissions must be made in PDF format in script form, and a 12-point type-face. A non-refundable fee of $20 must accompany the submission. The dates to submit are April 23 (Shakespeare’s birthday) through May 2, so there’s not much time! Finalists for the next round will be advised by July 1. You can get full rules at UptownPlayers.org. Email your submission to 2016PrideWrite@gmail.com.

The competition is in honor of the late Perry Thompson, a longtime supporter of UP and volunteer; and is made possible by the Greg Grosh Charitable Fund. Good luck!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Holiday Gift Idea: The gift of theater

Networks--Elf-(Boise)-----107-copyThere really are gifts that keep on giving, and a season subscription to a theater company is a real way to have something new for your sweetheart all year long (and provides you both something to do together). North Texas is full of theaters to support, but we recommend Dallas Summer Musicals (you can still get tickets for the first show of the season, Elf, reviewed this week), or get someone in Cowtown a similar lineup from Performing Arts Fort Worth; Uptown Players (which next month kicks off with a bonus show with the Turtle Creek Chorale), WaterTower Theatre, the Dallas Theater Center (which has a gay-themed show running right now) and many more. Support the arts and those on your gift lift.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players dominates DFW Theater Critics Forum awards

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Sterling Gafford and B.J. Cleveland in ‘The Nance,’ this year’s most honored show.

Uptown Players’ production of The Nance proved the prohibitive favorite at this year’s annual polling/luncheon/ slugfest of the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum, which presented the show with four awards, while Uptown took nine total. Indeed, each of the mainstage productions won multiple honors.

The Nance, Douglas Carter Beane’s poignant comedy about a self-deluded gay burlesque performer, won a best director nod for Bruce R. Coleman, acting for star B.J. Cleveland and for the ensemble, and outstanding original music composition for Adam C. Wright. Uptown’s Catch Me If You Can won three awards, for director Cheryl Denson and actors Antony Fortino and David Lugo. And the just-closed Hedwig and the Angry Inch took a performance citation for star Kyle Igneczi and for director Jeremy Dumont.

Several other gay artists and gay-themed shows fared well, too. Blake Hackler won a nod for his direction of The Flick, which also took an ensemble nod. Local gay Dallas playwright Jonathan Norton was cited for outstanding new play or musical for Mississippi Goddamn, which also won for direction for vickie washington. And Danielle Georigiou won for best new play and best choreography for her queer-themed The Show About Men. Another choreography winner was out dancer Joshua L. Peugh for Colossal at the Dallas Theater Center. Paul Taylor was singled out for his performances in both Hot Mikado at Theatre 3 and Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play at Stage West.

Michael Urie, the out North Texas native who opened his one-man show Buyer & Cellar last September, starred in one of the favorite touring shows. The others were the Mandy Patinkin/Taylor Mac mime The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville (Eisemann Center for Performing Arts), Pippin (Dallas Summer Musicals), Once (AT&T Performing Arts Center/Bass Hall) and Endurance. Local actor Van Quattro won the final award for best new play for his solo show Standing Eight Count.

Jay Dias, the gay music director for Lyric Stage, received a special citation for his scholarship and restoration of the scores for two forgotten musicals: Lady in the Dark and The Golden Apple.

The entire list — which for the first time lumps actors and actresses into one category called “performance,” is below.

Outstanding Direction: Akin Babatunde, Don’t Bother Me… I Can’t Cope and The Color Purple (both Jubilee Theatre); Bruce R. Coleman, The Nance (Uptown Players); Cheryl Denson, Catch Me If You Can (Uptown); Jeremy Dumont, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Uptown); Black Hackler, The Flick (Undermain Theater); Katherine Owens, The Testament of Mary and Tomorrow Come Today (both Undermain); Matthew Posey, The Egg Salesman (Ochre House); Vickie Washington, Mississippi Goddam (South Dallas Cultural Center).

Outstanding New Play or MusicalMississippi Goddamn by Jonathan Norton; The Show About Men by Danielle Georgiou (DGDG); Standing Eight Court by Van Quattro (Rite of Passage Theatre Company, presented at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Festival and the Dallas Solo Fest).

Outstanding Performance: (Men) B.J. Cleveland, The Nance; David Coffee, King Lear (Trinity Shakespeare Festival); Hassan El-Amin, A Solider’s Play and Radio Golf (both African American Repertory Theater); Antony Fortino and David Lugo, Catch Me If You Can; Kyle Igneczi, Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Paul Taylor, Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Stage West) and Hot Mikado (Theatre 3); Pat Watson, Streamers (L.I.P. Service Productions).  (Women) Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso, Lydia (Cara Mia Theatre Co.); Shannon Kearns, The Testament of Mary; Jenny Ledel, for her season; Janelle Lutz, South Pacific and Lady in the Dark (both Lyric Stage); Ebony Marshall Oliver, In Real Time and The Color Purple (both Jubilee Theatre); Allison Pistorius, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence (Stage West); Sally Vahle, Medea (Dallas Theater Center);  Lulu Ward, The Two-Character Play; Sherry Jo Ward, Precious Little (Echo Theatre).

The award-winning ensemble of Jubilee’s ‘The Brothers Size.’

Outstanding Ensemble: The Brothers Size (Jubilee Theatre); The Egg Salesman; The Flick; Hands on a Hard Body (Theatre 3); Mr. Burns; Mississippi Goddam; The Nance.

Outstanding Creative Contribution: Robin Armstrong, fight choreography, Lovers and Executioners (Circle Theatre); Clare Floyd Devries, set design, The Explorers’ Club (Stage West and WaterTower Theatre); Danielle Georgiou, choreography, NICE and The Show About Men; Bob Lavallee, set design, The Rocky Horror Show (Dallas Theater Center); Joshua L. Peugh, movement, Colossal; Adam C. Wright, original music composition, The Nance.

Outstanding Touring ProductionBuyer & Cellar (AT&T Performing Arts Center); Endurance (Split Knuckle Theatre); The Last Two People on Earth; Once (AT&T Performing Arts Center and Performing Arts Fort Worth); Pippin (Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth).

Special Citations: Lyric Stage and musical director Jay Dias, for their contributions to the musical restorations of The Golden Apple and Lady in the Dark, and for the first cast recording of the complete score of Apple; The producers of Shakespeare in a Bar for attracting new and large audiences to non-traditional spaces and reminding us that Shakespeare can be unexpected and fun; Audacity Theatre Lab and Brad McEntire for bringing quality local and national performances with the creation of the Dallas Solo Fest.

Critics partaking include me from the Voice, plus these folks from the following outlets: Dallas Observer (Elaine Liner, Lauren Smart), TheaterJones.com (Mark Lowry, Jan Farrington, Martha Heimberg, David Novinski), Dallas Morning News (Nancy Churnin), Culture Map (Lindsey Wilson), Fort Worth Star Telegram (Punch Shaw, Mark Lowry) CriticalRant.com (Alexandra Bonifield) and Dallas Weekly (Martha Heimberg).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones