STAGE REVIEWS: ‘Re-Designing Women,’ ‘Penix,’ ‘Wicked,’ ‘Rx’

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Re-Designing Women. When Jamie Morris writes a spoof, he doesn’t hold back. Even before the actors come onstage for the first scene of Re-Designing Women, Morris’ send-up of the ’80s-era sitcom Designing Women, we’re treated to an “opening credits” video to remind us of the tone and characters. Of course, once the show begins (which is does at the Rose Room most Fridays and Saturdays for the next month-and-a-half), we simply revert, like muscle memory, to knowing who we’re seeing.

It’s the present day, and Sugarbakers Designs is going strong … well, not so strong. They’ve fallen on hard times. Finances are so bad, Suzanne (Ashton Shawver) has tricked the others into appearing on a Bravo reality show, Sugar Walls. They’re all mortified, until the show becomes a hit and Mary Jo (Chad Peterson) and Charlene (Michael B. Moore, whose vocal impersonation borders on the uncanny) become rivals while Bernice (Mikey Abrams) becomes the break-out star.

Morris, who also plays the stentorian Julia, has a knack for capturing the essence of a show while simultaneously updating it. Thus, there are tacky (but hilarious) jokes about “Sarah Palin’s half-wit baby” and the contemporary exacerbations that rankle Julia, including the cross-eyed Bravo producer Andy Cohen (Kevin Moore). (If you follow the ModernSeinfeld Twitter feed, you get the idea.) And while Morris never hesitates to push the line a bit too far (fart jokes!), this play — following Mommie Queerest, The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode and The Silence of the Clams — is probably his best writing: The characters are sharply drawn and even better performed. And when Morris recites one of Julia’s famous speeches from the TV days (her “Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” riff), fully half the folks in the Rose Room seemed to recite along. That’s called knowing your audience.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Jamie Morris: Behind (and in front of) the footlights in ‘Re-Designing Women’

image001-e1364929658275Before Jamie Morris started writing a series of plays — cross-dressing send-ups of campy films and TV shows like The Facts of Life, Mommie Dearest and The Silence of the Lambs — he was an actor. So it has not been unusual for him to perform, even in his own shows. Still, it was a shock to him when he realized, during pre-production on his latest spoof — Re-Designing Women, which Uptown Players is producing in the Rose Room at Station 4 starting Friday — that he would be in it.

“We were casting the show and they said to me, ‘How would you like to play Julia?’” he recalls over lunch at the Black-eyed Pea on Cedar Springs. ”I texted my boyfriend that night and said, ‘I think they want me to play Julia.’” When he woke up the next morning, he was pretty sure they weren’t just joking.

The most peculiar thing about doing the show is that he hadn’t even finished writing it when he took it on. Morris, who lives in Las Vegas with his partner, didn’t complete Act 2 until a few weeks before rehearsals began. But, he says, serving as writer and star doesn’t make it any easier to perform.

“The rest of the cast assume I know every line, but I don’t,” he says.

He, like most of the rest of the all-male cast, still has to learn his lines under “about a pound of makeup.” Indeed, you’d probably not recognize Morris, with his scruffy grey beard, as the patrician Julia Sugarbaker from the sitcom. But hey, that’s why it’s being done in the Rose Room — it’s all about the illusion.

Re-Designing Women, presented by Uptown Players, opens Friday at the Rose Room inside Station 4 and runs through May 19. For tickets, visit UptownPlayers.org

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Column Awards: Full list of winners

columnIt’s not as well covered at the Oscars, but days after Hollywood hands out its treasures, The Column Awards — honoring North Texas theater — dished out its awards.

The Columns break down their awards into Equity and Non-Equity productions, which virtually doubles the recipients and leads to, for instance ICT MainStage, a Non-Equity company, walking away with the most wins of the evening (12). But multiple award-winning companies also include Uptown Players (6), Theatre Three (5), WaterTower Theatre (4) and Dallas Theater Center and Lyric Stage (3 apiece).

The complete list of winners after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

Tomlin-BPatterson03Now that January is behind us, and it seems we don’t have to expect icy weather any time soon (though in Texas, ya never know), a lot of events are springing up for your entertainment calendar.

This is a busy weekend for limited-run events, many with gay appeal. Tonight and twice on Saturday, the Turtle Creek Chorale and Uptown Players co-present a concert version of the Terrence McNally-penned musical Ragtime at the City Performance Hall. I saw it last night, and, while long, it has some terrific singing — and acting — especially from Markus Lloyd and Tyce Green.

On Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. and again a 2 p.m., Susan Nicely performs a free mini-opera, portraying Julia Child in Bon Appetit! at the Demonstration Kitchen inside the Farmers Market. To RSVP, go to DallasOpera.org. That evening, the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs … and that’s a company that’s truly inventive. (We have a preview of it here.)

You can go to the ballet and still get out in time to see dance diva Kristine W headline the Carnivale celebration at Station 4 — she goes on at midnight.

On Sunday, Lily Tomlin, pictured, brings her one-woman show to the Winspear, performing her classic characters. She’s one of the legends of American comedy — you don’t want to miss it.

In addition, Mardi Gras is on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day is on Thursday, and next week welcomes to major touring productions — Catch Me If You Can at Fair Park (remember: DSM’s shows now begin a half-hour earlier than before — that’s 7:30 p.m. at nighttime performances!) and Anything Goes at the Winspear.

Don’t say you’re bored — there’s too frickin’ much to do!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Jeff Kinman memorial set

The memorial service for Jeff Kinman — the actor, singer and voice teacher who died last week after a long illness — has been set by his partner, Adam C. Wright. The event will take place on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., where Kinman last appeared in Uptown Players’ Broadway Our Way fundraiser last spring.

Anyone with questions or needing directions can contact Beth Albright at Broadwayelmo@gmail.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Actor/singer Jeff Kinman passes

Members of the North Texas theater community will all know Jeff Kinman. He’s been a staple on Metroplex stages for more than 10 years, and his appearance in a show guaranteed one thing: Beautiful singing. His clarion tenor, high as the clouds and clear as rainwater, never failed to draw tears and cheers.

As a vocal coach, as a singer in stage musicals and on CDs (including last year’s Holidazzle II charity Christmas album, and the cast recording of The Last Session, in which he starred in 2002) or as a composer (Kinman, his partner Adam C. Wright and friend John de los Santos wrote a musical that got a tryout at Uptown Players’ Pride Performing Arts Festival last year), Jeff’s presence elevated every project he touched. The last time I saw him perform — earlier this year at UP’s annual Broadway Our Way fundraiser show — he looked frail, but his voice was as powerful and lovely as it had ever been.

When word spread earlier this month that Jeff was in hospice care at Legacy Founders Cottage, the outpouring of affection was palpable — on Jeff’s Facebook page, where countless friends posted fond memories and words of encouragement, but also in person … to the point where facility folks had to ask well-wishers to slow down their visits to avoid taxing resources. But it spoke highly of Jeff that people felt compelled to show their support and friendship.

Jeff Kinman passed away this morning at approximately 2:30 a.m. He was 47. Services are pending.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

First off, if you’re not already wearing purple today, go back home and put some on. Oct. 19 is Spirit Day, sponsored by GLAAD to draw awareness to bullying. (You can even turn your Facebook pic purple.)

Next, if you don’t already have tickets to see Madonna this weekend, good luck finding them …. though if you are going, we have a little primer for you about what to expect.

And for those who don’t have ‘em and can’t afford the scalper prices anyway, this is the final weekend to see Hello Again at Uptown Players (pictured) and also Freud’s Last Session at Theatre 3.  Or you can just see a movie — and Keep the Lights On is definitely worth seeing.

For a little more interactive experience, the IGRA’s Gay Rodeo World Finals are in Fort Worth this weekend, with plenty of events and parties. While you’re in Cowtown, swing over to Bass Hall to catch Ben Stevenson’s staging of the ballet Peer Gynt. Or you come back to Dallas and  gorge yourself on Burgers & Burgundy, a fundraiser for DIFFA, on Friday night.

You can gorge yourself also on Sunday by coming to the Texas State Veggie Fair, held this year at Reverchon Park. In addition to the fried (vegan) food competition, there will be vegan food sellers and all sorts of vendors promoting a vegan lifestyle.

And the final thing to set aside time for this weekend: The Turtle Creek Chorale has its fall “Partners in Harmony” concert on Sunday at the Meyerson.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Uptown Players’ Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival: A sneak peek

Uptown Players presents its second annual Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival just in time for Pride, starting tonight with the one-night-only staging of Dustin Lance Black’s 8, but there are seven more shows scheduled — all with a gay twist of some sort, and all getting multiple performances.

Below is a run-down of the shows … some with write-ups by others in the festival. You can get individual tickets ($13) — or a full festival pass ($53) — here. All performances upstairs in Frank’s Place at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

With the Labor Day holiday upon us, there’s lots of stuff you can do (especially if you’re skipping Southern Decadence this weekend — lots of flooded streets, curfews and canceled flights). If you stick around Dallas, you can check out a pool party during the day … and maybe  and get a new swimsuit beforehand.

Wanna stay inside? See The Producers at Uptown Players, which we (and most other critics) loved. One set of “critics” who apparently didn’t like it: Some students from Kentucky. According to reports from audience members, chaperones for the minors stormed out of the theater during intermission, apparently not happy with the gay themes and Jewish humor. (Ummm… the musical’s been around a decade and the theater is run by gay guys — how did you not know what it was about and come in the first place?!?!?) Still, leading actor B.J. Cleveland apparently had fun with it. During his Act 2 number “Betrayed,” where he pauses to summarize the show until then, Cleveland ad-libbed “Last bus leaving for Kentucky!’ and “They’ll marry their cousins, but they find this offensive.” Ouch.

A lot more fun is taking place this week, too … though much of it seems to be at the end of the week. Even at Uptown Players — again. On Thursday, it launches is second annual Pride Performing Arts Festival with a one-night-only staged reading of Dustin Lance Black’s play 8, and continuing until Dallas Pride Weekend. Also on Thursday: The first concert of the Van Cliburn Concerts series at Bass Hall kicks off with four former Gold Medalists performing for the ailing gay maestro; plus, it’s Fashion Night Out (and our friends at DFW Style Daily have complete coverage here).

On Tuesday, gay music legend Bob Mould drops his latest CD, Silver Age, in which he embraces his daddy status — and rocks out doing so. Before that, the new film For a Good Time, Call from gay director Jamie Travis opens today, and it might be worth a look-see — especially if you’re a fan of huge dildos (other than the ones you saw at the GOP National Convention this week).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Razzle Dazzle Dallas distributes proceeds

Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund board, from left, D’wayne Teague, Tony Rox, David Hearn, Greg Wallace and John Cooper Lara

John Cooper Lara, chair of the Razzle Dazzle Dallas board, presented checks to beneficiaries of the June events at Sue Ellen’s on Monday evening.

The Metro Ball, which took place at S4 on June 8 and featured Taylor Dayne, raised $31,500 for the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund. GDMAF provides financial assistance for critical needs through local organizations when other sources are exhausted.

Funds from the Saturday night street party were split among nine beneficiaries. Those organizations were Resource Center Dallas, AIDS Arms, AIDS Interfaith Network, Turtle Creek Chorale, Cedar Springs Beautification Fund, Legacy Counseling Center and Founders Cottage, GLBT Leap, Uptown Players and Legal Hospice of Texas. That party raised $25,000.

Razzle Dazzle Dallas board, from left, Jimmy Bartlett, Johnny Humphrey, Chris Bengston, Thom Dance, John Cooper Lara, Kris Martin, Ron Adams and Howard Okon

—  David Taffet