Bitter, sweets

NUP_144817_1361It has been a surprisingly long time since a “classic” Top Chef series has aired: Almost a full year since something other than All-Stars, Masters or Just Desserts. And I have to say: I miss the original, where up-and-coming chefs with lots of talent actually compete to see who’s the best. (Later in the fall, it will return — set in Texas.) But, like a heroin addict settling for Methodone — not as good, but a compromise replacement — the new season of Top Chef: Just Desserts will have to tide me through. It’s not the real thing, but it’s close enough.

Well, more or less. Top Chef and Project Runway have always stood out because their contestants have real skills — you sense the producers sincerely want the best, not just those who make the best reality television. (What’s A-list about the A-Listers?) Increasingly, reality competition shows rely on crazy incompetents and arrogant bastards (or bitches) to keep the conflicts alive.

This season of Desserts seems to backpedal on that promise , with Craig, pictured lef, the flamboyant newcomer tp pastry, throwing a wrench into the plans of more seasoned chefs, including Dallas’ Lina Biancamano (she who creates the confections at Stephan Pyles, also pictured). The deal with the self-centered Melissa, who you know will stay around too long just to offer viewers a villain.

The season premiere, which adds superchef Hubert Keller as a judge, doesn’t have the spark of last season (yet), and it’s not clear yet who will add the most enjoyable camp factor. But I take my fixes as they come. It’ll last me til Top Chef: Texas; I just know it will; it’s gotta.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Premieres Aug. 24; airs weekly on
Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lord, have mercy

David Vaughn got on his knees to nab a primo role in ‘Shrek’

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Shrek the Musical
MINI ME | One of the comic highlights of ‘Shrek the Musical’ is the diminutive villain Lord Farquaad, played by recent tour addition David Vaughn.

SHREK THE MUSICAL
Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave. Sept. 28–Oct. 17. Evenings 8 p.m., matinees at 2 p.m. 214-631-2787.
DallasSummerMusicals.org.

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The most evil villains ever created are typically compensating for one shortcoming or another. For Shrek the Musical’s Lord Farquaad, the diminutive tyrant’s inadequacies are quite literal: His tiny legs are about as spindly as a sock monkey’s.
But for David F.M. Vaughn, it’s one of the greatest roles he’s ever played. And in Shrek alone, he’s played more than his fair share.

“I was a swing in the original Broadway company, so I understudied 19 different tracks in the show. It was a lot of work. I had to be able to go on in any role at any second. But I also understudied Lord Farquaad, which is the role I play now. It’s a new look at a show I’ve been playing for over two years,” he says.

Performing on Broadway is wonderful, according to Vaughn, but touring also has its perks.

“You get to kind of explore each of these great cities. You also get to perform as an actor for different audiences. They vary greatly by region. It’s fun to see which audiences like what, play that up and adjust the show for each audience,” he says. “Plus, there’s something to be said about having your room cleaned every day. Fresh towels, clean sheets … you really can’t beat that.”

This will be the actor’s first visit to Dallas and he’s excited to have family members in the audience, but almost equally thrilled to be performing at the State Fair of Texas.

“I live in New Jersey and I love, love, love the State Fair. The fried awfulness, the people watching. The touring company is so excited to go explore.”

Eating his way around Fair Park and seeing all the attractions will be a welcome break from the demanding schedule and an even more difficult role.

“The biggest challenge is the obvious physicality of playing an entire show on my knees. Not just performing it, but making it realistic and funny and making the whole joke work,” Vaughn says. “There’s also a section where I have a puppeteer controlling my legs for me. I have to trust that he will do what he was choreographed to do and I will do what I’m choreographed to do.”

Once on Broadway, in a different Shrek role, things didn’t work out so well. There’s proof in a backstage photo on his website where he can be seen sitting with an ice pack on his ankle and a tissue up his nose to stop the bleeding. Harrowing stuff.

“The set was so big and so complicated. There were so many lifts and turntables and flying things. It was very dangerous.

We’re all very safe, but anything can happen. And unfortunately, that’s one of those things that happened. I had to run really fast around the corner and one of the guys who runs props forgot that I was there and he slammed his forehead right into my nose. We were both knocked over.”

The touring set is just as complex, even if it is scaled back to accommodate various stage setups.

“It looks just as full and lush, even sometimes more saturated and colorful than I remember it. The show’s completely reconceived not only as a tour, but as a new production. They trimmed it and added stuff,” he says, “but the story’s more focused.”

The new dragon puppet is better than the one on Broadway. “Finally, DreamWorks’ commitment to getting it right paid off and they figured it out. Now it’s a full dragon from head to tail. His wings flap, it’s just wonderful. I can’t wait for you to see it.”

Everyone who’s seen the show or performed in the show seems to agree that gay audiences love the “Freak Flag” number, and Vaughn is no different.

“All the fairy tale creatures have been shunned and forced from their home because Lord Farquaad says they’re freaks.

They’re not like everyone else and everyone should be perfection and all the same. But the pigs are fat, and the wolf is hairy, and Pinocchio is not a real boy,” he says. “They all question themselves until Gingy, the gingerbread man, sets them straight and kind of says what makes us special makes us strong. It’s kind of an anthem of individuality and community and strength and celebrating differences, but using this platform they all gather together and nothing can stop them.”

“It’s that same old story,” Vaughn continues. “We may have been ashamed of ourselves because we were gay, until we finally banded together and realized that we’re awesome and we can do anything together. And, oh, there’s power in that. This number is almost like a Pride parade on stage.”

And if that’s not enough, he quickly jumps back in and exclaims, “We have a transsexual wolf in the show, too!”

Now you’re talking.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas