2011 Year in Review: Stage

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KIT KAT KLUBBERS | Wade McCollum, center, almost dominated DTC’s ‘Cabaret’ as the sleazy Master of Ceremonies, but everyone was at the top of their game in this production, directed by Joel Ferrell.

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

Dallas theaters done good in 2011, with many exciting, funny, touching and/or energetic productions to choose from. Here, from No. 10 to the top:

10. Ovo (Cirque du Soleil tour). We’ve come to expect excellence from Cirque du Soleil, but their latest show is probably the best touring production to come to North Texas. Nearly a year later, it lingers for its beauty, derring-do and even storytelling, as it portrays romance in the bug world.

9. In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (Kitchen Dog Theater). Sarah Rule can be an acquired taste, but I acquired it with Kitchen Dog’s outrageous comedy of manners about how science adapted Victorian culture’s sexual repression to treat female “hysterics” with bizarre blindfolds over what they were doing. It took Freud and Jung to release us from these constraints.

8. The New Century and Beautiful Thing (Uptown Players’ Pride Festival). Uptown’s debut festival had some definite misses (the mainstage production of Crazy, Just Like Me was unwatchable), but I’ll walk away from the festival remembering the touching domestic drama Beautiful Thing and the camptastic Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century, which also managed to make audiences cry.

7. Arsenic and Old Lace (Dallas Theater Center). This crusty old comedy from the 1930s seemed like an unlikely source of some of the top laughs of 2011, but the Scott Schwartz-directed production, including a magnificent revolving set and a fresh, pixieish energy from Tovah Feldshuh and her co-star, Betty Buckley, was a real hoot — a chestnut roasting into a nutcake.

6. How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (ICT MainStage). Max Swarner found his niche in 2011 as the breezy light musical comedian — and How to Succeed was the perfect vehicle to showcase it. Looking big and expensive on a community theater budget, director Michael Serrecchia made this very-‘60s-era comedy feel as modern as The Colbert Report.

5. Dividing the Estate (DTC). The first entry in the city-wide Foote Festival was also the best, due in large part to director Joel Ferrell’s brisk pacing of a Gothic Southern (or in this case, Texas) saga about family sniping and intrigue. Any Southerner will recognize characters from his or her own background in the most sweeping portrait of blood dynamics since August: Osage County.

4. The Hand (Broken Gears Project Theater). Poor Broken Gears seemed to implode because of this show — a quickie little two-hander about men in a bathroom — one of whom is missing a hand… and wants one back. Snappy, gruesome and thoughtful, with a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism, it was guerrilla theater at its best.

3. Red Light Winter (Second Thought Theater). Adam Rapp’s drama about alpha-males and sexual politics marked the temporary return to Dallas of actor-director Regan Adair, and it was a fitting swan song for him as he tenderly parsed the most poignant of love stories with a dark, vicious side. The three actors were exceptional handling the explicit sexual content.

2. Next to Normal (Uptown Players). Uptown Players scored a coup in nabbing this Pulitzer-winning musical, basically an opera about mental illness. Beautifully sung (especially by the emotionally connected stars, Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd), it was the second major hit from director Michael Serrecchia.

1. Cabaret (DTC). It’s tempting to single out Wade McCollum, as the seductive Master of Ceremonies, with a large share of the success of this reinvention of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece, but it was not just him but Julie Johnson, David Coffee and especially director-choreographer Joel Ferrell — who turned the Wyly Theater into a seedy Weimar night club — plus everyone involved with making Cabaret the not-to-miss production of this, or any, season.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

ACTOR OF THE YEAR

N2Narnold1Stage, it is said, is an actor’s medium, and that is true with the local theater community, who did excellent work last year. Pam Daugherty and Jerry Crow breathed comfortable authenticity in Theatre 3’s contribution to the Foote Festival, The Roads to Home; seven months later on the same stage, Sally Soldo and Sonny Franks transformed the domestic musical A Catered Affair into a kitchen-sink master class in acting for the musical genre.

Larry Randolph, in the nearly-one-man show The Madness of Lady Bright, was a dazzling tragic tour-de-force of a drag queen in winter, nearly matched by Barry Nash’s entirely-one-man show Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of the Self, both running at the Festival of Independent Theatres — Bright from 1:30 Productions, Birdnow from Second Thought Theater. Second Thought was also represented by the threesome of Drew Wall, Natalie Young and Alex Organ, in the most compelling drama of the first half of 2011, Red Light Winter; Organ scored again (at comedy) in WaterTower Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, stealing the show in several roles.

The men offered the “wow” factor to DTC’s The Wiz, with Scarecrow James Tyrone Lane, Lion David Ryan Smith and Tin Man Sydney James Harcourt buoying that production. Oozing charisma, Wade McCollum’s sinewy, villainous M.C. in Cabaret turned a part often played for androgyny into a testosterone-laden sex show. Max Swarner oozed something different — goofy likeability — in ICT’s How to Succeed.

Comic women shone at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, with Emily Scott Banks and Catherine Wall standouts in Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, while Shannon J. McGrann plucked her way through Bad Dates. The entire cast of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Kitchen Dog Theater “got” the humor in a sickly perverse comedy. Angel Velasco’s brain-dead beachcomber was a comic hoot in Level Ground Arts’ camptacular musical Xanadu.

But a trio of actors at Uptown Players made 2011 special. First Patty Breckenridge and Gary Floyd, pictured, turned the quasi-opera Next to Normal into Uptown’s best production to date, exploring music, family life and mental illness with tenderness and strength.

If I had to pick one performance I can’t shake all these months later, it would be Lulu Ward in, of all things, the Paul Rudnick comedy The New Century. Over a 25-minute monologue as the craft-happy mother of a son with HIV, she delved into the quirky charms of a kitschy Southerner to the depths of pain a mother feels watching her child die. Between fits of uncontrollable laughter was a cascade of tears from the audience as she choked back hers. You couldn’t walk away from what seemed like a frivolous comedy without feeling transformed by Ward’s performance. That’s what made her the actor of the year.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Theater Critics Forum bestows honors

The DFW Theater Critics Forum met last week over friend chicken and sweet tea to bestow its annual awards for local theater excellence, as as usual, the gay community was well-represented.

Of the eight best director winners, five locals were gay: Regan Adair for Red Light Winter, Rene Moreno for three shows (The Trip to Bountiful, No Child… and Creditors), Michael Serrecchia for two shows (Uptown Players’ Next to Normal and ICT MainStage’s How to Succeed…), Joel Ferrell for two shows at DTC (Cabaret and Dividing the Estate), and Len Pfluger for My Fair Lady at Lyric Stage. Pfluger’s partner, Jay Dias, was also singled out for his season of music direction with Lyric.

Larry Randolph, as a tragic drag queen in One-Thirdy Productions’ FIT entry, The Madness of Lady Bright, was a popular choose for acting, as were two New York actors who sizzled at the Wyly (and whom we interviewed): Wade McCollum as the M.C. in Cabaret, pictured, and Sydney James Harcourt as the Tin Man in The Wiz. Whitney Hennen, the ditzy blonde in Uptown’s Victor/Victoria, was also singled out.

Justin Locklear received the second Emerging Artist Award for his acting and costume work this season with Balanced Almond, which actually won him two other individual awards.

In addition to yours truly, participating critics in Martha Heimberg (Turtle Creek News); Elaine Liner (Dallas Observer); Mark Lowry (TheaterJones and Fort Worth Star-Telegram); M. Lance Lusk (D Magazine); David Novinski (TheaterJones); Punch Shaw (Fort Worth Star-Telegram); Perry Stewart (TheaterJones); Lawson Taitte (Dallas Morning News); and Lindsey Wilson (D Magazine).

Full list below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pumping tin

Playing a sexy ax-man in ‘The Wiz’ has been rewarding for Sydney Harcourt

TAKE IT EASY | Sydney James Harcourt, above, deals with the Texas heat by wearing gym clothes everywhere — except, of course, onstage in ‘The Wiz,’ where he’s layered in a heavy costume, opposite, that has sweated off two waist sizes in four weeks. (Photos by Arnold Wayne Jones and David Leggett)

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

When Sydney James Harcourt signed to play the Tin Man in Dallas Theater Center’s new production of The Wiz, he didn’t know he’d have such a tough act to follow… or that that act would be one of his best friends.
Wade McCollum, who played the MC in DTC’s Cabaret, is one of Harcourt’s closest friends. McCollum’s legions of gay fans swooned over his ripped, muscular frame — a legacy Harcourt became all-too-aware of very quickly.

“I can’t hear enough about Wade’s abs,” he says with a sigh. “Everyone has a story about how ripped he was — abs, abs, abs. Well, the part I’m doing right after this is Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe in San Diego, where I’m wearing nothing but a gold Speedo.” And the specter of McCollum’s physique is enough to give him an inferiority complex.

Not that that’s likely to happen. True, he’s been in training with a low-fat regimen to get his body in peak shape for Rocky. But just playing the Tin Man eight shows at week at the DTC has worked wonders.
“I’ve probably dropped two waist sizes since I started,” he says. And there are still two more weeks to go.

He’s not complaining. Wearing the costume has been spectacular for helping him develop the character. He’s so constricted, he knows what it must be like to have rusted in the woods.

This isn’t the first time Harcourt has had to contend with a complicated costume — he spent 18 months on Broadway, playing Simba in The Lion King eight times a week. The headdress for that costume occasionally made him bleed. But getting decked out as the Tin Man has been a commitment of an entirely different level.

The process begins with Harcourt donning a neck-to-toe Under Armour bodysuit to wick perspiration away from his skin. Then he applies the shiny foil makeup to his face, taught to him by a professional makeup artist. (“It’s changed — I’ve figured out my own way to make it look more reflective,” he says.) That can take half an hour. Next comes sliding into the silver Lycra bodysuit, onto which are stitched most of the components of the Tin Man’s costumes. They are not detachable. And the sweating begins immediately.

“Originally, they were gonna be separate and we could wash the Lycra suit,” he says. “But they are all attached. That suit has not been washed since we started. It started to smell like a pickle. Now they just spray it with Febreze and let it dry in the sun. I used to be self-conscious, but I am no longer the smelliest costume. There are worse.” He refuses to name names.

Next, the arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt describes as “like putting on a snow suit: You have suspenders and a hood and the tap shoes and spats. The last thing is the shell, which is like armor. I cannot get into that without help. And I cannot get out of the costume at all without someone’s help — trust me, I’ve tried.”

All of which means that once Harcourt is strapped in he cannot — ummm … relieve himself. At all.

“The bathroom breaks are carefully timed,” he says. Once you’re in, you’re in for the show. It’s only 90 minutes, but altogether I’m probably in it three hours.” On days when he performs two shows with a three-hour break in between, he gets out of the costume entirely — including the makeup.

“Yeah, it looks weird walking around without the costume,” he says. “It kinda looks like blackface.”

The first time Harcourt actually performed at rehearsal in the costume nearly killed him. After the R&B jive of “Slide Some Oil to Me,” he bent over, panting and exhausted. He them transitioned immediately into the ballad “To Be Able to Feel.” That caught him off-guard when he showed up to rehearsal — the song had been moved by director Kevin Moriarty to much earlier in the show than it was originally.

But the one-two punch of Harcourt’s solos has made the Tin Man — and  arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt — the darling of audiences and critics. And he didn’t see it coming.

“I play him as completely sexual, and some of my jokes didn’t seem to be working,” like when he calls Lion a “pussy… cat.” But when he started in front of an audience, the reaction was intense.

“I think people are responding just to how much I love doing it,” Harcourt says.

For good reason: In his 13-year professional career, this is the first time Harcourt has created a role, rather than understudying someone else’s creation. And he likes it — as well as the reception he’s received on his first stint in Texas.

It’s enough to warm the heart of this Tin Man.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Cabaret’ star and director bring a lot of new ideas to a classic musical

The Dallas Theater Center’s current production of Cabaret just goes to show: It takes gay men to make something really good. At least in theater.

Wade McCollum, who stars as the Emcee 9pictured center), and director/choreographer Joel Ferrell, are responsible for much of what makes the show a success. Ferrell conceived the show, with its nightclub-like atmosphere of decadence gone amok and McCollum embodies it with his sexually charged but morally ambiguous ringmaster of the decline and fall of the German empire.

The intensely sensuous style is certainly one of its selling points — and it’s not really made up.

“That’s the nature of the show — the Weimar era was a racy time. It definitely evokes the era with lots of undies and titillating things with danger,” says McCollum. “We wanted to be more historically accurate than anything — it’s not about being shocking for the sake of shocking. Genderbending was more prevalent them. It could be hard to tell which boys were boys and which girls were girls, A lot of the clubs were just glorified brothels — the women are for sale and so are the men.”

“Clint Ramos is a strange, wonderful man,” laughs Ferrell about the show’s costume designer, who clad his performers in revealing, minimalist garb that helps hit home the outrageousness of the era. Ferrell cast one of his male actors, for instance, as a Kit Kat girl, exploiting the era’s happy acceptance of androgyny, epitomized by the pants-wearing icon of the time, Marlene Dietrich.

“That’s part of the fun of the show — it really begs you to come at it your way: What do you want to underline?” Ferrell had choreographed a production of Cabaret in Portland, Ore., before, but he had never directed it. But just working on another production gave him a lot of ideas.

“That production taught me some stuff about the show,” he says. “I think there are a couple of characters that usually get lost, like Fraulein Kost,” the prostitute who eventually embraces Nazism and goes from low-life to high-living overnight.

For McCollum, he was happy to create the Emcee in a way that straddled a line between reality and fantasy.

“You can make all sorts of different choices with that role,” McCollum says. “My job is to come in with a banquet of different choices and see what the aim of the overall intention of the show is. He is at once a very human master of ceremonies of a club just doing a show. But there’s a whole other layer, almost more prevalent, of overseeing the world of the play with an energy that could be interpreted a myriad of ways.”

Ferrell, for example, has McCollum perform the small role at the beginning of a train conductor who seems slightly villainous and pro-Nazi, even though that was not written in the script. The effect is to make the Emcee something of a trickster, who manipulates awful world events from behind the scenes.

“Yes, there’s a Luciferian energy to him, “McCollum agrees. “He almost takes delight in the emotional and physical demise of the people in the play — he’s almost a catalyzer of the decay.”

McCollum, a New York actor brought in for the role, has played the Emcee before. For Ferrell, take on Cabaret right on the heels of his last success, Dividing the Estate, was a daunting task.

“I have been asking myself why I decided to go immediately into another show, but no complaints!” he says. “I wanted very much to direct both of them.”

Still, it proved well worth the effort — for him and audiences.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones