BREAKING: WaterTower announces 2017-18 season

Today, WaterTower Theatre announced its first season under the direction of new artistic director Joanie Schultz, pictured. The five-show main season will include the following:

Pride and Prejudice (Oct. 13–Nov. 5). An adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, which Schultz will direct.

Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue (Jan. 26–Feb. 18, 2018). A regional premiere from Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegria Hudes, which looks at the effect of war on a Puerto Rican family.

Bread (April 13–May 6), a world premiere from native Dallasite Regina Taylor. It’s set in Oak Cliff.

The Last Five Years (June 8–July 1). A two-hander musical where a could work out where their relationship went wrong… in reverse. Directed by Kelsey Leigh Ervi.

Hand to God (Aug. 3–26). A Tony favorite from a few years ago, this play tells the story of a young man who allows his Christian puppet to roil his suburban Texas community. Schultz will direct.

In addition, two non-season presentations will be offered. The Great Distance Home, a world premiere conceived and directed by Ervi, will be the theater’s holiday show, Dec. 1–17. Then the Out of the Loop Festival appears to give way to Detour: A Festival of New Work, which takes place March 1–4, 2018.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower will produce ‘Hit the Wall,’ a play about the Stonewall Riots

Last May, WaterTower Theatre announced its 2016-17 season lineup, which culminated with a production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George. But the company’s newly-appointed artistic director, Joanie Schultz, has made her first major course-correction, and it’s a doozie: On the heals of Moonlight‘s historic victory at the Oscars, she has revealed that she will be replacing Sunday with a production of the play Hit the Wall, which tells the story of the Stonewall Riots that sparked the modern gay rights movement.

Described as a “play with music,” the rock-propelled historical epic — written by Ike Holter with music by Dan Lipton — was first produced in Chicago (Holter’s home base) at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2012; Schultz came to North Texas from Chicago earlier this year. She will also direct the production.

Set at the famed Christopher Street bar on June 27 and 28, 1969 — just after queer icon Judy Garland died — Hit the Wall follows a fierce collection of friends and strangers, allies and antagonists, as they party, mourn and eventually rebel in rioting that brought national attention to the oppression of LGBT people and began the “Pride” movement. Among those profiled: A black drag queen, a funny gay couple, a homophobic cop and a butch lesbian, as well as others.

“I’m proud to be directing this inspiring plat as my first production at WaterTower,” Schultz said. The piece “captures the spirit of a movement.”

It’s a clarion choice for Schultz, who is an unknown quantity for most theatergoers in North Texas. It certainly signals her commitment to diverse and edgy work by and about black, gay, radical subjects and artists. (Holter himself is gay and African-American.)

Ironically, in an interview last year with Playbill, Holter identified his favorite artist of all time as… Stephen Sondheim.

The production will run from July 28–Aug. 20. Tickets (which range from $20–$40, plus a pay-what-you-can performance) can be purchased here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stage reviews: ‘Mame,’ ‘Silent Sky’

For more than seven years, Jay Dias has been delighting local audiences by taking the original, full arrangements of classic broadway shows — The Most Happy Fella, Anything Goes, The King and I, My Fair Lady and more — and remounting them with 30-plus piece orchestras at Lyric Stage in Irving. Having accomplished most of what he set our to he do, he raised his baton on the final show he’s doing for Lyric (other than occasional projects) last night, Jerry Herman’s Mame. And what a lovely note to go out on.

Based upon Patrick Dennis’ memoir of his irrepressible aunt — a flapper who became a Svengali to an impressionable young man by living life to its fullest (“life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!” was her motto) — Mame was Herman’s follow-up to Hello Dolly about another flamboyant broad. His style as a composer exemplifies the brassy showmanship we usually associate with the Broadway style. But as big and sentimental as the showstoppers can be, Herman is equally gifted in small moments with beautiful music and touching lyrics. “Open a New Window” and “If He Walked Into My Life” capture both the ebullience and the humanity of Mame, who struggles to provide for her nephew while remaining committed to being a role model for progressivism. She’s the fun relative we all wish we had (though in real life would be exhausting).

Herman and Dias are aided immeasurably by Julie Johnson as Mame. Even in this concert version (orchestra onstage, using minimal sets and blocking) Johnson’s charisma exudes from every pore. She hits the big notes like a Streisand and plucks the heartstrings. It’s a big show with big numbers and a big leading role, and she has the personality to match. Indeed, most of the principal actors — Christopher Sanders, Jack Doke, Daron Cockerell — are just as fabulous. The lone exception is Amy Mills as Vera Charles, Mame’s best friend and supposedly the greatest stage actress of her day. Mills just doesn’t have the presence to stand up to Johnson — she shuffles around the stage in dowdy black looking more like Mr. Chipping than Helen Hayes, and seems far out of her element. But who can hold focus with Johnson drawing your eye and Dias’ conducting engaging the ear. The show only runs through Sunday; see it while you can.

You’ll also want to catch another based-on-a-true-story production, this one in Addison. Three smart women, called “computers,” work diligently in the male-dominated field of science, with none ever getting the recognition they deserve, despite their fabulous contributions to our understanding of outer space. I’m talking, of course, of Hidden Figures… well, that, and Silent Sky, now onstage at WaterTower Theatre. Like the film, Silent Sky gives us a long-overdue alternative history of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (Anastasia Munoz), whose work at Harvard study cepheid stars at the turn of the last century forged the way for our understanding of how vast the universe really is … and how we can calculate astronomical distances. Edwin Hubble fully credited her with opening doors and making his work possible. The named a telescope after him; you’ve probably never even heard of her.

Which is the point of Lauren Gunderson’s play. She presents a Henrietta who was smarter than the men around her but considered a troublemaker also by women who saw her as defying conventions of femininity and not knowing her place. A good point, but the play tends to rest of cliches as it rewrites history with large doses of poetic license, including a fictionalized romantic interest and a squishy timeline. Gunderson tends to write in modern idioms, making the characters sound a little to 21st century. I wish the play itself were stronger, but I have no quibble with the production. Munoz shines as the fiercely intelligent Henrietta, and Shannon J McGrann provides perfectly-timed comic relief as one of her co-workers. The rapport between them and Marianne Galloway as an early suffragette holds the play together, even during the overlong first act, when seems to lurch toward four different breaks before finally settling on one.

Clare Floyd Devries’ set and Kelsey Leigh Ervi’s direction add to the wonder and beauty of the universe. Try not to be inspired by the legacy these nasty women left.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: WaterTower appoints new artistic director

Joanie Schultz, new AD at WTT. Photo by Joe Mazza

As Joanie Schultz was driving through the snowy streets of Chicago in mid-December, she realized that this could well be her last time for a while to brave the bracing cold of a Midwestern winter. Instead, she would have to contend with a different extreme: Texas summer heat.

“It’ll be different… It’ll be good, though,” she says optimistically.

Schultz is making the move from the bustle of the City of Big Shoulders to the environs of Big D; this morning, she was named the new artistic director of Addison’s WaterTower Theatre. The appointment was announced by board president Paul Shultz. “Joanie is a phenomenal choice to lead WaterTower Theatre’s artistic vision in a new era,” he says.

It’s a huge leap of faith for her… but also for WaterTower, which was ably led for 17 of its 20 years by Terry Martin, until he resigned last spring. Schultz is moving to an area where she has few ties; WTT is giving Schultz her first slot as an artistic director leading a theater company. And both couldn’t be more excited at discovering each other.

“She’s never been an artistic director before per se, but she was one [of the candidates] who had done copious amounts of research on WaterTower,” according to Stan Graner, an actor and WTT board member who also served on the search committee. “She had a clear vision for what she wants to accomplish, but what kept catching my eye was how collaborative she was — remarkably intelligent without ego, someone trying to be intuitive and true and as an artist. That really spoke to me.”

Schultz did a lot of research, she says, because before learning of the opening, she was completely unfamiliar with WTT.

“The theater really surprised me when I looked into it, because I’d never heard of it before. I found that sort of shocking [once I learned] what WaterTower could do [with its facilities] and had been doing — the play choices, the diversity, the language talking about ‘the magic in the theater.’ There was a lot of possibility and alignments with what I already [am doing].”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower announces 2016-17 season lineup…Terry Martin’s last

terrymartin-38Terry Martin, who is stepping down next month as WaterTower Theatre’s producing artistic director, has announced details of the company’s 2016-17 mainstage season — WTT’s 20th and Martin’s last.

“I have had the privilege and honor to call this theatre my artistic home for 17 glorious years,” said Martin. ” My heart is full of pride with all that we have accomplished.  I am thrilled to leave the community with a 20th Anniversary season that I feel is a wonderful representation of what WaterTower Theatre has always been about — true celebration  of the art of theater.”

The season opens with the regional premiere of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash  (Oct . 7 –30), which pays tribute to the legendaryMan in Black and his iconic music. The season continues with another regional premiere, Silent Sky (Jan. 20–Feb. 12, 2017), a new play by Lauren Gunderson, which tells the story of Henrietta Leavitt, a brilliant and headstrong pioneer at the dawn of modern astronomy. Next will be a third regional premiere, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord (Apr. 14–May 7) by Scott Carter (executive producer of Real Time with Bill Maher). This smart comedy examines what happens when great men of history are forced to repeat it. Up next is a new regional premiere comedy by Karen Zacarías, one of the country’s leading Latina playwrights, called Native Gardens (June 2–25).  The fifth and final production will be the iconic Stephen Sondheim musical, Sunday in the Park with George (July 28–Aug. 20).

Stephen SondheimThe five-show subscription package can be enhanced with the addition of the holiday extra, Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold (Dec. 2–23). Directors for each production will be announced at a later date.  All productions will be staged at the Addison Theatre Centre at 15650 Addison Road, Addison. The five-play season subscriptions range in price from $75 (previews) to $150 (Saturday evening). Audiences can also choose an A or B Sampler Series: A — Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Silent Sky, Native Gardens; B —  The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, Native Gardens, Sunday in the Park with George. There’s also a Design Your Own Series option.

Visit the theater here for more info.


—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Greg Patterson promoted to managing director of WTT

Gregory Patterson photo by Matt Tolbert (2)More shakeup in the arts of North Texas! Only this time it’s good news.

Greg Patterson, who has served as WaterTower Theatre‘s director or marketing and new development for nine years, has been promoted to the role of the company’s managing director by the board of directors. It’s a new position at WTT; Terry Martin, who resigned last week, has been the producing artistic director, meaning he essentially handled the management and artistic sides of the Addison-based theater company. Most companies divide those responsibilities, as WTT has now done.

WaterTower is still looking for someone to replace Martin, who served for 17 years. A search committee will look for a new AD, which will include Patterson, Stan Graner, Rose Colarossi and Paul Shultz.

This is only the latest in changes in the Dallas arts scene this past year; Last year, both company manager Terry Dobson and founding producer Jac Alder of Theatre 3 died; Bruce Coleman was appointed interim artistic director. Earlier this year, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Jaap van Zweden announced his departure from the DSO; and in the last two weeks, Martin left WTT and Michael Jenkins was fired after 20 years as president of the Dallas Summer Musicals. Max Anderson also left the directorship of the Dallas Museum of Art, and Lily Weiss recently took over as CEO of the Dallas Arts District.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Time and tide

‘Show Boat,’ ‘Big Meal,’ ‘Empress’ movingly portray the full landscape of life


Lara Tetter, above right, steals scenes in Dallas Opera’s ‘Show Boat. (Photo by Karen Almond)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Theater is a matter of life and death in North Texas this month — literally.

Screen shot 2016-04-21 at 3.00.58 PMAt WaterTower Theatre, the entire life-cycle is at issue in The Big Meal, a tender, funny, painfully real portrait of a family from courtship to death. It starts with two 20somethings Nicki and Sam (Kia Boyer and Garret Storms), meeting for an awkward first date or two, usually over dinner and drinks. With the chime of a bell, it’s now at least a decade later, with Nicki and Sam now played by Sherry Hopkins and Jakie Cabe. They reignite their relationship, and to the surprise of both, agree to marry … just so long as they don’t have children. A chime later, and two rug-rats (Kennedy Waterman and Alex Duva) come running in — apparently the call of biology was too much to resist.

The play continues on that way, with abrupt changes of setting and time … as well as cast. At first, John S. Davies and Lois Sonnier Hart play Sam’s parents; by they end, they are portraying Sam and Nicki themselves, now great-grandparents of pairs of kids (Cabe and Hopkins), grandkids (Storms and Boyer), etc.

Sound confusing? It’s really not, though it does demand your attention, something you willing give over as you become inextricably rapt by the authenticity of the lives of this family, which include dating, divorce, infidelity, cancer and of course death — the “big meal” in playwright Dan LeFranc’s construct. Each time the stage manager steps onstage with a full plate of food and a napkin-wrap of silverware, it’s someone’s turn to eat … and walk off-stage forever. Dinner becomes a form of Russian roulette.

Initially, the speed of the transitions, and the unmiked voices, force you to strain a bit to catch everything. And then you realize that director Emily Scott Banks is doing that intentionally, making you lean forward and engage. It’s a crafty way to rope you in, and for 100 uninterrupted minutes, she makes you laugh and breaks your heart. By the end, with Sam quaking from Parkinson’s, his mind fading as Nicki feeds him one last time, you’re wrecked. (Damn her montage of couples — gay and straight — and exquisite use of music to pluck at our emotions!)

The cast ably serves Banks’ vision. Storms is a protean actor who, better than anyone on North Texas stages right now, fluidly transforms from one type to another (a scene where he portrays every boyfriend Boyer’s character ever brought home is a subtle tour-de-force). Waterman — barely a teen — wowed audiences in Harbor and Daffodil Girls, and cements her rep as a “kid” actor with mature talent. Of all local theater companies, WaterTower seems the one most consistently occupied with telling the human experience with kitchen-sink verisimilitude. The Big Meal adds to that catalogue, a kind of modern-day Our Town. Come prepared to cry.


Kia Boyer and Garret Storms, above, begin a romance that becomes an entire lifetime in WTT’s ‘Big Meal.’ (Photo by Karen Almond)

You might well cry throughout Show Boat, too — the final production of the Dallas Opera’s current season and the first time the company has produced an American-style musical, not a traditional opera (though it’s actually more of an operetta). The songs — “Ol’ Man River,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “Bill” — are firmly ensconced as charter entrants in the Great American Songbook, and as delivered here, wrenching arias as well-honed as Mozart’s “Porgi amor” or Offenbach’s “Barcarolle.” Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II may not have reputations as “opera composers,” but their work stands with some of the greats.

It helps that the Dallas Opera has assembled a cast that not only sings with the strength of opera, but can act up a storm.
The story revolves around Magnolia Hawks (soprano Andriana Chuchman), a young girl touring with her parents about the Cotton Blossom, a moving river boat that wanders the Mississippi at the turn of the last century, performing overwrought melodramas for residents of the port towns. She meets the gambler Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Michael Todd Simpson), a tall and impressive dandy who sweeps her off her feet, giving her and their daughter a good life until his losses pile up, and Magnolia is forced to work for a living, becoming a celebrated singer.

Chuchman and Simpson have real chemistry, which you feel during their duet “Make Believe.” But it’s soprano Alyson Cambridge as the tragic Miss Julie LaVerne, a half-black actress “passing” for white in the segregated south, who delivers the show’s major knockout punch. “Bill” sounds like a novelty song — a sweet, goofy ballad about a woman infatuated by her seemingly average boyfriend — but Cambridge turns it in a breathtaking torch song of an alcoholic has-been, giving her all at the end of her career. And basso-profundo Morris Robinson brings it for his (and the show’s) signature song, “Ol’ Man River.”

As is often the case, the comic role of Cap’n Andy is a scene-stealer, and the limber dancer Lara Teeter commits grand theft. It’s a joyously upbeat performance in a show filled with as many dour moments as colorful bustles — the prototype for the modern musical, conducted with brio by Emmanuel Villaume.

Music is essential to another downbeat story about life and death. It’s Oct. 4, 1970, and Janis Joplin (Marisa Diotalevi) is drowning her sorrows in an L.A. hotel room when her idol — the late blues great Bessie Smith (M. Denise Lee) — seems to step out of the album she’s listening to and enters Janis’ world. Janis has died of a drug overdose and is just beginning to realize it; Bessie apparently is there to ease her transition into the afterlife.

The meeting of these musical greats, both cut down at the peak of their skills (Joplin at age 27, Smith at 43), forms the crux of Dianne Tucker’s reverie on American Music The Empress and the Pearl, now at Theatre 3’s downstairs space. Through songs (mostly Smith’s), conversation and some theatrical exposition, Tucker delineates the similarities between the performers, but also their differences as people and artists.

It’s not a balanced portrait. Joplin comes off as the more ungrateful and self-destructive of the two, a self-indulgent narcissist who ruined her raspy voice by burning out her soulfulness too recklessly, as well as ill-conceived romances with men and women. That’s something she shared with Smith, a sexually voracious singer who truly lived the blues.

Neither Lee nor Diotalevi look or sound much like their avatars, but it hardly matters; Lee in particular has the rich vocal chops to turn the small underground space into a Depression-era speakeasy. You can practically smell the gin in this cabaret.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 22, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Stage review: Keeping up with ‘The Joneses’


Edward Albee’s seminal drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? pits two couples — one older and embattled, the other young and corruptible — in a game of psychological and sexual oneupmanship, contained in the rarefied world of intellectual academia. Will Eno’s play The Realistic Joneses — one of the Discovery Series productions in WaterTower Theatre’s black box studio — is like the prosaic, middle-class companion piece to Albee’s masterpiece. While Woolf steers toward allegory, Joneses (no relation — I hope) bends toward dark absurdist comedy, a realm Albee himself would explore more directly in his career. It’s funny and strange.

Eno builds not just on Albee’s foundation, but on a subgenre of theaterworks set in suburban backyards that delve into the cookout culture of human rivalries (you often see them at Kitchen Dog, in shows like Barbecue Apocalypse and Detroit). Bob and Jennifer Jones (James Crawford and Diana Sheehan, pictured) are settled, but going through hard times as Bob has been riddled with health issues and takes out his frustration on everyone around him. They meet comparative newlyweds John and Pony (Justin Locklear and Martha Harms), younger but odd in their own way. John has had a few medical issues of his own, and his affect — non sequitur responses to inane chit-chat, a perversely unnerving bubbliness — suggest something mysterious. It’s a clash of generations, where both sides learn from the other but only in the most halting, desperate way. There’s a sadness and gloom to their lives amid all the silly humor, reality between the Dadaist moments.

Tight four-actor shows like this depend greatly on the ensemble, and these are some of the best in town at what they do. Locklear is North Texas’ most emotionally available young actor: Handsome but not intimidatingly so, with a lively energy. And this is easily Sheehan’s best performance to date. She bridges the divide between pulling of light-footed comedy and carrying the emotional heft of the show. Among all the quirkiness, she brings the most realism to these Joneses.

Arnold Wayne Jones

At the Addison Theatre Centre through April 10.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 02.19.16

Thursday 02.25— Sunday 03.06


WaterTower Theatre opens 14th Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, dedicated to alt-theater

There’s a lot more going on in the world of theater than what Broadway, off-Broadway and even well-funded regional companies are producing. That’s why a fringe fest is an excellent opportunity for discovery, as WaterTower has demonstrated over more than a decade. Out of the Loop is back with a crowded lineup of performances (music, comic, dance, dramatic) over 11 days, including work from queer artists like Ebony Stewart to WTT’s first-ever 24 HR Play Fest, a quasi competition where playwrights, directors and actors write, rehearse and mount all-new works on a common theme with only one day’s prep. Get a season pass and discover what’s really going on in theater.

Addison Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road
Visit for a full schedule.

Friday 02.26


Lesbian rockers Hunter Valentine bids (sort of) adieu with So Long for Now Tour appearance at Trees

The queer all-girl rock group Hunter Valentine has been touring and recording (and making appearances on programs like Showtime’s The Real L Word) for more than a decade; just last Sunday, the group released its latest EP (on, appropriately enough, Valentine’s Day). But all good things must come to an end … or at least go on hiatus. The members are coming to Trees Feb. 26 as part of their So Long for Now Tour, so this could be your last chance (at least for a while) to catch them. (Also appearing on the bill are Faded Grace, Hush Money and Cruella.)

Trees, 2709 Elm St.
Doors at 7 p.m.
Show at 8 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WTT announces new Discovery Series for spring, with gay content

IMG_7710In this week’s edition, we have a story about the peripatetic Kelsey Leigh Ervi, who in the past three years has been something of a dynamo in North Texas theater. Well, she’s going stronger than ever, performing — not directing — in Bright Half Life, a romantic drama centered on a lesbian relationship. That will be one of two shows presented as part of WaterTower Theatre‘s new Discovery Series, which will take place this spring in the company’s Studio Theatre.

Garret Storms (currently also acting in Martyr) will direct Bright Half Life, which runs May 21–June 12. The other play, Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses, will co-star favorites Jim Crawford, Diana Sheehan, Justin Locklear and Martha Harms. It runs March 21–April 10.

Tickets go on sale Feb. 9 here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones