LISTEN: ‘Nothing Short of Wonderful’ from ‘Dogfight’

In the current edition of Dallas Voice, we have an interview with Benj Pasek, the gay half of the composing team responsible for the musical Dogfight, which gets its outside-of-New York premiere at WaterTower Theatre, which opens tonight. You can listen to a sample of what the show has in store here, with one of the charming musical numbers form the show.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower Theatre announces 2014-15 season

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Terry Martin

Addison’s WaterTower Theatre extends its affiliation with Fort Worth’s Stage West with another co-production, and offers two regional premieres as well as a piece by local playwright Vicki Caroline Cheatwood in its upcoming season.

The season — the 15th for WTT’s artistic director, Terry Martin — opens with a musical biography with Dallas roots: Bonnie & Clyde (Oct. 10–Nov. 2), which had a brief run on Broadway two seasons ago.  That’s followed by a new holiday show built around a familiar group. The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical (Dec. 5–Jan. 4, 2015) follows the antics of the popular Great American Trailer Park Musical, which WTT has produced in the past to much acclaim.

The Explorers Club, co-produced with Stage West, runs Jan. 16–Feb. 8, 2015, followed by Arthur Miller’s Tony Award-winning drama All My Sons (April 17–May 10). Cheatwood’s new play Manicures & Monuments settles in for a summer run (June 5–28), and the musical Sweet Charity closes out the season (July 14–Aug. 16).

The Out of the Loop Fringe Festival returns for its 14th incarnation, March 5–15.

For more information or season tickets, visit WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: ‘Evita,’ ‘Spunk’

caroline bowman as eva peron with CheFor many, Evita was the show that won over musical theater fans to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s side before he became the bombastic hit-monster of Cats and Sunset Boulevard. In some ways, it’s the most unlikely of musical subjects: The machiavellian machinations of the former first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, who was long-dead by the time the show opened. And yet, it’s a compelling piece of operatic theater, a kind of political tragedy where Lady Macbeth never has second thoughts.

The original production made stars out of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (Madonna made the movie version 17 years later). The version now at Fair Park Music Hall, courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, doesn’t reach those legendary heights, but it’s a reminder of how solidly entertaining and innovative Evita has always been.

It’s the day Eva (Caroline Bowman) has died, and a disgruntled Che Guevara (Josh Young) seems alone in his lack of sentiment. Was she a devil or a saint? Madonna or whore? Is it possible to be all of these things? Through flashbacks, Che narrates her calculated rise from rural nobody to radio star to wife of military hero and eventual president Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin).

This is the national tour of the recent Broadway revival that starred Ricky Martin. Ricky doesn’t she-bang in this one, but with Tony Award nominee Josh Young in the role of Che, it doesn’t matter much — he has a powerful tenor and a fierce indignation (especially evident in the fantasy number “Waltz for Eva and Che”).

He’s not the only strong performance, though — indeed, of the many productions I’ve seen of Evita this is the first where all five man roles are equally well played. Bowman’s transformation from girl-from-the-sticks to trashy actress to steely political wife to, eventually, a frail and cancer-ridden ghost, is endlessly convincing. MacLaughlin is a strong, sexy Peron, and even Christopher Johnstone, as the cheezy singer Magaldi and Krystine Alabado as Peron’s former mistress do excellent, detailed work. Michael Grandage’s direction keeps the show moving effortlessly, and despite a few missed opportunities for irony and character development, it’s a stellar show, not revived often enough.

KA2_8128Up at the Addison Theatre Centre, WaterTower Theatre has its own stellar musical on the boards. Based on three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Spunk is a jaunty little 90-minute show that has the smoky appeal of a Lenox Avenue speakeasy in the 1930s.

Liz Mikel is this show’s Che, a kind of narrator who escort us through three unrelated scenes by one of the few female voices to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance. The stories are largely unrelated both in tale and tone, but Hurston’s clear, precise style bursts through each of them. In one, a woman (Tiffany D. Hobbs) in the rural south endures the abuses of her drunken husband … until an opportunity presents itself that may free her. In another, zoot-suited dandies throw more shade than a drag queen at noon as they try to woo a liberated woman in post-War NYC. In the third, a loving family man deals with the anguish caused when his wife cheats on him in a weird twist on The Gift of the Magi.

This is toe-tapping theater, full of energy and dark beauty, magnificently lighted by Jason C. Foster (who imbues the Art Deco, Gatsby-inspired set with fire and mood) and performed by a gifted cast. Just try not to have a good time.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WaterTower announces lineup for 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival

AztecButcher15WaterTower Theatre announced today the lineup of shows for its 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, which takes place March 6–16.  The Addison theater will host seven world premieres and several returning favorites, Terry Martin, the artistic director, said. As always, the festival will include dance, theatre, cabaret artists and visual arts

Eighteen artists and performing arts organizations will participate in this year’s festival. Among the  world premieres will be Mozart’s Muse (presented by Jendi Tarde), Beware of Plastics (Actor’s Conservatory Theater), local actress-singer Diana Sheehan in Searching for Gertrude Lawrence and returning gay playwright David Parr’s Express from 59th. Best of Loop will also return this year. 

The gayest of the plays is certainly Falling Man, about a drag queen, a hustler and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Read the full line up after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Collin Duwe wants to be a rich world traveler and you can help him

CollinDuweCollin Duwe wants the best job in the world. And we kinda want him to have it.

Actually, we wouldn’t mind having the job, either. This is it: Become a world traveler at a hefty salary ($100k) and spend a year reporting on destinations from Atlanta to the Maldives for the website Jauntaroo.com. Pretty sweet. (GayTravel.com has had a similar contest, with the GayTravel Guru, which I’ve reported on.)

Now, we’d all want a job like that, but Collin is actually close: He’s one of 30 finalists worldwide, and he needs people to vote for him. We certainly don’t mind throwing a word out for him. Collin is part of North Texas’ LGBT community, and works at Dallas Theater Center right now, so the theater community probably knows him, too. And I think DTC could manage if he decided to travel internationally for a year.

If you’re so inclined, all you have to do to help Collin is click here and vote. I’m sure he’d appreciate it — maybe he’ll even send you a postcard of thanks from exotic Fort Worth — that’s one of the stops on his tour.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

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Following a slowdown right around the Fourth of July, the theater scene is hopping again, with the opening tonight of Uptown Players‘ Kiss of the Spider Woman, pictured, while up in Addison WaterTower continues its super-gay show, Xanadu. Best idea: Check out Spider Woman this weekend and go to LGBT night at WTT on Wednesday, with a pre-show cocktail hour and discounted ticket. Then on Thursday two more shows open: Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown at Teatro Dallas and the first preview for Theatre 3‘s first show of its season, So Help Me God.

If you’re in the mood for a little drag, there’s plenty of options as well. The Hidden Door hosts its 26th annual Leo Party and Miss Leo Contest on Saturday, with proceeds benefiting AIN’s Daire Center. And drag king troupe Mustache Envy gives its fans a gender-bending show at Sue Ellen‘s on Friday.

If you’re in the mood for even more giving, Resource Center Dallas holds a cocktail reception marking its 30th anniversary on Friday, and the Be An Angel fundraiser benefiting Legacy Counseling Center is on Saturday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Remembering actor Ryan Roach

Ryan Roach, right, in one of his signature roles in ‘Greater Tuna,’ alongside close friend Chris Robinson.

A theater community really is a “community.” Even if you aren’t close personal friends with everyone who’s ever done a show, if you’ve been around long enough, you get to know people — by reputation, by seeing them in a show, by acting alongside them … and that applies to actors, directors, technicians — and even theater critics.

So, as anyone who was Facebook friends with Charles Ryan Roach — and judging by the news feeds over the weekend, that’s a lot of people — know, Ryan passed away suddenly on Saturday. He was 44.

The first indication something was wrong was last Thursday, when Ryan called his dear friend (and frequent co-star) Chris Robinson to saying he wasn’t feeling well and was headed to an urgent care facility. After some testing, it was determined Ryan’s blood pressure was dangerously high. He was checked into a hospital in Fort Worth.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

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It’s feeling like a charitable weekend around the gayborhood.

First, there’s the LifeWalk team the Elizabeth Trail’rs (sponsored by Dallas Voice) that is raising money for the October AIDS walk with a pool party at the Belmont Hotel on Sunday. Drop off a $20 donation and enjoy the sun and water, as well as cocktails, food, a 50/50 raffle and more. It starts at 1 p.m.

That leaves you time to head over to Mario’s on Lemmon Avenue until 4 p.m. for another Sunday Funday fundraiser: a happy hour benefiting the Lone Star Ride in September. If you can, try squeezing in Bagels & Booze at JR.’s with drag performances.

Even if you aren’t raising money, you can still enjoy some cocktail parties — both at the W Hotel. On Friday, Dick’s Night Out arrives at the Ghostbar from 6–10 p.m. with DJ Brandon Moses, pictured, spinning; then on Saturday, Lush Mixer takes place from 7–10 p.m. at Cook Hall, also at the W.

And you can say goodbye to one campy gay play and hello to another; Avenue Q finally ends its 100-plus performance run at Theatre 3 on Sunday. Then Monday is the official opening night of the hilarious musical Xanadu, which features roller-disco!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

BREAKING: WaterTower Theatre announces 2013-14 season

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Terry Martin

Terry Martin, the producing artistic director for WaterTower Theatre, announced his theater’s upcoming season tonight, which includes the return of the (often very gay) Out of the Loop Fringe Festival as well as five mainstage productions.

Among the shows are a musical about a country music pioneer, a screwball comedy and several regional premieres, some by gay playwrights.

WTT’s next production, Black Tie (directed by Rene Moreno), opens May 31; the final show of the company’s 2012-13 season will be Xanadu.

Here’s the full lineup for 2013-14:

Hank Williams: Lost Highway (Oct. 11–Nov.3). This jukebox musical features the songs of the C&W legend, who died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29.

The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) (Dec. 13–Jan. 5, 2014). Ken Ludwig, the Tony-nominated author of Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You, wrote this regional premiere, a farce about actor William Gillette — famed for his performances as Sherliock Holmes — solving a real crime.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Jan. 24–Feb. 12, 2014). Another regional premiere, adapted from Mark Twain’s classic novel about the mischievous teenager involved in murder and intrigue.

Out of the Loop Fringe Festival (Mar. 6–16, 2014). The return of the annual celebration of unique theater. No lineup will be announced until next year, but the content usually runs toward racier, edgy productions.

Spunk (Apr. 11–May 4, 2014). Gay director and author George C. Wolfe — probably best known for mounting the original Broadway production of Angels in America, as well as the recent revival of The Normal Heart — wrote this play, adapted from short stories by celebrated African-American author Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God).

Good People (June 6–29, 2014). Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) wrote this comic and insightful character study about old friends and new lives.

Dogfight: A New Musical (July 25–Aug. 17, 2014). Based on the 1991 film, this regional premiere musical, co-written by openly gay composer/lyricist Benj Pasek, is set on the eve of the Kennedy assassination, where a man tries to win a contest by bringing the ugliest girl to a party.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Kelsey Ervi: The sorcerers’ apprentice

Kelsey Ervi picKelsey Ervi hasn’t been out of school for even two years, and already she’s stomping out a vintage with her young career in theater.

The Waco native moved to Dallas in 2011 after graduating from Baylor. Obviously, she just couldn’t get enough Waco. Yeah, right.

“I grew up there, which is scary for someone who is gay,” Ervi says. “I was like, ‘I gotta get out of here.’”

But despite the Texas town’s conservative rep, Ervi says she got a great education in the theater department there, which was very open-minded. It also taught her how to do almost anything in theater — in front of the footlights and behind.

“The theater department was so wonderful,” she coos. “I acted, directed, wrote.”

Ervi continues to work as a jack-of-all-trades: Her first play produced, Waking Up, debuted at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival last year. Set in a bedroom, with 11 characters, it explored pillow talk in the modern age. The success of that show landed Ervi a permanent job in Dallas, as assistant to Terry Martin, the producing artistic director at WTT.

Moving to Dallas has given Ervi renewed energy about the potential of doing good work in the theater. Martin, one of the most respected directors in town, asked Ervi to assistant direct WTT’s current show, The Grapes of Wrath.

“My education at Baylor was great, but the tactile experience [working here] is a whole world of knowledge,” she says. “Grapes of Wrath is such a massive show. Terry has worked with the [Joad family cast members] and I’m working with the ensemble.”

Grapes just adds to her resume. Not only has she worked with Martin, but her career already includes several stints with the dean of North Texas’ theater directors, Rene Moreno, as both assistant director or stage manager on August: Osage County, Twelfth Night and The Lucky Chance.

“It’s such a learning experience,” Ervi says. “Rene is a wonderful teacher; he’ll [do something] then whisper to me, ‘This is why I’m doing this.’”

Ervi is continuing to write (she’s working right now on a three-woman show about the trials and tribulations of love and sex; she hopes to finish it over the summer), and she’s open to auditioning to act in a show “if I feel like I’m right for it.” But mostly she’s just happy to be pursuing her passion professionally.

“I love Dallas — it’s such a booming theater community,” she says. “Classmates talk about moving to New York, and I say, ‘Come to Dallas! It’s great here.’”

The Grapes of Wrath runs through April 28.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones