STAGE REVIEW: ‘War Horse’

It would be impossible to spend more than 20 minutes sitting in the audience of  War Horse, now at the Winspear, and not be bowled over by its excellent stagecraft. Of course, there are the celebrated life-sized puppets — not just of full-grown horses, but of foals and birds. But you can see a puppet show at any state fair midway. What makes War Horse special is the evocative way those creatures are presented.

The (for want of a better word) protagonist — the title Thoroughbred mutt Joey — is made of a pinkish metal exo-skeleton whose mechanisms (including the three actors who manipulate him) are clearly visible at all time. Plainly, as Rene Magritte might observe, “This is not a horse.” And yet for two-and-a-half hours, you believe it to be one. The first time Joey’s master, the young farmboy Albert, living in Devon, England, at the outbreak of The Great War, strokes his muzzle, you can sense the horseflesh under his hand, the warmth and force of Joey’s breath. In movies, to convince an audience of a horse storming through the fields of France, you need expensive CGI effects; onstage, you just need your imagination.

And lighting. Very, very good lighting.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theater troupes to release seasons, but we already know one by the Bard

It’s that time of year when theater companies begin to unveil their seasons, and nowadays, they like to make it a show. Tonight, the Lexus Broadway Series will reveal its third season at the Winspear (look here on Instant Tea this weekend for an update!) and next week, the Dallas Theater Center and Theatre 3 both have ceremonies to announce their seasons.

We already know one of the plays on the Lexus slate: The Tony-winning War Horse, pictured, which was revealed last year. But we also know one of the DTC’s upcoming shows.

This fall will mark the start of the company’s fourth season at the Wyly, and artistic director Kevin Moriarty has always opened his season with a Shakespeare play: The comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the history Henry IV (Parts I and II) and the romance The Tempest. That only leaves one of the major tragedies (Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear), and smart money has always been in Lear: It’s less performed than all the others except Othello, and so the production would be pretty fresh. The question was, who would tackle the lead?

Now we know. The DTC may not have released its schedule yet, but Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I. — with which Moriarty has had a long affiliation — has. It released its 2012-13 season brochure a few weeks ago, which I happened upon online, and here’s what it says:

King Lear [Sept. 13—Oct. 21] Our resident acting company joins forces with the acclaimed Dallas Theater Center for a co-production of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. … In the winter, Trinity Rep’s actors will venture to Dallas to remount this thrilling co-production. Resident acting company member Brian McEleney stars as Lear.

It looks, then, like Shakespeare will not kick off DTC’s season for the first time at the Wyly, but will wait until early 2013, following DTC’s annual presentation of A Christmas Carol … another show Trinity Rep is also doing. Might there be other convergences on the two schedules? We’ll find out next week!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: Loretta Lynn at the Winspear Sunday

I hadn’t invested much time into the lore of Loretta Lynn. I’m a fan of her music, I had seen Coal Miner’s Daughter and applauded her reinvention with Jack White for 2004′s Van Lear Rose. But I did not expect the spectacle of her Sunday night show at the Winspear — and by spectacle, I mean her lavender, bedazzled gown. That thing was a show in itself with its flared out skirt and shoulder pads. Oh, those shoulder pads. Fortunately, someone got a great pic of it.

Gown or not, Loretta Lynn showed why she is the legend that she is. Short and sweet, Lynn managed to jam-pack a career of songs into I’d say less than an hour, and yet, the show was overly satisfying. Mostly singing her classics like “You’re Looking at Country,” “She’s Got You” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man,” she delivered crystal clear vocals against a rich backdrop provided by her very able band. She did shorten some of her tunes to lead into others, but I can’t say I ever felt cheated. The enthusiasm by her fans was contagious. The people around me lost their shit as a big hit bellowed from her microphone and it was both endearing and fascinating to watch.

Lynn sat down after a couple of songs due to her new “titanium knee” and held court with her gown spread out and mic in hand. She never overdid anything and in true diva fashion, she let the band and the audience simply watch her sing and chat. The audience kept shouting out songs they wanted her to sing or mentioned their meemaw’s birthday and none of it shook her. Her game was on and she made it look like it was a breeze. After all these decades of performing, perhaps it was.

Her daughters performed as openers and they sounded fine, but her son, Ernie Lynn was the worst part of the night. At least the daughters inherited good voices, the son did not. He and LL’s backing band, The Coalminers, opened the show with a couple of covers like “Slow Hand,” that did not set any bar high. His scraggly voice and bad stage presence was quickly forgotten thanks to a more inspired showing by his sisters.

As if to make it worse, he chimed in during much of Lynn’s banter with the audience and embarrassingly so. He mentioned trying to find a girlfriend and creepily admitted to his likeness of Taylor Swift. Yuk. Apparently, this is nothing new.

But LL was magic overall and nothing could eclipse what she delivered Sunday night. Although she didn’t do an encore, the audience about fell out when she finished with “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and reminded us of greatness.

Watch a small video clip by ATTPAC live tweeter Brad Ehney (@got80s) after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

David Blaine tonight at the Winspear

He’s a magic man

We’ve seen David Blaine be buried alive, frozen and more, but what’s behind the man of magic? Blaine talks about what inspires his death-defying feats and hopefully he’ll throw in some tricks, too.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 8 p.m. $20. ATTPAC.org.

—  Rich Lopez

TONIGHT: Lexus B’way Series, the gay perspective: “Les Miz”

As I did last fall for Hair, the Lexus Broadway Series has invited me back — and has for the entire season — to offer some insights from a gay perspective on their current production.

And that production is Les Miserables.

I have to say, this is the show I have least looked forward to profiling — not because I don’t like it, but because it is a challenge with a show that predates the word “gay.” But I’ll give it my best shot.

Here’s how it works: If you signed up for the “gay series” already, you probably got an email blast reminding you about the chat. If you didn’t, you can still come — just buy a ticket to tonight’s performance. (I liked this production, too — you can read my review here.) The talk will be in Hamon Hall, to the right when you enter the Winspear, starting about 7 p.m. I’ll even take questions if you have any.

And I’ll see you in March at In the Heights!

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

At the barricade

A newly imagined ‘Les Miz’ is just as grand, less operatic

09.LesMiserables-US-Enjolras-CROP

OCCUPY PARIS | ‘Les Miz’s’ theme of proletarian revolt resonates as strongly as the thrilling score.

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

Chances are if you have ever seen Les Miserables, you think that it is either the greatest musical ever conceived, or precisely what’s wrong with musical theater since Mary Martin retired from playing a pre-pubescent boy. Of course, it’s possible both are true.

Detractors claim the musical — adapted from Victor Hugo’s massive novel about a thief, Jean Valjean (J. Mark McVey) pursued relentlessly by obsessive Inspector Javert (Andrew Varela)  — slogs through French history with bombastic pretension and repetitive musical motifs. Admirers — whom I happily number myself among, and have ever since I saw the original London production 25 years ago — fall sway to its sweep, its Big Themes, its thrilling score. And the ideas that right wingers can’t beat down the common man forever and get away with it resonate especially strongly even today. There’s no way you can see Les Miz and not think the distinction between musical and opera is all but irrelevant.

You might feel differently, though, with the current national tour, now at the Winspear. It reconceives the original with mind-blowing rear projection (Valjean’s escape through the sewers of Paris is as cinematic as anything I’ve seen on a stage; Javert’s suicide is a technical marvel) and a more intimate, almost claustrophobic staging. The show is still grand, though it feels less like grand opera.

That’s also a side effect of the singing, which has been modified from the rich, fluid style of the original to a more conversational, pop sensibility. It’s almost as if the creative team figured everyone already knew the songs and wanted to give them a more radio-friendly, Susan Boyle-ish treatment. That may be arresting only to nerds like me who can recite the score by heart, but I bet there are a lot of us out there.

Even so, the “money songs” — especially Valjean’s haunting “Bring Him Home,” that ravaged the house on opening night, and the Act 1 finale, though also Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Eponine’s “On My Own” — are as stirring and flamboyant as they ever were, and the bawdy “Master of the House” remains a comic gem.

The latter is due in great part to Richard Vida and Shawna M. Hamic (looking like Edna Turnblad) as the Thenardiers, whose comic mugging steals scenes, and McVey’s Valjean grows in depth and power throughout the three hour run-time.

But the length is almost inconsequential. Les Miz, of necessity, rushes through great swaths of emotions, and it’s occasionally difficult to toggle through them; your heart can’t keep up with your head. But when it does? Well, that’s when Les Miz is as touching as a musical can be.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Nobody does it Eder

Broadway diva Linda Eder talks of her longevity … and her drag queen imitators

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CHRISTMAS ANGEL | Singer Linda Eder will bring Christmas magic to her holiday concert at the Winspear and she’s hoping her gay fans will turn out. Being a Broadway diva with that voice — they likely will.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

The earliest evidence of what Linda Eder would become is available, of course, on YouTube: A video of Eder, maybe 19 or 20, singing Melissa Manchester’s “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” at the 1980 Miss Minnesota pageant. (She didn’t win the title.)

But Eder doesn’t blanch with embarrassment when confronted with this relic of her past. Now a responsible adult, she offers that Linda Eder career advice.

“There’s a whole list of things I’d tell her not to do,” she insists. “My advice would be to save more money. Don’t spend so much because you don’t really need so much.”

Eder turned 50 this year, and the wisdom earned from the passage of time is clear in her tone. She’s relaxed, professional and unfazed discussing the range of her career, whether working with her ex-husband on her last album Now or the drag queens that perform her work. But she does seem to get jazzed about one thing — longevity.

“What makes me proud of this album is just the fact I am here at 50 and making records,” she says. “I’ve been most fortunate to have this kind of career and I have a real sense of accomplishment with this album.”

Now, her 13th that dropped in February, reunited her with longtime collaborate Frank Wildhorn, the man behind Jekyll and Hyde — the musical that put Eder on the Broadway map. But Wildhorn is also Eder’s ex-husband (they divorced in 2004). Still, she describes the experience as drama-free.

“You know, it worked out fine and it really was easy. We stay in contact,” she says. “For this album, we brought back some of the same people from before.

Things were slightly different now that I’m my own entity if you will. There was a little more freedom but it wasn’t he ever made me do anything I didn’t want.”
After 20 years since her first release, Eder knows she’s not radio fodder, but she also knows her audience.

“I certainly hoped for this kind of career. Making records is fun,” she says.

“Fortunately people enjoy my voice.”

That, of course, includes her large contingent of gay fans. She understands the territory that comes with being a Broadway diva. Eder even relishes it.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to have gay fans. They are my more lively audience and that’s why I love playing for them. I appreciate it so much,” she gushes.
Drag queens aren’t lost on her, either.

“Do you know that there is this drag show called Better than Eder? That’s so great,” she says.

She’ll likely introduce some of her new works when she returns to Dallas Sunday for her holiday concert at the Winspear. Eder helps ring in the season with The Linda Eder Holiday Show. Her Christmas Stays the Same CD from 2000 featured both original and traditional carols with that Eder touch; getting the chance to perform them on stage is what drives her at this time of year.

“You know, I’m an entertainer and doing these shows with talented people and musicians is just a fun hang,” she says. “It’s hard to believe still that I get to do this for a business.”

She’ll argue the celebrity label, but knows she is one in a certain sense. Eder doesn’t propose a false modesty either when asked about her past work. Instead, she actively strives for a sense of normalcy.

“I don’t think of myself [as a star],” she says. “I was driven early on and carved a niche career for myself but I found that I wanted to pull back to a level of success that was normal. I’m simply a musician. I might call myself a minor celebrity.”

Her fans might disagree.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

“A Gathering” totals $60k in proceeds

From the rehearsal for "A Gathering."

So how many people does it take to make A Gathering? About a thousand, it seems. That’s about how many folks turned out for the Tuesday evening event,  raising an estimated $60,000 in the process (a full figure will be available after all the donations made that evening and still coming in by are tabulated). Organizers are even continuing to bargain over some of the hard costs, getting more donated or reduced to maximize the donations to the four AIDS beneficiaries.

That’s great, but what was really great was how the show came together, moving quickly and movingly with terrific performances from all involved. Keep it up, and this could (should) become a habit.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“A Gathering — 30 Years of AIDS” tonight at the Winspear

Come together

The Dallas arts community is coming together for a spectacular One-Night-Only performance commemorating 30 Years of AIDS. An unprecedented collaboration between some of the finest arts organizations in Dallas, A Gathering: The Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS will feature eleven Dallas cultural institutions coming together and sharing their talents to create a powerful evening of entertainment. With a cast of more than 200 singers, dancers and actors, A Gathering promises to be a soul-stirring performance, and a night to remember.

All the organizations involved are donating their time and talent for this unique performance. 100% of the proceeds will directly benefit four of Dallas’ leading AIDS service organizations. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to be a part of an extraordinary night of song, dance, hope and solidarity.

Participating organizations: AT&T Performing Arts Center, Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance Project, CharlieUniformTango, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Texas Ballet Theater, TITAS and Turtle Creek Chorale

—AT&T Performing Arts Center

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 7 p.m. $12–$100. ATTPAC.org/Gathering

—  Rich Lopez

REVIEW: Racette an easy singer in a special TDO concert at the Winspear on Wednesday

Last night afforded opera fans the last chance to see a Dallas Opera presentation until 2012 — well, sort of. Soprano Pat Racette, who was supposed to portray Katya Kabonova this month before the production was canceled, still managed to play the Winspear in a special 70-minute cabaret set. (“In honor of Janacek, I have translated all the lyrics into Czech,” she joked.) Although she said she wouldn’t be singing opera, just classics, she couldn’t resist the chance to turn on the pipes big-time for “La Vie en Rose,” which was met with thunderous applause.

For those who sniff at the overblown style of opera, Racette could probably make a convert of ya. She was jokey and easy-going onstage with a torch singer’s facility. She also was refreshingly open. She someone from the audience yelled out, “Is Beth here?,” Racette didn’t hesitate to give shout-outs to her wife, mezzo Beth Clayton, and her in-laws, who were all in the hall. She even played around a bit with Gershwin, changing the lyric “I got my man” to “I got my gal” for one verse.

The set, consisted of several medleys and three encores, ran the gamut from Piaf to the novelty song “To Keep My Love Alive,” all met with warmth by the audience, populated with season subscribers. The worst thing about the evening? Being reminded that we would not get to see her do Katya. Here’s to hoping the TDO adds her back into the mix in a season real soon.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones