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

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

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

WaterTower Theatre announces 2015-16 season

Cara Serber Peter Dicesare CREEPWaterTower Theatre officially set its 2015-16 season, which includes an already-revealed original musical, the return of a hit from this season and two recent Broadway successes, WTT’s producing artistic director, Terry Martin, announced.

The season opens with the world premiere of the musical Creep (Oct. 2–25), pictured, written by out Dallas writer/composer Donald Fowler. A moody investigation into the Jack the Ripper legend, it has been in the works for many years. That will be followed by the mainstage production of  Sexy Laundry (Nov. 20–Dec. 13) which played a limited run in the studio space earlier this season with Wendy Welch and Bob Hess. For the first time in a long while, WTT won’t have a holiday show.

2016 begins with an adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Jan. 22–Feb. 14, 2016), about what happens to young boys when removed from organized society. That will be followed by the 15th annual Out of the Loop Fringe Festival (Feb. 25–March 6). The next single show is a regional premiere, Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal (April 15–May 8), followed by the regional premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar (June 3–26), to be directed by Rene Moreno. The final production of the season will be the Richard Bean’s comedy One Man, Two Guvnors (Aug. 5–28).

All productions will be staged at the Addison Theatre Centre at 15650 Addison Road. The six-play season subscriptions range in price from $90–$180. The renewal deadline for current subscribers to keep their same seats is July 1. Subscribers who renew by June 19 will have the normal handling fee of $7 waived.

See more, and make purchases, at WaterTowerTheatre.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Weekly Best Bets • 07.22.11

Friday 07.22

Green thumbs beware
When a good idea turns into a blood-craving monster plant — well, lives get turned around. WaterTower Theatre premieres the fun and frantic Little Shop of Horrors, where Seymour, a lowly florist, tries to turn his fortune around and ends up with a big mess. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs only add to the wacky flair of it all.

DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Through July 31.
$30. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

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Saturday 07.23

Who are those masked men?
The Dallas Eagle knows how to throw a bash. As part of Leather Pride Week (who knew?), the club hosts Masquerade: A Night of Men, Leather, Fantasy and Intrigue. OK, you got us — we’re intrigued. The leather and fetish ball assures no Cinderellas on hand. Gear and masks are encouraged. Just don’t be that guy without one.

DEETS: Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave.
10 p.m. DallasEagle.com

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Thursday 07.28

Is she your teenage dream?
Katy Perry is either brilliant or ballsy. Her radio hits will carry her show into party mode, but having the dynamic Robyn as an opener could put Perry into a corner. She’ll likely come out swinging. The audience definitely wins this night.

DEETS: Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. 7:30 p.m.
$45. Ticketmaster.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Weekly Best Bets

Friday 02.25

Poundstoning the pavement
We love our Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho, but Paula Poundstone was right there with them on the up and up. She’s carved her own queer comedy path which comes this way. We give her props for her stand-up, but she’s crazy hilarious each week on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me trivia comedy show. DEETS: Majestic Theater, 1925 Elm St. 8 p.m. $31–$106. PaulaInDallas.com

Sunday 02.27

Is that an Oscar in your pants?
One of these men (don’t forget Javier Bardem, too) will walk away with a best actor Oscar. You can watch that at one of many gayborhood watching parties, but first, listen to Dallas Voice’s Arnold Wayne Jones and David Taffet talk Oscar on Sunday’s Lambda Weekly on 89.3 KNON at noon. We predict Colin Firth wins. Yeah, we said it.
DEETS: Airs on WFAA Channel 8 at 7 p.m. Red carpet coverage at 6 p.m. Oscar.com

Thursday 03.03

Be Out of the Loop by being in it
WaterTower Theatre knows how to give a theater festival. The Out of the Loop festival returns with 11 days of shows. Faye Lane’s Beauty Shop Stories, pictured, is one of the opener shows and ends with a three-day run of Robert Wuhl’s Assume the Position.
DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road. $10–$20. Through March 13. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Best bets • 01.07.11

Saturday 01.08

We like our bears four-alarm style
The Dallas Bears know how to get a new year started. Bears, non-bears and groups are invited to participate in their Kick Off to 2011 Chili Cook-Off. The event benefits Dallas Bears’ charities, but should likely leave a lot of people with a beary spicy taste in their mouth. Would you expect anything less? Pass the crackers.

DEETS: Hidden Door, 5025 Bowser Ave. 2 p.m. DallasBears.org.

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Monday 01.10

Don’t mess with this man’s puss
The last thing you want to do is kill some guy’s cat — especially when that guy’s away on a mission of torture and terrorism. When Padraic finds out his feline friend is dead in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, he isn’t happy and he’s gonna make sure the rest of his Irish town isn’t either in this dark comedic play by Martin McDonagh at WaterTower Theatre.

DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road. Through Feb. 6. $22–$40. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

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Wednesday 01.12

Going on down to the east side
Immigrant Punk comes from Denton to play her unique folk hip-hop for Lakewood Bar & Grill’s East Side Love Show. But she’s not the only out artist on the bill. SuZanne Kimbrell, pictured, brings her acoustic rock and blues to the show along with Abraham Mellish and Angela Carter.

DEETS: Lakewood Bar & Grill, 6340 Gaston Ave. 8 p.m. $5. LBGDallas.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens