Theater in La Ronde

Posted on 05 Oct 2012 at 8:15am

John de los Santos tackles gay composer Michael John LaChiusa’s dark musical about bed-hopping

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MORE SEX PLEASE. WE’RE AMERICAN | Uptown Players stages one of its raciest productions ever with ‘Hello Again,’ a musical adaptation of ‘La Ronde’ that shows, in frank ways, sexual dynamics across a century. (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

A show with a title like Hello Again sounds like it might be an ‘80s rom-com about a ghost haunting his dad, or an NBC sitcom about divorced couples comically forced to live with each other; antics ensue.

But after the raucous comedy of The Producers, if you go into Uptown Players’ new show expecting something like that … well, let’s just say you could not be further from the truth.

You won’t see this show in primetime, or heavy rotation on the dinner theater circuit. You’re lucky to see it at all.

“I’ve already heard a bellyful of Shelley Long references,” jokes John de los Santos, who was tasked with directing this production.

It’s an assignment de los Santos fought to get. Already a respected actor, dancer and choreographer in theater and opera, this year has marked an expansion for de los Santos to direct theater in Dallas; he’s directed operas, but few plays in North Texas. Hello Again posed the opportunity to reach a new audience.

“It’s such a challenge in every way. It’s mostly sung-through; there’s no intermission; it tells 10 seemingly unrelated stories woven together by the daisy chain of partners. When we rehearsed it, it was like doing 10 different shows,” he says.

The plot is a series of two-person scenes: A nurse sleeps with a college student; then in the next scene, the college student has an affair with a young wife, and so on. There are some bisexuals in there too, just to keep it pretty darned gay.

If it sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Hello Again is based on both the Max Ophuls 1950 film classic La Ronde and the 1897 German play by playwright Arthur Schnitzler. A century ago, the story was so controversial that the play wasn’t publicly performed for nearly 25 years. So how much have things changed? Not all that much, it turns out.

“I’m not a prude, but this show does have a bit of a moral slant. It’s not anti-sex, but [much of] the sex is unfulfilling. You don’t see a connection ‘til the end,” he says. “It’s about how we deal with sex and how we feel about it. It’s definitely a musical about ideas, but also very relatable — especially in this community. I am sure people will be able to see these characters in their lives.” (Freud said about Schnitzler, “I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition — though actually as a result of sensitive introspection — everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons.”)

The story jumps around more than it sounds. Each scene is set in a different decade of the 20th century, although it is not chronological; a character in one scene may be a survivor of the Titanic; the next minute, he’s a club-kid dancing disco at Studio 54.

As roller coaster-y as the plot sounds, that’s nothing compared to the music. Michael John LaChiusa is one of theater’s most acclaimed but complex composers; he was represented earlier this year in Dallas with the premiere of Giant, his adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel.

“One of the biggest factors in casting it was, we needed people who could sing this material — it makes Sondheim sound like Jerry Herman,” de los Santos jokes. “It’s a musician’s musical.”

For that, Uptown hired Adam Wright to serve as musical director for the show. He and de los Santos have a history of working well together, since they met on Uptown’s Altar Boyz more than five years ago. Last year, they even co-wrote a musical together thatn premiered at the first Dallas Pride Festival of Performing Arts.

“Adam has given it a luscious coloring to the music,” de los Santos says. “It doesn’t sound like a graduate student’s thesis. We have a really easy flow of ideas between us —  he speaks ‘choreographer’ really well. He’s also an amazing musician — he’s Betty Buckley’s preferred accompanist when she’s in town.”

If it sounds heady and complex … well, it’s also a brisk 90 minutes and full of unique takes on sex.

“Each scene has its own sexual style, with the orgasm of each the centerpiece,” says de los Santos. “It’s about how we are all looking for love and use sex to achieve that.”

Yeah. Definitely not something you’ll see during the family hour on TV. Which is just how Uptown Players likes it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 5, 2012.

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