B.J. Cleveland, Dallas theater’s go-to guy

Coy Covington has some advice for B.J. Cleveland: Learn the word “no.”

“I really need to add that word to my vocabulary,” Cleveland smiles at the words of wisdom offered by his longtime friend and colleague. Already one of the busiest theater professionals in North Texas — in addition to his day job with the Dallas Children’s Theater, he’s in demand as an M.C., director, actor and all-around utility expert (from painting sets to fetching costumes) — Cleveland’s 2015 was madcap, even for him. When he began the year, his only theater obligations were starring in Uptown Players’ The Nance, pictured, directing Uptown’s Gilligan’s Fire Island and closing the year with his one-man Christmas Carol at Theatre 3.


B.J. Cleveland in Uptown Players’ ‘The Nance’.

Then T3’s legendary founder, Jac Alder, died. Alder’s replacement as artistic director was Bruce R. Coleman, who asked Cleveland to pick up some slack: Could he direct Cotton Patch Gospel, which Alder added to the lineup at the last minute, as well as The Liar (with only two hours’ notice)? Sure. Could he take over directing a production of Curtains that Coleman was set to stage in Irving? Of course. Could he, in fact, step in to introduce Denise Lee at her standing-room-only cabaret show and even perform a number or two? Why not.

By New Year’s Eve, Cleveland had agreed to “nine or ten” shows, the most recent being taking over for an injured Doug Jackson in the four-actor revue I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which runs at Theatre 3 through March 6.

“I was at Star Wars three days after Christmas Carol closed when I could feel my cell phone go crazy in my pocket,” Cleveland says. As soon as the movie got out, he checked his messages: Half a dozen beginning him to take over for Jackson with less than a week of prep time. Cleveland’s DCT colleague, Artie Olaisen, counseled him to turn it down. He knew Cleveland was burned out and needed a break. But he couldn’t say no. “What if it was your theater?” he asked Olaisen.

So the Metroplex’s busiest actor is back on the stage, and when this run ends, it’s off to rehearsals at his old stomping grounds at Theatre Arlington to perform in The Mystery of Irma Vep. This summer, he’ll star in Uptown’s regional premiere of Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, as well as help out with the company’s annual Broadway Our Way fundraiser. As of now, that’s all he has on the books for 2016. He plans to take a much-deserved break, turn down other requests and spend the rest of the year catching his breath.

Yeah, like that’ll happen.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at Theatre 3’s Theatre Too space through March 6. Theatre3Dallas.com.