Uptown Players’ stage show ‘The Boy from Oz


I say it every December, but that doesn’t make it less true: I love writing this column each year. Year-end lists are all about the best, and there’s a great deal of best-ness that happens that doesn’t get acknowledged month in and month out. It’s one thing to shout your kudos to a theater company for a good production, but it’s another to single out actors by name and say, “I remember you — you made my theatergoing experience more magical.” Because acting is an ephemeral art, those who do it well are almost invisible precisely because they are so good at it.

As good, in fact, as the good people in Good People, particularly Jessica Cavanaugh, whose broken, middle-aged mother of a disabled child raised the level of a mediocre play with exquisite pain tempered by tenderness.

There wasn’t a whole lot of tenderness coming from Marisa Diotalevi during Uptown Players’ Christmas Our Way fundraising show earlier this month, but more laughs than a human can hold as she slurred her way through a pitch-perfect drunken version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Steven Walters was equally funny, with a hint of dastardliness thrown in, with his M. Thenardier stealing scenes left and right in DTC’s modern-dress version of Les Miserables last summer.

Musical comedy also serves three co-stars of Uptown’s The Boy from Oz well: Supporting players Sarah Elizabeth Smith and Janelle Luts did priceless impersonations of Liza Minnelli and mom Judy Garland, though it was the exhaustingly talented Alex Ross who dominated the production as showman Peter Allen. Another trio of actors who captivated audiences were Rico Romalus, Seun Soyemi and Adam A. Anderson in the sexually-charged drama about urban life in the African-American community with Jubilee’s The Brothers Size.

Local boy Michael Urie made his professional North Texas stage debut last fall recreating his off-Broadway one man show Buyer & Cellar, and his stamina was daunting. Lulu Ward’s impressiveness is of a different sort: Her ability to bring amazing depth and shading even to a mediocre work like Tennessee Williams’ The Two-Character Play.

Some performers impressed with their diversity. Garret Storms turned in several memorable performances, from Crumpet in The Santaland Diaries to Huck Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, all with nimble energy. Others paired up well, like Terry Vandivort and Austin Tindle as father and his closeted gay son with a prickly relationship in the family dramedy The Lyons. Phillipe Bowgen and Sabina Zuniga Varela’s raw pas-de-deux in the exquisite modernization of the Oedipus myth Oedipus el Rey left you heartbroken. And WaterTower could boast a duo or duets in two exceptional musicals: Kayla Carlyle and John Campione as the title characters in Bonnie & Clyde, and Juliette Talley and Zak Reynolds as tentative lovers in the delicate chamber musical Dogfight.

But it’s another twosome that really stood out this year. Wendy Welch and Bob Hess, pictured, led a strong cast in Uptown’s Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike, and that says something. Hess and Welch have delivered excellent work in almost everything that have appeared in for more years than either would probably like me to mention, but I don’t give this accolade out as a “career achievement” award; rather, nearly a year later, their performances in that comedy still feel seared into my psyche. It’s acting no one who saw it will soon forget, and so, for the first time since the second year I started giving out these awards, I declare Hess and Welch, as a pair, my actor of the year.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 26, 2014.