Dallas Loves Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS!

Maybe it’s the Christmas Spirit, nostalgia, or just pure entertainment, but WHITE CHRISTMAS is a HUGE hit here in Dallas!

I wanted to share with you a few of the reviews we’ve received from DFW locals, a couple of TV performances, and our Red Carpet Interviews video from Opening Night, 12/17! Check out the links/video below. I’ll be adding more as they come in, so check back for updates!


Click here for the review by John Garcia with The Column Online.

Click here for the review by TheaterJones.

Click here for the review by Red Carpet Crash.

Click here for the review by Lawson Taitte with The Dallas Morning News.

Click here for the review by the KVIL Radio Reporter.


WFAA 8 – Good Morning Texas Performance: Meredith Patterson & Trista Moldovan singing “Sisters”

Click here to see the video.

KTXD 47– The Broadcast Performance: Tony Lawson & Craig Blake singing “Happy Holidays”

Click here to see the video.



I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

-DSM Amanda

Dallas Loves THE LION KING!

Well, it’s not shocking, but Dallas is in love with Disney’s THE LION KING! Be it nostalgia, the costumes, or even the Hamlet-like story, THE LION KING has proven to be a hit in what ever city they visit! And I’ll be honest, I’m right there with all of you – I love this show. Plain and simple.

I wanted to share with you a few of the reviews we’ve received from DFW locals, an interview between an adorable puppet, Bleeckie Streetie, and the 4 young kids in the cast and our Red Carpet Interviews video from Opening Night, 10/4! Check out the links/video below. I’ll be adding more as they come in, so check back for updates!


Click here for the review by Lawson Taitte with The Dallas Morning News.

Click here for the review by John Garcia with The Column Online.

Click here for the review by Lindsey Wilson with D Magazine.


Bleeckie Streetie interviews the 2 Young Simbas and the 2 Young Nalas


Fun with Fiona – Special Feature on Fox 4 News

Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Colleen Coyle looks behind the scenes at ‘The Lion King’

Click here to see the video.

Teresa Frosini with CBS 11 features The Lion King

Click here to see the video.



I hope you have a great weekend!

-DSM Amanda

Xanadu Gets a Rave Review!


Theater review:  Summer Musicals’ ‘Xanadu’ beats Broadway version

11:22  PM CDT on Tuesday, April 6, 2010

By LAWSON TAITTE  /  The  Dallas Morning News ltaitte@dallasnews.com

They’ve turned lots of old movies into musicals. Xanadu  sets the        record for improvement; it’s the best musical from the  worst film.

The 1980 Olivia  Newton-John stinkeroo did produce a lot of hits by  Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynneand the star’s favorite songwriter, John Farrar.  Two seasons ago, a stage version opened on Broadway with a new book by  comic playwright Douglas Carter Beane (who penned Give It Up! for  the Dallas Theater Center earlier this        year). It was a surprise  hit with critics and audiences alike. The        national tour hit the  Dallas Summer Musicals on Tuesday with an        explosive bang.

This company belongs to the growing number of tours that  actually play better on the road than they did on the Great  White Way. Many Broadway producers seem to feel they  must cast names recognizable to New York audiences, and that’s a limited  pool of talent. You can’t really call many of these performers stars in  the old sense, and the shows surely aren’t tailored to them.  Fortunately for us out here in the sticks, the producers feel free to  use less-familiar faces, sometimes much more able in their roles, on  tour.

Thus, the gorgeous Anika Larsen, as the muse Clio who  falls in love with a California painter, really looks like a goddess  and sounds like one, too. As the clueless artist, Danny, Max  von Essen is funnier and more consistent in his Valley  Boy accent (and a more secure singer) than his Broadway predecessor.

The superiority in this production continues pretty much all  the way down the line. Natasha Yvette Williams and Annie Golden are  especially delicious as the comic villains. As the aging owner of the  building Danny wants to turn into a roller derby, Larry Williamsturns a dreary role into a lovable one.

Xanadu  played in the smallest house on Broadway, but it feels         liberated, rather than dwarfed, in the immensity of Fair Park Music         Hall. The audience catches all of Beane’s well-crafted in-jokes. This  is        one self-reflective musical that doesn’t take itself too  seriously, or        seriously at all.

Thanks to  Christopher Ashley’s witty direction and Dan Knechtges’        inventive  choreography, Xanadu might just be the best time you        have  at a musical this season.

PLAN YOUR LIFE:  Through April 18 at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs        100 mins. $15 to  $71. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, www.ticketmaster.com


To see the review on The Dallas Morning News’ website, follow this link: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/ent/stories/DN-xanadu08_0408gd.State.Edition1.41785f7.html


'Legally Blonde' shimmys to the stage at Fair Park Music Hall

12:06 AM CDT on Wednesday, July 22, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning Newsltaitte@dallasnews.com

You may not come out of Legally Blonde humming the tunes, but this show will leave you as pumped as a two-hour cardiac workout.

The stage adaptation of the popular movie, a modest hit on Broadway, arrived at the Dallas Summer Musicals on Tuesday. It keeps up a breathless pace as heroine Elle Woods, the seemingly shallow blond bombshell who follows an ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School, discovers a whole new perspective on life.

Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, who rewrote their Sarah, Plain and Tall for the Dallas Theater Center this spring, tell the story mostly in song. Their lyrics, as cute and clever as Elle herself, are worthy successors to those of their great Broadway predecessors. They give us good tunes, too, but the incessant melodic patterns seldom relax and luxuriate. They just keep percolating like a triple shot of espresso.

The real mover of this theatrical whirlwind, though, is director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell. Over the last decade, he has established himself as one of the American theater’s great storytellers through movement. Like the score, the dancing seldom settles into a stand-alone number, at least before intermission. Throughout the musical someone onstage is stepping, shimmying or gyrating in ways that move the plot along. The second act finally gives us some release with production numbers based on exercise videos, sexy poses and, of all things, Irish step dancing.

As Elle, Becky Gulsvig looks a lot like the film’s Reese Witherspoon. She sounds even more like Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. (Those with strong negative reactions to squeaks and other high pitches may find themselves at risk.) Gregg Barnes’ costumes expand the boundaries of pink, mauve, hot pink and not-quite-crimson. Gulsvig wears them smashingly.

For those who crave a bit of old-fashioned fun from their musical comedies, preferably with a smidgeon of uplift and optimism, with a bevy of shapely young bodies to boot, Legally Blonde is guilty as charged.

PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Aug. 2 at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 160 mins. $15 to $85. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.

Trackback to original review post on dallasnews.com

Theater review: 'A Chorus Line' reclaims its energy at Fair Park Music Hall

11:55 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 7, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning Newsltaitte@dallasnews.com

A Chorus Line is a unique musical, a perfect musical. I’m not sure, in retrospect, it’s one of the great musicals.
The tour based on the recent New York revival arrived at Fair Park Music Hall on Tuesday. It has restored the show’s vivid energy and sharp characterizations, and it makes nearly as good a case for the piece as possible. To paraphrase one of Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s songs, it scores dance 10, acting 10, singing maybe a six.

At one point the longest running show in Broadway history, A Chorus Line grew out of workshop-style discussions organized by director-choreographer Michael Bennett. He asked professional dancers, gypsies from Broadway chorus lines, to talk about their lives. Then he, with librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, made a show out of their stories.

The musical, without an intermission, is built around a day of auditions. It also takes its shape from the process of putting together a big production number, from the first rudimentary steps to the high-strutting, show-stopping climax.

The personalities of the individual characters are indelible, but over the years productions have tended to blur or exaggerate them. Bob Avian and Baayork Lee, both part of the original process in 1974 and ’75, have whipped things back into shape beautifully.

Emily Fletcher, for instance, nails Sheila’s aggressive sensuality without making her too hard, and Bryan Knowlton, as Paul in the first week of the current run, keeps his dignity while making his sometimes shocking self-revelations.

I’ve never seen a completely satisfactory Cassie. Robyn Hurder at least dances the role better than most. Part of the problem is inherent: The starring role in this musical is that of a woman who keeps insisting she doesn’t have star power or star pretensions.

Hamlisch’s tunes retain their hummability, albeit in very ’70s fashion. Kleban’s lyrics tell the dancers’ stories with considerable wit. Most of all, Bennett knew how to build a dance number.

Still, a nagging little voice keeps telling me that a really great musical should have characters who interact with each other and should be about something other than getting a job, even if the people do their jobs for love.

PLAN YOUR LIFE Through July 19 at Fair Park Music Hall. 130 mins. $15 to $85. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.

Theater review: 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' is a fun ride for the family at Fair Park Music Hall

12:36 AM CDT on Wednesday, June 24, 2009

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News



Cute kids. A quartet of hilarious villains. A whole pack of trained dogs. A production number with a samba that sizzles. What more could a family musical possibly need?


How about a magical car that floats, flies and makes people ask it nicely if they want a ride?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang chugged, sailed and soared into Fair Park Music Hall for the Dallas Summer Musicals on Tuesday. This road version more than lives up to the standard the Broadway version set in 2005. Largely overlooked in a bumper year for musicals, it struck me as the best Broadway family show since The Lion King. This tour, adapted and directed by Ray Roderick, sacrifices a bit of grandeur but gains in comic spontaneity.
Ian Fleming, an unlikely children’s writer, shows his hand as the original storyteller in various ways: There are spies, though they’re played for laughs. And recall that James Bond’s cars always had tricks up their sleeves, just like the title vehicle here.

Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman’s songs are almost as infectious as the ones they created for Mary Poppins. And, frankly, the plot in this show is more appealing. The father, hapless inventor Caractacus Potts (Steve Wilson), has boundless affection for his children (Jeremy Lipton and Camille Mancuso at Tuesday’s performance). They all look after the grandfather (Dick Decareau), and the kids know before the dad does that there’s chemistry brewing with a motorcycle-driving heiress (Kelly McCormick).

None of the performers are household names, but they’re all solid pros and often more aptly cast than their Broadway counterparts. Dirk Lumbard is delightfully oily as the taller of the bumbling spies, and Scott Cote is his even dumber sidekick. As the evil baron and baroness, George Dvorsky and Elizabeth Ward Land are silly and sinister at the same time. Oliver Wadsworth may be entirely too sinister for younger children as the hideously creepy Childcatcher, although the happy ending defuses most of the terror.


You don’t have to be a kid to have a truly scrumptious time at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But feel free to bring a couple of tykes along if you think you’ll feel conspicuous without them.

PLAN YOUR LIFE Through July 5 at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 150 mins. $12 to $71. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.


Original Dallas Morning News Post

Theater review: Topol stays in character for Dallas Summer Musicals' 'Fiddler on the Roof'

10:15 AM CDT on Thursday, May 21, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning Newsltaitte@dallasnews.com


Nobody finds it odd when a violinist or pianist is still playing a favorite concerto at the end of a 40-year career. So why be surprised that Topol is still playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof?


The Israeli actor had racked up a number of stage performances even before he made the 1971 movie. Now the total is around 2,500. In what is billed as his final tour, he arrived in Dallas for a one-week run at the Dallas Summer Musicals on Monday.


The performer still has what the role requires. That sonorous bass-baritone peals magnificently through the low notes. The stately, if world-weary, bearing and the soulful countenance, blazing eyes clearly visible in the back rows of the huge theater, give Topol, 73, a patriarchal aura. He could as easily be playing Moses or Rasputin – if it weren’t for all the droll bits of low humor he tosses off so nonchalantly.


It must be said that spontaneity is not a factor here. Every mournful growl at a bit of bad news, every joyful roll of the eyes, appears calculated and polished to the nth degree. Naturalism also goes out the window in favor of this delicately calculated theatrical flair.


Many old-fashioned masters of comic shtick destroy their material by sending it up. Not Topol. No shred of cynicism or self-indulgence gets in the way of Fiddler’s emotional journey. Before empty-nest syndrome had a name, this great musical explored the agonies of letting go – and the star plays them for all they are worth.


The current tour has selling points beyond its leading man. Susan Cella as Golde and Mary Stout as Yente are also masters of the broad comic style. Among the lovely daughters, Jamie Davis’ Hodel stands out for her soaring voice. Steve Gilliam’s storybook set invests the village of Anatevka with a quaint charm.


Best of all, director-choreographer Sammy Dallas Bayes has reproduced Jerome Robbins’ exuberant first-act dances with fiery precision. An important secret of Fiddler’s success is the sheer animal energy that drives these sequences. They keep this tale of loss and aging young and vital.


As young and vital as its septuagenarian star.

Theater review: RENT brings New York polish to Music Hall stage

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News


12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, May 6, 2009



A little distance brings things into focus: Rent is incomparably the greatest Broadway musical in, say, the last 30 years, and the farewell tour that the Dallas Summer Musicals brought to Fair Park Music Hall on Tuesday is probably your last chance to see it in pristine shape, as good as when in opened in New York 13 years ago.


The back story, of course, is so sad and perfect it seems made up. The young genius who wrote Rent, Jonathan Larson, died of an aneurysm right before the triumphant first performance. His transposition of the story of La Boheme to downtown Manhattan won every prize going, and this tangled skein of sex and romance (straight, gay and bi) in which half the characters are trying to live with AIDS won a whole new generation of fans to the theater.


From the screeches that greeted the first two actors onstage Tuesday, you’d think all those fans were in attendance to greet the show’s original stars. Anthony Rapp, as detached filmmaker Mark, looks just like he did in 1996; if anything, his timing and diction are sharper and his performance more engaged. Adam Pascal, playing alienated songwriter Roger, looks leaner and meaner, neither inappropriate to the character; his singing voice has taken on a rasping rocker’s edge that works well, too.


Original director Michael Greif has knit the rest of the cast into a tight ensemble. Amazingly, you can hear almost every word in this often intractable space. Former American Idol contestant Lexi Lawson eases her way uncomfortably through Mimi’s precarious dance on the fire escape, but her voice and her onstage presence are both gorgeous. Nicolette Hart makes a hilarious Maureen, and Michael McElroy brings his sonorous voice and vast stage experience to Tom Collins. Unfortunately, Justin Johnston doesn’t have that seraphic aura you ideally want in the role of Angel, but he dies magnificently.


Ultimately, it’s Larson’s tingling melodies and handcrafted lyrics (and his skill at building large forms out of both) that make Rent so special. Its frankness about sex and drugs means it’s not for everyone. Still, if you are curious or perhaps already know the score, but have never seen the show (or have only seen the dispiriting 2005 screen version), you owe yourself a trip to the Music Hall.




PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Sunday at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 165 mins. $15 to $85.


Buy tickets here: http://www.ticketmaster.com/promo/vf0c6y?camefrom=DSM_WEB_RENT_BLOG

Theater review: Stacy Keach is a marvel in 'Frost/Nixon' at the Majestic

11:20 AM CDT on Thursday, April 30, 2009

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News


President Richard M. Nixon may never have achieved the rehabilitation in public esteem he so craved in his lifetime. He’s got it now, though, at least as Stacy Keach plays him in Frost/Nixon.


Peter Morgan’s play about the TV interviews Nixon gave to talk-show host David Frost had its origin in that most fecund of London theatrical enterprises, the Donmar Warehouse. The show then traveled to Broadway and went on to become a major film, winning Tony Awards and Oscar nominations both for the vehicle and the star who played the president, Frank Langella.


If there’s any actor on the American stage with more stature, more sheer talent, than Langella, it’s Stacy Keach. He headlines the touring version that the Dallas Summer Musicals brought to the Majestic Theatre on Wednesday.


The marvelous Langella brought depth and tragic dignity to the role of the disgraced President three years after his unparalleled resignation from office. But he also brought a certain smarminess to the role and a whiff of parody in the ways he adapted some of Nixon’s well-known mannerisms and vocal patterns.


Smarmy is not a word you’d ever use to describe Keach’s Nixon. Tortured, self-regarding, yes, perhaps even venal. But this figure projects a fallen grandeur and canny, self-possessed intellect that command respect – and maybe even affection.


The touring version (directed, like the original, by Michael Grandage) does have its own quota of smarminess. Alan Cox’s Frost oozes slime right up to the final moments when he at last gets Nixon to confess wrongdoing on camera (something that never actually happened in real life, by the way). Even that formidable journalist Jim Reston in this young incarnation (as played by Brian Sgambati) is lightweight and petty in comparison with the wounded-bear Keach as Nixon.


It’s too bad that Keach probably won’t be touring his version of King Lear (to be seen in Washington, D.C., this summer) and that he hasn’t been seen more frequently in great plays in New York and around the country. He commands the stage as only a couple of American actors of his generation do. Whatever your politics, don’t miss the chance to see him do his stuff in Frost/Nixon.

Theater Review: 'The Rat Pack – Live at the Sands' is almost as good as being there

12:05 AM CST on Wednesday, March 4, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News ltaitte@dallasnews.comOriginal post


An airline ticket can get you to Las Vegas quite reasonably these days. A time machine that’ll get you there a half-century ago is another matter.

That’s the goal of The Rat Pack – Live at the Sands, the London hit that Dallas Summer Musicals brought to the Majestic Theatre on Tuesday.

You can guess the format from the title: Singers portraying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. cover the stars’ greatest hits. A 16-piece band (something of a luxury in the theater these days) plays onstage, and three curvaceous backup singers add a considerable amount of what in those days was called sex appeal.

This may sound like a dubious proposition, but people apparently are still eager to hear numbers out of the great American songbook (alongside tunes of lesser pedigree) sung by voices of substance and backed by choirs of actual saxes, trumpets and trombones.

Of the three leading performers, only Stephen Triffitt’s Sinatra provokes the occasional internal double take, providing reassurance that this is only a latter-day impersonator rather than the real thing. At first, he’s almost too successful in duplicating Sinatra’s every rhythmic and phonetic inflection. Eventually, he makes us forget the mechanics and just listen to the music – especially the torch song “Angel Eyes.” He’s also got the physical manner, at once regal and offhand, down pat.

His pretend buddies both boast fine voices, but the illusion is weaker. Davis sometimes trod perilously close to self-parody, which makes things doubly hard for David Hayes. He’s lively and he can hoof it, but he lacks the grit under the original star’s larger-than-life exterior. Mark Adams projects Martin’s macho appeal, and the voice evokes the star without imitating him slavishly. But Adams works too hard at ingratiating himself with the audience, whereas you could always see a dead chill of indifference in Martin’s eyes.

The Rat Pack brims with the buddies’ horseplay (complete with sexist, racist and boozy jokes authentic to the period). What it leaves you with, however, are meditations on Frank Sinatra’s unique career. Not only does Triffitt bring him to life, he sings the questionable later material, especially “My Way,” with genuine feeling that we didn’t always get from the man himself.


Through Sunday at the Majestic Theatre. Runs 140 mins. $12 to $71. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, www.ticketmaster.com.

Performances overcome a lackluster score in 'The Color Purple'

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News


view this article on the original website


Epic novels often have a rough transition to the stage: Events fly by so fast they feel like a historical pageant rather than a play.


Oprah Winfrey presents The Color Purple, the stage musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, exhibits such symptoms early on. The Dallas Summer Musicals opened the area premiere, its 2008 State Fair show, on Tuesday at Fair Park Music Hall.


The childhoods of the heroine, Celie (Jeannette Bayardelle), and her sister are over after two short choruses of the opening song. Horrors of domestic violence bump rudely against stylized comedy, even in the scenes in which Sofia (Felicia P. Fields) begins to show Celie she doesn’t have to accept the abuse that has been heaped on her all her life.


The show really doesn’t come to life, though, until the notorious Shug Avery (Angela Robinson) returns to town. Shug was the true love of Celie’s cruel husband, Mister (Rufus Bonds Jr.), but convention prevented them from marrying. Mister takes his disappointment out on Celie for years. During one of Shug’s periodic visits home, though, Celie nurses her back to health and the two women develop a sisterly relationship that eventually turns sexual. As this happens over the last half hour of the first act, we finally get characters interacting with one another.


The second acts ratchets things up by finding some creative solutions to the problems of long-range storytelling. To begin with, a dream – or rather a letters – ballet, spectacularly set in Africa, shows Celie what has become of her long lost sister. The successive stages of Celie’s evolution into a free woman each get a neatly turned scene or song, or both.


The score doesn’t have many grab-you tunes, a disappointment given the rich musical styles of the early 20th century, in which the story is set. But the performers are uniformly terrific, dramatically as well as vocally.

The gorgeously designed sets and costumes envelop the actors in swirling color. Donald Byrd, a significant modern dance choreographer, has the entire cast moving and shaking.


Occasionally Ms. Bayardelle’s gestures and expressions seem modeled a little too closely on Whoopi Goldberg’s in Steven Spielberg’s film version of The Color Purple. But Ms. Bayardelle does create a character that evokes sympathy and, eventually admiration.


PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Oct. 19 at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 170 mins. $25 to $77. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.


'Jersey Boys' transfixes eyes and ears at Fair Park Music Hall

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, July 26, 2008

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News


View this article on their website here


Talk about a buildup: We are two-thirds of the way through the first act of Jersey Boys before the Four Seasons come together for their first big hit. When “Sherry” finally does erupt, it’s as if a skyscraper-sized bottle of champagne exploded.

The 2006 Tony Award winner for best musical opened at the Dallas Summer Musicals on Friday (after a couple of previews). The show doesn’t miss a beat in its transfer from Broadway to the road. You’ve probably never heard the names of any of the performers, but no matter. Jersey Boys doesn’t need stars, it creates them.

Marshall Brickman and Rick Ellice wrote one of the all-time great show librettos in telling the story of four working-class Italian boys who became one of the most successful musical groups ever. Take that example of the long buildup: Hearing the cover songs the boys sang as they established their career gives the tale a context. So do the pop-art and video projections Michael Clark designed for Klara Zieglerova’s ingenious set.

Each of the four group members narrates – and dominates – a quarter of the show. Tommy DeVito (Erik Bates) is the deal maker – and corner cutter, stealing when he needs to and gambling away his earnings during the good times. The baby-faced Bob Gaudio (Andrew Rannells) writes the music and doesn’t really feel part of the neighborhood. In his segment, Mr. Rannells proves that white bread can be charismatic and nearly steals the show.

Nick Massi (Steve Gouveia), the quiet one, gets tired of touring and wants to go back home. Of course, the frontman is Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie). Tommy treats him like a lowly kid brother, but Bob knows that that strange, high-flying voice is the one he was destined to write for.

After intermission, we see the group falling apart. The emergence of Frankie’s solo career is the second act’s trajectory – and once again the build to the huge hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” is tremendously exciting.

Director Des McAnuff wove all the elements of Jersey Boys into a swirling, precisely choreographed showpiece that keeps on gaining momentum. Entertainment doesn’t get any slicker – or more accomplished.

PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Aug. 16 at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 155 mins. $25 to $124. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, www.ticketmaster.com.

'Hairspray' keeps its bounce at Fair Park Music Hall

6/25/2008 12:00AM CST

The Dallas Morning News

‘Hairspray’ keeps its bounce at Fair Park Music Hall

by Lawson Taitte


View article on their website here


Nearly six years after it debuted on Broadway, Hairspray is turning out to be the most influential musical of the decade. To figure out why, check out the touring version that the Dallas Summer Musicals opened Tuesday.


Three things make Hairspray special: The stage adaptation of John Waters’ cult movie adds just the right dash of sincerity so that the formerly tongue-in-cheek story about an overweight teen determined to integrate 1962 Baltimore taps into a deep American mythos, the pursuit of happiness. The score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman forges 1960s pop styles into beautifully crafted Broadway songs, and Jerry Mitchell’s choreography (lovingly re-created here by Danny James Austin) keeps the fizz in the phosphate for all 2 ½ hours.


Here’s the plot: Plus-size Tracy Turnblad (Brooklynn Pulver) tries out for a local TV dance show but is rejected by the evil producer. In detention, she picks up new steps from some black kids. Her new routine catches the TV host’s eye and gets her a berth on the show, where the heartthrob, Link (Taylor Frey), eventually realizes he likes Tracy better than the producer’s haughty daughter. But when Tracy insists that the black kids should be able to appear on the tube more than the one day a month to which they’ve been consigned, trouble erupts.


The big gimmick, carried over from the film, is that Tracy’s mom, Edna, is played by a man in drag. Edna is so sensitive about her weight that she hasn’t left the house in years, but Tracy fixes that, too. The point of the show is the people who’ve been discriminated against win out in the end.


Although this tour features a young, non-Equity cast, it maintains standards. Ms. Pulver seems so competent and practiced that she skirts falling into routine, but her singing is exceptional. In fact, most of the performers show off strong voices. It’s a good thing, though, that a lot of the audience has already seen the musical movie remake, because the lyrics are even harder to understand than usual in the intractable Music Hall acoustics.


The performers zip through all the dance numbers as if their shoes were filled with helium, too.


For me, the most memorable aspect of this edition of Hairspray is Jerry O’Boyle’s Edna. More than anyone else I’ve seen do the role, he really acts it. He never affects a self-consciously feminine gesture, but you believe him as a woman. He’s got great comic timing, too – and his big number with his stage husband, Wilbur (Dan Ferretti) – “(You’re) Timeless to Me” – brings down the house.


Even though the incessant, smarmy double-entendres clash with the musical’s intrinsic sweetness and social conscience, Hairspray is beginning to feel pretty timeless itself.


Plan your life

Through Sunday at Fair Park Music Hall. 155 mins. $18 to $80. 214-631- 2787, www .ticketmaster.com

Superiority of the Drowsy Chaperone tour

6/4/2008 3:51PM CST


Superiority of the Drowsy Chaperone tour

by Lawson Taitte



I get kidded sometimes for maintaining that something we see here in Dallas — either a tour or a local production — is often superior to the original Broadway show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a marked difference, though, as in The Drowsy Chaperone, which the Dallas Summer Musicals opened last night.



In my review, I detailed some of the cast members I think genuinely superior to the Broadway originals. I left out the specifics of the female lead role, Janet, though I praised the current performer, Andrea Chamberlain. But you wouldn’t believe how much better she is than Sutton Foster — who first came to Broadway stardom by winning a Tony Award for the lead in Thoroughly Modern Millie. In that role, and every role since, Ms. Foster has projected a brassy, knowing professionalism that lacks a spark of sincere feeling or charm. The one time I have liked her is in the current Young Frankenstein, which doesn’t need feeling or charm.



It has been very hurtful to Broadway in recent years that producers hire the same people over and over because they believe the performers have a following. Some of those performers just aren’t very good, I’m afraid.

View article on their website here

National tour of 'The Drowsy Chaperone' outdoes Broadway version for charm, poignancy

6/4/2008 12:00AM CST

The Dallas Morning News

National tour of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ outdoes Broadway version for charm, poignancy

by Lawson Taitte


If you fret that they don’t make comedies like they used to, The Drowsy Chaperone will ease your pain. And give you a laugh or two.

This musical about a fictitious old musical won more Tony Awards than any other Broadway show in 2006. I was a naysayer back then, but I have repented. The national tour that the Dallas Summer Musicals brought to town on Tuesday is the reason for my conversion.

It’s not just a matter of affection growing on closer acquaintance. Role for role, the road version is much better cast than the New York original. Charm – a scarce commodity on Broadway – now abounds.

Take the central role, Man in Chair. Even before the lights go up, this namby-pamby narrator is talking to the audience. He has invited us into his living room, where he’s about to play a beloved old LP of a 1920s musical named, naturally, The Drowsy Chaperone. He sets the scene and puts on the overture – as the show comes to life behind him.

Bob Martin, who co-wrote the book with Don McKellar, performed the part himself originally. Here it is his old friend and fellow Canadian Jonathan Crombie, familiar to American audiences as Gilbert Blythe on the TV version of Anne of Green Gables. Mr. Crombie makes Man in Chair lovable in spite of, or perhaps because of, his theater-obsessed neuroses. He’s realer and more poignant than Mr. Martin was.

I found several of the principal performers on Broadway downright annoying, but that doesn’t happen with the touring cast. Andrea Chamberlain projects a lovely 1920s quality as Janet, the stage star ostentatiously giving up her career to marry the heir to a petroleum fortune, Robert (Mark Ledbetter). Wistful and glamorous by turns, Ms. Chamberlain reminds you of Betty Boop as interpreted by a young Bernadette Peters.

Georgia Engel, the one New York performer carrying over on the tour, gently sells the songs Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison wrote for the show. As her comic butler, Dallas favorite Robert Dorfman clowns it up magnificently and displays an unsuspected talent for tap dancing. James Moye even makes the nearly insufferable fake-Italian lover boy, Adolpho, entertaining.

Best of all, one of Broadway’s top comedians, Nancy Opel, plays the title role with a broad insouciance that takes us into her confidence. The chaperone – whose sole function is to make sure the bride doesn’t see the groom before the wedding – brings along her own liquor cabinet. It’s Prohibition, after all. Ms. Opel can belt and croon and mug hilariously while doing one of the best drunk acts you’ll ever see. The original performer in this role won a Tony; if there were any justice, Ms. Opel would be given a pair of them to balance on her mantelpiece.

Die-hard musical theater fans must not miss The Drowsy Chaperone. This touring version is so good you can have a good time even if you couldn’t tell Cole Porter from Stephen Sondheim in a crowd of two.

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Janis times two is one terrific theater experience

2/20/2008 12:00AM CST
The Dallas Morning News
Janis times two is one terrific theater experience
by Lawson Taitte
Love, Janis gives you two Janis Joplins for the price of one. Both terrific.
Randal Myler (Hank Williams: Lost Highway) conceived, adapted and directed the show, which the Dallas Summer Musicals’ Broadway Contemporary Series brought to the Majestic Theatre Tuesday for a week’s run. Inspired by the book of the same name by Janis’ sister Laura, it alternates spoken excerpts from the singer’s letters to her family and from interviews with dynamic renditions of the songs that made her famous.
Joplin’s shooting-star career in the 1960s, as her strong cadre of fans well knows, took her from Texas to San Francisco as the acid-rock scene in the California city was jelling. Within a few months of her arrival, she was a nationally known recording star. Love, Janis tells us the story in her own witty, vulnerable, frequently apologetic words.
Marisa Ryan speaks them as if she were the tragically short-lived singer reborn. As the play develops, we worry for this psychologically fragile waif. But we aren’t asked to pity her. Rather, we participate in her exultation as she tells her folks how Paul McCartney showed up at one of her concerts, or as she tells an interviewer that money has always been what she had a little of in her pocket – “So what’s that stuff in the bank?”
It’s a bit of a shock when the singing Janis joins the speaking one in some of the scenes – but the device helps the piece from seeming too schematic in its back-and forth patterns. Mary Bridget Davies, who performed the singing role on Tuesday, alternates with Katrina Chester. I can’t vouch for Ms. Chester, but Ms. Davies nails Joplin’s idiosyncratic style and physical mannerisms. The illusion is all the more remarkable because Joplin and Ms. Chester are such different physical types.
Back in the day, I never fully gave into that unique Joplin sound, based on classic blues. I succumbed completely to Ms. Davies, perhaps because there’s more honey in her tone, less of Joplin’s anger and aggression. Ms. Davies does screech and wail passionately, though – in the precise way that the show’s heroine could sound like an electric guitar played with lots of rough feedback.
It’s both a bad thing and a good thing that Love, Janis is all in the singer’s own words. The limitation is that the show can’t really have a controlling theme or give us an interpretation of just why the star was so tortured and self-destructive. The benefit is that we don’t feel we’re being manipulated or that the subject is being betrayed. We like Janis Joplin a lot more – maybe even give her the love she so strongly missed – after seeing Love, Janis.
It’s terribly sad that she’s not around to see it herself.
•Through Sunday at the Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St. Runs 145 mins. $15 to $67. 214-631-2787, www.ticketmaster.com.
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Stage Revival Promises to Be Even Better Than the Movie

1/16/2008 12:00AM CST
The Dallas Morning News
Stage revival promises to be even better than the movie
by Lawson Taitte

Sweeney Todd: You’ve seen the movie. Now see the real thing.
Actually, Tim Burton’s screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody musical masterpiece was faithful to the 1979 stage original, in its fashion. But it left quite a bit out. And a musical almost always works better when it’s being performed by genuine singing actors rather than by well-coached but essentially voiceless movie stars.

The stage version that the Dallas Summer Musicals’ Broadway Contemporary Series brings to the Majestic Theatre on Tuesday has considerably more going for it than mere completeness. This is the production by director John Doyle that won plaudits first in London and then a 2006 Tony Award in New York.

Its eccentricities have become famous. All the onstage performers play musical instruments. In fact, they’re the only band there is. The show is apparently taking place in an insane asylum, and the inmates are the actors. A certain amount of blood is part of the action – although even Mr. Doyle’s production can’t rival the film in the gore department.

The story, of course, remains the same. A mysterious man, Sweeney Todd, returns to London from abroad in search of vengeance. His new ladylove, Mrs. Lovett, owns a pie shop near the barbershop where Sweeney once worked. The two find a new supply of meat for the pies – in the bodies of the men whose throats Sweeney cuts in his quest for revenge.

Five performers from the New York revival are part of the tour. The live cast is strongest, however, in the role that suffers most in the movie. Helena Bonham Carter is too glamorous, and not nearly dotty enough, to make a credible Mrs. Lovett. The tour stars one of Broadway’s most talented performers, Judy Kaye, in the role. Ms. Kaye won a Tony Award as Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera and was nominated for another as one of the female sidekicks in Mamma Mia! Those roles didn’t begin to show her real powers as a performer. Mrs. Lovett is a perfect fit.

Opens Tuesday at 8 p.m. and runs through Jan. 20 at the Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St. Continues Wednesday through Jan. 18 at 8 p.m., Jan. 19-20 at 2 and 8 p.m. Ticketmaster. http://www.dallassummermusicals.org/.

$17 to $62.

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Leading Lady's Performance Delicious to the Last Bite in 'Sweeney Todd'


1/16/2008 12:00AM CST
The Dallas Morning News
Leading lady’s performance delicious to the last bite in ‘Sweeney Todd’
by Lawson Taitte

THEATER REVIEW: Kaye cooks up humor, passion in ‘Sweeney Todd’
Judy Kaye is a wonder as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She’s all the reason you need to run downtown to the Majestic Theatre.

Otherwise, the touring version of the recent Broadway revival, which the Dallas Summer Musicals’ Broadway Contemporary Series brought to town on Tuesday, has its issues. But, as I always say, pretty much any Sweeney Todd is a good Sweeney Todd.

Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 masterpiece, subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, recounts an old horror story. A barber, deported for a crime he didn’t commit, returns to Victorian London to get his revenge. After the first man whose throat he slits, Sweeney’s girlfriend, Mrs. Lovett, gets the bright idea of using the meat from the carcasses in the meat pies she sells.
The tale is gruesome, but onstage the bloody bits are a great deal less bothersome than in Tim Burton’s current Golden Globe-winning movie version. Mr. Sondheim’s witty lyrics keep the mind amused, while his nearly operatic score accumulates overwhelming momentum and power.

The British revival by John Doyle, imported to Broadway two seasons ago, cuts the epic musical down to size. Only 10 actors play all the roles, and they double as the orchestra. Ms. Kaye, for instance, plays the bright percussion instruments and occasionally wanders in with a tuba. The compression is all very clever, but it smacks more of thrift than of inspiration.

Setting the whole action in an insane asylum doesn’t really work, either. The locale is all too obviously a metaphor; we don’t believe for an instant that this is a cooperative production by the staff and the inmates. Unfortunately, the gimmick encourages the actors to go off the deep end. The young lovers, Johanna and Anthony, sometimes seem as loony as the truly crazy old beggar woman.

Frankly, all this doesn’t matter much. The material is so strong, and the performers sufficiently competent, that Sweeney Todd survives in all its glory. I did find David Hess’ performance of the title character somewhat problematical, in that he lacks the obsidian voice the part needs. He’s also among the worst offenders in the acting-loony department. Yeah, Sweeney is more than slightly off his rocker. But the story does require him to be able to pass for normal.
But ah, Ms. Kaye. The first requirement for a Mrs. Lovett is a quirky sense of humor, and Ms. Kaye is as funny as they come. Her vocal technique has held up as well, so she can warble daintily or go as deep as her tuba, as required. This whole cast manages to make its words heard in the often intractable Majestic, but no one else uses language like Ms. Kaye. Every rhyme in the remarkably clever “A Little Priest” gets a laugh. But you also believe in the woman’s passion for her lover and in her absolute determination to give him what he wants.

Since Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett is the Sweeney Todd film’s biggest problem, seeing Ms. Kaye is an ideal supplement – or antidote – for the film. It’s a great performance by one of the great ladies of the American theater.

• Through Sunday at the Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St. Runs 150 mins. $16 to $72. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.

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Cirque Eloize's 'Rain' Twists Into the Imagination

12/12/2007 12:22PM CST
The Dallas Morning News
Cirque Eloize’s ‘Rain’ twists into the imagination
by Lawson Taitte

If you’ve been waiting for the new-style circus to blossom into high art, check out Cirque Éloize’s Rain. If there’s a circus in heaven, and Federico Fellini and Merce Cunningham got together to stage it, this might be the one.

Every time I see Cirque du Soleil or one of its offspring, I’m tantalized by the hints of something beyond. The elaborate sets and costumes and the sketchy story line arouse hope that the show will break through the boundaries of technique and routine to become a new kind of epic.

The show that the Dallas Summer Musicals’ Broadway Contemporary Series opened at the Majestic Theatre on Tuesday doesn’t quite do that. Much more modest in scale, it’s more like modern dance or vaudeville or performance art. But it never lapses into automatic drive; it’s full of imagination and poetry throughout.
Daniele Finzi Pasca wrote and directed this piece, which begins with a spoken prologue about memories of childhood freedom. A later, hugely funny, monologue questions the pretensions of these new circuses, asking why they so pretentiously explore the unconscious only to end in a virtual pratfall.

Of course, these French-Canadian circuses don’t have elephants or tigers. This one dispenses with painted clowns, as well – but that doesn’t mean it lacks humor. Even the most virtuosic acrobatic flips involve a joke or two. The cast is always acting, always dancing, always delightfully human.

The Majestic turns out to be a superb place to watch these high-flying trapeze and tumbling acts. That ironically pretentious prologue soon gets a counterpoint – a woman bouncing from stage to proscenium height behind a scrim. It’s a simple enough trick, but seeing the speed and vertiginous motion in such an intimate setting gave me intense butterflies each time the woman defied gravity, only to be pulled back to earth again.

In one number, a man lyrically spins around and around inside a hoop to the strains of strings and accordion (no nasty electronic sounds here). Several bits involve a live pianist: First, some of the strongmen hoist the piano player to a horizontal position, then revolve both player and instrument together. In the second act, the music, lighting and subtle performances turn what might have been conventional trapeze and balancing acts into a waking dream.

“Unearthly beauty touched with wit and charm: Rain is fantastical. And fantastic.”
Through Sunday at the Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm. Runs 130 mins. $15 to $67. Ticketmaster at 214-373-8000 or 972-647-5700, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.

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