Dallas Summer Musicals and the Center for the Performing Arts Battle It Out for Broadway

DSM says CPA will cannibalize other theaters. CPA says DSM is afraid of competition. We say 'bout time rich people fought rich people.

Wow. This is starting to feel like a real city. Now we've got real estate mogul Harlan Crow hurling brickbats at media mogul Robert Decherd's plan for a city-owned downtown convention hotel. We've got the rich people behind the Dallas Summer Musicals throwing rocks at the rich people behind the new Dallas Center for the Performing Arts.

Did a piano fall on my head and I went to heaven?

It was such hard work all those many long years, out there alone in the Trinity River bottoms slinging mud all by myself. The skeeters. The insults. People don't know how I suffered. Now they're picking up the mud and throwing it for me!

In the debate on a city-owned hotel downtown, Angela Hunt is the conservative and Tom Leppert is the government-loving liberal.
BRIAN HARKIN
In the debate on a city-owned hotel downtown, Angela Hunt is the conservative and Tom Leppert is the government-loving liberal.

The fight between the Dallas Summer Musicals and the Center for the Performing Arts is one I really don't know much about. If I were wise, I would keep my nose out of it. So, of course, I won't keep my nose out of it.

The CPA, as I call it, is the huge new agglomeration of theaters and halls under construction in the arts district on the north end of downtown. In the other corner, the Dallas Summer Musicals is a 68-year-old program that presents Broadway road shows at the Music Hall theater in Fair Park.

Earlier this year the mayor appointed a facilitator to try to work out a deal by which the Summer Musicals could present Broadway shows at the new opera house that will be part of the CPA when it opens in October 2009. On April 5 the CPA announced the talks had failed, and the CPA elected to present its own musicals in competition with the Summer Musicals.

The announcement elicited bitter howls from City Hall and from Michael Jenkins, the impresario who runs the Summer Musicals. Jenkins, joined by city manager Mary Suhm, suggested darkly that the center, a city-owned but privately run facility, is setting out to "cannibalize" other city-owned facilities including the Fair Park Music Hall and the Majestic Theatre—a charge Jenkins has repeated to me.

The CPA, for its part, suggested darkly that Jenkins has enjoyed a monopoly in this market for too long and is merely afraid of competition—a charge the CPA has repeated to me.

But those are the kinds of weak-ass brickbats and tepid mud-balls you could get anywhere. I mean, you could find stuff like that in The Dallas Morning News. If I'm going to watch rich people get down in the mud and fight, I want to see some hair-pulling and some dentures flying. Which, to my everlasting delight, I am beginning to spy.

The really good stuff is still a bit behind the scenes and whisper-whisper so far, but I shall endeavor in every way I know how to bring more of it into full public view in the weeks ahead. For example, people on both sides of this issue, speaking to me on condition of anonymity last week, made what they thought were serious accusations of conflict of interest against each other.

I am not going into detail about any of it here, because, frankly, I think the charges probably were pretty iffy all the way around. That's the thing about your arts mavens: Even when they want to fight dirty, it takes them a while to master the moves. If the history of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is any guide, we have only to wait a few weeks. They'll figure out where to kick each other soon enough.

Until now in Dallas, the rich and powerful have all worn the same robes and sung from the same hymnal on almost all issues of importance. That was the scary thing about last year's referendum to stop a highway from being built along the riverbanks downtown: The city's power elite lined up like the Soviet Army Chorus in favor of the highway and against nature.

Angela Hunt, a freshman city council member, led a grassroots alliance into battle with the city's elites over the Trinity River toll road. She lost but came within five percentage points in the November 6, 2007, election, in spite of the other side's huge funding advantage.

Hunt clearly caught the imagination and fired the hearts of a vast swath of the electorate, but it will always be difficult for any person to butt heads against a solid wall of money and power. That's why I am so thrilled to see cracks forming, especially over the convention hotel.

Since Hunt lost on the Trinity, a certain drumbeat has sounded out there beneath the foliage: The victors, led by Mayor Tom Leppert, have suggested in sidebar remarks and by political body language that Hunt is some kind of irrelevant hippie. She opposed authority. Now she's never going to be accepted by the popular kids.

But if you follow the convention hotel debate closely—and perhaps we will all get a better chance soon to do just that—then you can see the debate illuminating her in a quite different light. In point of fact, Hunt's roots are in the protection of neighborhoods. Her instincts are to fill the potholes and paint out the graffiti.

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