By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The annual evening of folderol known as Broadway Our Way started out several years ago at Uptown Players as a tossed-together two-night fund-raiser with a cute twist. Performers from the company's previous season's shows would sing and dance, with the women taking on Broadway tunes written for men and the men doing songs intended for female characters. Between numbers they'd giggle through short comedy sketches, almost always ending with some version of the line, "But I'm gay!"
This year's Broadway Our Way, subtitled Divas Awakening, shows how nicely things have evolved at Uptown, a gay-centric company that has matured over seven years to become one of the most popular small theaters in town, with a large, loyal core audience. The latest version of BOW, as they've nicknamed it, is its slickest yet, two and a half hours of fast-paced entertainment that stops the music only a few times for the comedy bits. The guys still sing the ladies' songs and vice versa, but in a nod to diversity, the punch lines in the sketches now balance pretty evenly between "But I'm gay!" and "But I'm straight!"
There's a deliciously fun parade of local talent in the thing. First and foremost, it's a sequin-spangled showcase for some of Dallas musical theater's best and loudest lady-voices, including M. Denise Lee, Natalie King, Arianna Movassagh, Sara Shelby-Martin, Amy Stevenson and Linda Leonard. Any one of these women can stop a show, but Lee comes closest to it in this production with her earthy rendition of "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space," the throbbing rock tune sung by the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors. In her sparkly green gown and green feathered headdress, Lee looks like a voluptuous rhododendron... or a Mardi Gras Statue of Liberty. Second to Lee for power vocals is Stevenson, awarded the plum penultimate spot in the second half of the evening for the plaintive ballad "Giants in the Sky" from Into the Woods.
This installment of BOW also features some hot-dish young newcomers from last season's Uptown productions, notably Steven Guez (pronounced "Gezz"), Melissa Farmer and Kayla Carlyle from the gay-teen musical Zanna, Don't! And Beth Albright and Darius-Anthony Robinson, who shared the Uptown stage in the gay-teen musical bare (they do love their coming-of-age/coming-out shows at this theater). Also new to the proceedings is Allison Tolman, who has not starred in a gay teen show at Uptown but is the artistic director and frequent leading lady at Second Thought Theatre and gets to show off what a darn fine singer and quick-witted comedian she is here. Tolman and veteran Dallas actor Tony Martin share MC'ing duties, standing in for former BOW hosts B.J. Cleveland and Paul J. Williams, who are busy acting elsewhere this year. (Cleveland couldn't stay away entirely, dropping by for a surprise walk-on at the first Saturday night performance.)
The rest of the 21-member cast is made up of Uptown regulars. Kevin Moore, fresh off the run of Kitchen Dog's The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, previously played the lead in the Holocaust drama Bent at Uptown. Now he's allowed to act goofy and sing, donning a red hoodie to perform Little Red Riding Hood's lament "I Know Things Now" from Into the Woods. Keeping with Uptown's R-rated tone for Broadway Our Way, Moore pulls sex toys instead of sandwiches from Little Red's knapsack.
Uptown's favorite super-twink, dancer John de los Santos, does a slithery striptease to "Call From the Vatican" from Nine. He goes Full Monty, hiding the goodies at the last minute with the help of a white bedsheet.
Chad Peterson, half the cast of the eerie musical Thrill Me (based on the Leopold/Loeb case), flirts shamelessly and adorably with the audience in the light-hearted bit of tease called "Please Don't Touch Me" from Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.
Like that one, many of the selections in the 30-song lineup are from fairly new Broadway shows. Movassagh and Carlyle each do songs from Spring Awakening, a musical about sexed-up teens, including some gay ones, that would be a nice addition to some future Uptown season.
Guez and Farmer blend their voices sweetly for "Electricity" from Elton John's current Broadway hit Billy Elliot. Two songs from the off-Broadway musical [title of show] get pleasant treatment by Tolman, Martin and actor-director Coy Covington.
Covington returns to the stage in glam-drag (his particular specialty at Uptown) to team with John Garcia (in what can best be described as ham-drag) for a scathingly funny rendition of "Class" from Chicago. Singing from behind heavy layers of glossy maquillage, they offer the whores' lament at the passing of good manners:
"Whatever happened to 'Please, may I'
And 'Yes, thank you'
And 'How charming'?
Now every son of a bitch
Is a snake in the graaaaaass
Whatever happened to class?"
There's lots more in the show, almost too much. Director and writer Andi Allen had scads of talent to play with (and only seven days of rehearsal), but she could have used an editor to pare some of the lamer sketches. Without Tolman's near-Gervais-like way of selling a bad joke, the comedy sections would be unbearably slow. Allen also performs, appearing as Sarah Palin to launch into the patter song "Tchaikovsky" from Lady in the Dark. She can see Russians from her house, dontcha know, and in this ditty they're all dead composers.