By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ah, autumn. The leaves are falling, and so are the costumes in Uptown Players' adults-only musical Hello Again.
Now steaming up the Kalita Humphreys Theater, composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa's singing humpfest, getting its local premiere, shows off some of Dallas musical theater's finest voices and the bodies that hold them. Say hello again and again to frontal and backal nudity as the cast of 11, all of them in gym-tastic form, engage in a solid 90 minutes of stimulating simulations of intimate acts. The sight lines at Kalita have never seemed so obstruction-free. It's enforced voyeurism. Theater as peep show, accompanied by violins.
Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play La Ronde, such a hot property it wasn't staged for 20 years after he wrote it, Hello Again tells its 10 brief stories of lust and loneliness two by two, in time periods that start in the 1900s and jump back and forth across the decades until the present. LaChiusa's music is a pastiche of styles, with hints of Glenn Miller, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim (if only there were more of that), the brothers Gibb and Jacques Offenbach.
Continues through October 21 at Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Call 214-219-2718.
It's not a hummable score. LaChiusa, who also wrote the tumbleweed of songs for the musical version of Giant that premiered at Dallas Theater Center earlier this year, is fond of wandering melodies, frequent key changes and halting rhythms. Voices are constantly fighting each other for dominance in Hello Again, with an unrelenting urgency in the music that feels like it's in a hurry to finish and order a pizza.
Uptown's cast and the onstage band, led by musical director Adam C. Wright, do admirable work making it all sound extravagantly lush and seductive to the ear. All of the voices are superb and the actors are adept at finding emotional layers in music that too often tilts toward monotonous.
The juicy stuff starts in the first scene as an early 20th-century prostitute (Linda Leonard) copulates vertically against a lamppost with a lonely young soldier (John Campione) as she softly sings her come-on. "Hey, there," she says. "What's your name?" And that's after his loins have already saluted hers.
From there, it's the same soldier and a pretty nurse (Laura Lites), wasting not a second on preliminary examinations. "I got a little time," she sings, and before he can look at his watch, her blouse is off and they're writhing feverishly. They never stop singing, of course.
The gimmick of this bedchamber musical is that one character from each vignette daisy-chains into the next. After banging the soldier, the nurse turns around and takes a nervous college boy (Adam Garst) in hand, playing dominatrix as she lashes his wrists to a ceiling fan and leaves him there with his nethers dangling. Then the college boy hies off to a furtive rendezvous with a frisky young wife (Beth Albright) for a matinee makeout at a movie house. Post-duet, she daintily straightens her skirt and goes home to her rich older husband (Mark Hawkins), who bangs her dispassionately before they head out to a formal dinner party.
Hello Again's "zipless fucks," as author Erica Jong called recreational, sometimes anonymous sex, each climaxes with one half of the couple left feeling abandoned and depressed. This may be a hot-to-trot musical, but its central message nails the cold business of coitus. The most hopeless of all the couplings is between the rich husband and the young third-class male passenger (Peter DiCesare) he picks up aboard the Titanic. Their ecstasy ends when they realize there are no more lifeboats on their love boat. Talk about going down.
The "Young Thing," as he's called, recurs in a scene set in the Studio 54 era, as he carries on with a nervous screenwriter (Chad Peterson) whose libido is hampered by an impending deadline. The writer then pops up (and without pharmaceutical aids, presumably) in the arms of a stage actress (Stephanie Riggs, doing some fine, delicate acting and singing) in the 1920s. She's mirrored again in a hotel-room sexcapade with a married but blackmail-able senator (G. Shane Peterman, who has impeccable pecs) in the 1980s. And whattaya know, the senator transitions to the final and most poignant frolic, which he shares with the whore (Leonard again), who has time-traveled forward, and without a stitch of clothes, from that first scene in World War I.
Don't try to figure out LaChiusa's chronological whiplashes. Just follow the bouncy boobies.
Director John de los Santos has assembled a cast of fearless performers, none more so than the lissome Linda Leonard as the prostitute. Leonard will be starring in Uptown Players' revival of Kiss of the Spider Woman next year, a role she performed for them a decade ago. It's also good to say hello again to the supremely talented young actor Adam Garst, who moved to L.A. after wowing audiences and critics in WaterTower Theatre's production of Spring Awakening last season. His quirky-shy turn as the college kid in the Uptown Show balances the heat in the other scenes.
The soft, warm lighting design for the current show is by David Gibson, flattering everyone's bare bodkins. Costumes by Suzi Cranford are period-specific and easily removed with nary a pinch or shimmy. Wigs and makeup by Coy Covington enhance the already gorgeous features of the Uptown cast.
Don't worry, it's all right to stare. Out there in the dark, no one can see you blush.