By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Do I hear a waltz? And a Charleston? And some numbers from Ghost: The Musical? The theater year gets off to an upbeat start with talented actors singing their faces off in a trio of musicals, large and small, stretching from Fair Park to Turtle Creek to Addison.
The biggie is Uptown Players' annual fundraising revue, Broadway Our Way, which started a decade ago as a modest two-night cabaret with eight performers. Now it runs two full weekends on the big stage at Kalita Humphreys Theater with a cast of 26 of this town's slickest singers and dancers.
As always, the conceit for the show is a gender swap of Broadway tunes. Gays and dolls do opposite numbers, with men vamping up "Hernando's Hideaway" from Pajama Game and ladies going butch for "Officer Krupke" from West Side Story.
This year's Broadway Our Way is written and directed by B.J. Cleveland, who's also onstage, and choreographed by Jeremy Dumont. It's a whizbang evening of comedy and music, with 30 songs from musicals old and new. (Adam C. Wright leads the small onstage band.) Lots of new faces in the show this year. Uptown has been moving toward more big musicals in recent seasons and they're developing an impressive stable of young talent for them. (Uptown and Turtle Creek Chorale are collaborating on the concert version of Ragtime, playing February 7 to 9 at the new City Performance Hall.)
Standouts are a couple of singer-dancers who've grown up in Uptown shows: Angel Velasco, who lends his pure voice to a soaring solo on "With You" from Ghost: The Musical for the hottest moment of the night; and Darius Anthony Robinson, who returns from performing in musicals on the road to tear up the sassy "I'm Outta Here" from the same movie-based musical. (If only Ghost: The Musical had more than just these two great numbers. The Broadway production lasted only a few months, though a national tour does start in the fall.)
Cleveland and his partner-in-drag, Coy Covington, do themselves up as grotesquely funny Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? to sing and taunt each other with the duet "Sisters" from White Christmas. These two need an evening all their own and soon. (Cleveland can also do a crazy-Liza and an insanely funny Carol Channing.)
Beth Albright earns the night's other loudest laughs with her solo, "To Excess," a funny ode to stalking from the cabaret song cycle Homemade Fusion. Marisa Diotalevi belts out the comic "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore," the number Neil Patrick Harris sang to open the 2011 Tonys. Its lyric could be Uptown's mission statement: "Attention every breeder/You're invited to the theater/It's not just for gays anymore!"