Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
An insightful writer in spite of--or perhaps because of--his reflective hatred of everything suburban, Dallas Morning News architecture critic David Dillon was a must-read in a city that is rapidly redefining how it looks. As new high-rises sprang up overnight, Dillon deftly cataloged the good, the bad and the sprawling, often making you wish planners had bothered to consult him personally before breaking ground. His reporting and commentary on Victory Park was fascinating, illustrating how the project emphasizes "streets, blocks and squares" unlike most of the city's flashy throw-'em-ups, which only look terrific from far away. Also memorable, his dressing-down of the horrific new shopping center at McKinney and Pearl. Dillon could be pretentious. His coverage of "Forward Dallas" was confused. But like all good critics, his value system was transparent. With Dallas battling futilely against suburban sprawl and urban blight, Dillon, yet another fine columnist lost to readers by the DMN's recent get-out/buyouts, pointed the way to what a real city could look like.
Not so long ago, down the highway apiece in the town of LaGrange, there was a place called the Chicken Ranch that had nothing to do with laying eggs but a whole lot to do with getting laid. For decades it operated as an illegal bordello where bad-boy politicians could get done to them what they were doing to constituents, where college football players could pay to score with professional sure things.
The Chicken Ranch offered a friendly spot for a horizontal hoedown with some down-home hos. Local law enforcement let it be. Then along came a screaming, toupee-wearing, crusading-for-morality Houston TV reporter named Marvin Zindler, whose exposs on the brothel got the Bible brigade to force the authorities to shut it down.
The story cracked the headlines for a while in the 1970s and might have faded into the annals of Lone Star State history were it not for Texas writers Larry L. King and Peter Masterson who, along with composer Carol Hall, scrambled the facts of the Chicken Ranch scandal into a sexy theatrical fry-up called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Choreographed by Texan Tommy Tune, the show opened on Broadway in 1978 and played more than 1,500 performances. The campy but less successful movie starring Dolly Parton as Miss Mona (the madam), Burt Reynolds as the sheriff and Dom DeLuise as the Zindler character, Melvin P. Thorpe, came and went in 1982.
Its been a good while since any Dallas theater mounted (tee-hee) a full-sized production of the musical, but its a nice fit at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, where its onstage through October 29. CTD founder and Whorehouse cast member Sue Loncar plays one of nine Chicken Ranch chickies and says she remembers watching the real story unfold on TV when she was growing up in Houston. And did this Highland Park mother of five have any reservations about playing a prostie? My kids just think its funny. Anyway, how cool is it to be 40-something and get to be in this show! I consider it a privilege and an opportunity to try to lose some weight!
Husband Brian Loncar, the Strong Arm lawyer on those TV commercials, is making his theatrical debut as The Governor, singing Dance a Little Sidestep and spouting political doubletalk: As I was saying just this morning at the weekly prayer breakfast, it behooves the Jews and the Ay-rabs to settle their differences in a Christian manner. Loncar says hes bringing to the role what he tries to bring to the TV adsMy motto is maximum cheese.
Whorehouse was risqu Broadway fare in the 70s, but by todays Pussycat Dolled-up, G-String Diva-fied standards, its pretty tame stuff. Its definitely not The Life, says Sue Loncar, referring to the much edgier musical about streetwalkers. This show puts a sugar coating on prostitution. Miss Monas is less like a brothelmore sorority house.
Whorehouse may be a bit of a museum piece but still has some things to say about the society we live in and the way the media blow things out of proportion, especially things of a sexual nature, says director James Paul Lemons. But its not message-heavy. Think lingerie and big hair, Lemons says. Were going over-the-top Texas style, walking the line between camp and authenticity.
For the actress playing Linda Lou, one of the scantily clad, by-the-hour hoochies who works for Miss Mona (played by Jenny Thurman), its the latest in a series of R-rated roles on Dallas stages. Cara Statham Serber gave audiences the T and the A as the cheerleader/prostitute in Kitchen Dog Theaters production of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical and stripped down to her bra and half-slip as Janet in CTDs Rocky Horror Show.
Someday no one will want to see me in lingerie, so I have to capitalize on it, says Serber, who recently co-starred in WaterTower Theatres Into the Woods and describes her offstage persona as Frisco hausfrau. I spent all of my 20s doing Maria in The Sound of Music and Marian the librarian in The Music Man. I have to say, playing a whore is more silly fun than being Laurie in Oklahoma!
Actor Joey Oglesby pawed Serber as a football player in Debbie and gets to do it again as one of the dancing Aggies visiting the Best Little Whorehouse. When director Lemons told Oglesby hed be wearing a jockstrap, and little else, for one of the numbers, the actor headed for the gym. I have my 10-year high school reunion coming up, too, so I guess thats a good thing, he says. Ive never been opposed to taking off my clothes for laughs.
A Baylor grad whos also part of the Second Thought Theatre company, Oglesby says his Southern Baptist parents are pretty open-minded but refused to see Debbie Does Dallas, which was several notches raunchier than Whorehouse.
Maybe best not to tell them, or Zindler, whos still on the air at Houstons ABC station, that CTD occupies a two-story building off Lower Greenville Avenue that formerly served as a house of worship.
Says Sue Loncar, Yep, weve put the hos in church. Were probably all going to hell for that. Elaine Liner
The final resting place of notorious outlaw Clyde Barrow and his brother Buck is located just west of downtown on Fort Worth Avenue, mere minutes away from the glittering, soulless faades of the New Dallas (cough, cough, W Hotel, cough, cough). Sure, Old Clyde wasn't the best behaved of fellows, but living in this town you have to admit that our outlaws--Barrow, Oswald, Ruby and the like--are some of the most fascinating characters Dallas ever produced, morals or not. After Clyde was killed in Louisiana (alongside his beloved Bonnie Parker) in a ruthless law enforcement ambush, his body attracted hundreds of curious Dallasites, both before (his remains were displayed in the Belo Mansion, which at the time housed the Sparkman Funeral Home) and after burial. Access to the cemetery is extremely limited, and the neighborhood is notoriously sketchy (though the Belmont Hotel might change that), so we wouldn't suggest visiting old Clyde without permission. Just knowing he's there is good enough for us.
Someone in Austin is gonna pay for this. When the all-female roller derby leagues of Central Texas reared their heads during our college days, we thought it was novel enough--after all, we almost went to a match once to catch And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. Thankfully, we abstained, so we can't count ourselves responsible for the derby's spread to DFW and beyond. Judging by the growing ranks of local leagues such as Assassination City Derby and the Dallas Derby Devils--and all their blood make-up, lame tattoos and piercings--the metroplex has more than its fair share of strained father-daughter relationships. Now that the A&E series Rollergirls has been canceled, we can all hope that this obnoxious trend will be similarly short-lived. All right, we get it already. You chicks are tough. Can we have the Double Wide back now?
When Mayor Laura Miller announced that she wouldn't seek re-election, speculation about who might succeed her spread like a West Texas grassfire, prompting the men of KTCK's The Hardline to ask: Why not Mike Rhyner? When the beloved radio host was asked that afternoon what platform he might run on, the Old Gray Wolf responded with a stroke of political genius, saying if he were elected, he'd put Big Tex on top of the Reunion Tower. He's got our fake vote. Even if he only kept his promise for a day, you have to admit it would be a sight to see. Now if only we could get Santiago Calatrava to work the Texas Star into one of those friggin' bridge designs.
In only two years, the Summer Strut Home Tour, which takes place in early June, has leapt to the top of the list in this otherwise moribund category of entertainment. After all, how long can you really stay interested in Swiss Avenue? Sponsored by the AIDS Resource Center, the Summer Strut so far has presented tours in the Turtle Creek area and Greenway Parks, west of the Dallas North Tollway at Mockingbird Lane. It's not cheap--$50 a head and $90 per couple--but there are hors d'oeuvres at the houses and often live music. Old homes are mixed with new in a blend that is more stylish than what one sees on typical neighborhood tours.
What's going on with investigative TV reporting lately? For a while KTVT-Channel 11 had pulled ahead of WFAA's News 8 with a consistent string of hard-hitting, well-reported stories on local government and politics. What happened on 11? Recently their biggies were "New cameras can change the way you look," "Katie Couric's day in Texas" and, our favorite mind-boggling expos, "Schools influencing value of homes." Channel 8, meanwhile, is back in the winner's circle again with hard-hitting stories by Brett Shipp and Byron Harris on airline safety, wacked-out incompetence in the Dallas schools' administration, complaints of meshugga cops in Deep Ellum and others. All the major newscasts have competent newsreaders. It's the individual reporters and behind-the-scenes producers who make the difference. Right now, those are the people who have made News 8 the one to watch at 6 and 10.
John McCaa is a serious person. He has a master's degree in politics from the University of Dallas (not easy to get) and has been at WFAA since 1984, with a solid history of street reporting behind him. But look, how do you judge news anchoring, as opposed to news news? Let's be honest, McCaa is this year's best anchor because he has the best knitted-brow expression of somber authority and the best end-of-newscast chuckle. That's what you call range in the anchor biz. He also does those voice-over previews at the beginning of the newscast with just the right amount of energy, meaning he doesn't sound bored but doesn't sound like a used-car guy hawking repos either. We don't want to go on too much about the others who didn't make it in this category. Tracy Rowlett at Channel 11 was close, but his pompadour has been a little flat lately. Clarice Tinsley and Jane McGarry--their cute wore off awhile back. Karen Borta--still too cute. We know one thing: Nobody better put us in front of that camera. Don't even try. Did you hear that? We dare you. Try it. Just once.
Outlaw country and baseball chat--what's next, an award for our fave bait shop? Not really, and this shouldn't insinuate that other genres aren't doing well on Dallas' dial; the heated battle between KBFB-97.9 FM (The Beat) and KKDA-104 FM (K104) is good news for mainstream rap fans, and KNTU-88.1 FM delivers more worthwhile, bop-era jazz than most stations in the nation. But this year's winners aren't just the best of Dallas--they're what you'd least expect in this plastic city. Longtime local jockey Alan Peck Sr., decades past his days at trailblazing country station KBOX, continues to lead The Range with its self-professed brand of "hard country" that proves no cut is too deep, from Ray Stevens' "Ahab the Arab" to Sorta's "Party's Over" and every Texas swing gem in between. And in spite of The Ticket's growth this year, boosted by the all-sports station's official partnership with the Dallas Cowboys, the no-B.S. attitude that has won over legions of dedicated P1s hasn't softened, which means The Musers' Gordon Keith is still screwing around as The Fake Jerry Jones and The Hardline's Mike Rhyner won't stop calling Bill Parcells "The New Jersey Con Man" anytime soon. The station touts that its listeners "hang out" with the hosts, and that's exactly what it feels like to hear the guys deliver hilarious, self-deprecating material about everything from spelling bees to Parcells' "fupa" (not to mention their weekly recaps of on-air screw-ups, the kinds most other stations would prefer to ignore). Talk and country radio that isn't cheesy and contrived doesn't just exist in Dallas; it thrives.
Want to know what's going on politically in the southern sector? Or all the sectors, for that matter? Well, heck, you've got the top elected official in southern Dallas talking about it every week on the radio. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price spices his show with humor and leavens it with uplift, but then he also just goes off the deep end sometimes telling it like it is--like he says it is, anyway--about Dallas politics. Liberation Nation provides smart and valuable insights into an important part of the city, and it also makes for some highly entertaining listening.
Since we take pride in celebrating local failures, we're honored to shine our Best of spotlight on Frank Hejl, the former KNTU DJ who hasn't seen a microphone with proper wattage since May. The creator and voice behind Frequency Down lost his job (an unpaid one, no less) after airing an uncensored version of "Shake It Off," a song by Ninja High School complete with the FCC's least favorite F-word (no, not "fandango"). We call B.S. on the firing . The accident was aired late on a Sunday night, and Hejl was our favorite kind of DJ: funny, smart in interviews and with a show full of good, local musical choices. But the Frequency is down for the count, as Hejl now has a new project: a stand-up comedian/band series called Mix Tapes and Baby Fights. And in spite of our bloodlust for failure, all hail Hejl's and MT&BF's success.
As the quality of musical radio dries up, the search for a great local DJ becomes ever more desperate. Really, if an on-air personality doesn't have the right combination of personality, humor and taste, then why bother ejecting the car tape adapter for our iPods? Thankfully, Tom Urquhart nails that combination every Sunday at 9 p.m. with The Good Show, the only show left in town that gives a damn about the following four pillars: supporting good local music, delivering the best in national indie rock, surprising ears with great classic picks from all genres and making fans laugh in the process. Local band interviews, in-studio sessions and theme episodes are great, as are the Good crew members, but Urquhart's the ultimate music buddy, the guy who wraps up suggestions old and new in witty, pleasant banter. Best of all, iPod fans, you can even keep your gadget plugged in with weekly podcasts uploaded to goodshow.net.