Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Actors trust Cheryl Denson, a longtime Dallas theater actor and now a much in-demand director. She's not a crack-the-whip type, doesn't bury herself in trivial research, never screams at the slackers. She just gets it done, making the process a lot of fun. An expert with comedies but no slouch with musicals and dramas, Denson, a Baylor grad with an MFA from Trinity University, deflects praise that comes her way. "It's not about just me. I watched directors work when I acted all those years and watched them make it about their work only. I hated that as an actor," she says. Theater, she says, ought to feel embracing and it ought to feel safe. "We're all exposing the rawest part of ourselves to do that. You can't have fearful actors." Booked a year in advance with directing jobs, Denson next takes the reins of Last Night of Ballyhoo at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, then Master Class at Lyric Stage. Next time you see a really good show, check for Denson's name in the program. Good directors such as her rarely get the applause they deserve.
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.