It gives us pleasure to confess that Frank Loesser's snappy show tune "Big D" (little-A, double-L-A-S) helps spell success for two productions that just opened in local theaters. The song is a by-god, knee-slapping showstopper as performed by Catherine Carpenter Cox and Alex Organ in the second act of Lyric Stage's glorious revival of the 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella. And it's used as a post-intermission audience warmer-upper in Dallas Theater Center's brash and bawdy comedy revue, The Second City Does Dallas, at the Wyly.
My, oh, yes, it's a great week for darlin', darlin' Dallas, where we're in the high season of live theater, with more than 15 shows opening this month and plenty more after that.
Because it's a short run (just one more weekend at Irving's Carpenter Performance Hall), see The Most Happy Fella first. It's a quaint old piece, but well worth dusting off and shining up. At Lyric, where they do only American musicals and only the way the composers intended them to be done, it's been staged with love and wit by resident director Cheryl Denson, who also did Lyric's monumental Oklahoma! this summer.
For this one, the orchestra pit at Carpenter Hall overflows with brass and strings, directed crisply by conductor Jay Dias. Choreographer Len Pfluger, who's also in the show, combines waltz steps and square dancing for the sprawling dance numbers. The ensemble of more than 30 actors features some of the area's best voices, with a couple of imports from NYC for leading roles.
One of those is Bill Nolte, a Broadway veteran (Cats, The Producers, La Cage) with a booming operatic baritone and droopy hound-dog eyes that could break your heart. He plays Tony, the middle-aged Napa Valley vineyard owner who falls for a lonely waitress (Amber Nicole Guest) whom he spies in a San Francisco café. Too shy to flirt but yearning for love, he leaves her a note and an amethyst tie pin, but she doesn't remember what he looks like. When she answers his request for a letter and photo, he sends back a snapshot of his handsome young foreman, Joe (Doug Carpenter, another out-of-towner), who doesn't know that his good-looking mug is being used to woo a pretty girl.
The plot twists like a grapevine when Rosabella arrives at the vineyard, ready to marry the man in the picture. Distraught, Tony drives his car off the road. Seeing his injuries, Rosabella agrees to a quick marriage ceremony, but then she spends the night with Joe. She gradually falls in love with Tony as she nurses him back to health. But her night with Joe will come back to haunt her.
Loesser wrote music, lyrics and libretto for Fella, clearly inspired by Italian opera and, perhaps, by a few too many soapy 1950s Douglas Sirk movies. But it's a lovely show with a three-act score brightened by now-familiar treasures like "Standing on the Corner," sung in close harmony by four cute galoots watching all the girls go by. (One of the guys is Organ, who earlier this summer was an outstanding Coriolanus for Shakespeare Dallas. Talk about versatile.) The lilting "Joey, Joey, Joey," as pretty a dream song as you'll find in any musical, is sung passionately by Carpenter. And "Big D," a bring-down-the-house delight performed by Organ and Cox (playing Rosabella's goofy waitress friend Cleo), has their characters discovering they're both natives of the Lone Star State.
Against lush scenery used in the New York Opera production, Lyric Stage's production offers a grand night of melodies, romantic encounters and comic interludes.
Let us pause now to honor the casting of actors named Organ and Cox as characters who can't keep their hands off each other.
The nation's ninth largest city, which would be us, gets a good going over by the smart-alecky kids of The Second City, the Chicago comedy troupe, in the season opener at Dallas Theater Center. The Second City Does Dallas is like watching a version of The Wizard of Oz as written by the Witch of the West's flying monkeys. A little outside perspective and wicked satire is good for pointing out what those beyond our city limits think of our pretensions, politicians, sports teams and driving habits.
With site-specific material created by Second City writers Brooke Breit and Ed Furman, the two-hour evening of sketches begins with some gentle pokes to the ribs and quickly escalates to sharp-stick-in-the-eye commentary on all things D-town. They name-check Sam Moon, Katy Trail, Garland, Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, Mayor Mike Rawlings (and his pizza), Allen High School football stadium, John Wiley Price, Museum Tower, Governor Rick Perry, West Nile virus, Dallas Cowboys and their cheerleaders, rivalries between Dallas and that smaller city to the west of us and the bigger one down by Galveston, Randy Travis and Big Tex. To prove that nothing is sacrosanct, they even joke about how Dallas might note the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Hint: bobble heads, before and after.
Liz Mikel's the only DTC actor in a fast-moving ensemble that includes Second City regulars Frank Caeti, Amanda Blake Davis, Martin Garcia, Scott Morehead and John Sabine.
Couches, fat armchairs, café tables and in-theater bar give the boxy Wyly Theatre a cozy club atmo for the show. The evening ends with a rather ingenious series of digs at both the rise of hick Honey Boo Boo culture and the snooty attitudes of the very patrons who can afford the cushiest seats at this venue. First-rate stuff, Second City.
Heaving bosoms and breathy bouts of girl-on-girl kissing make Or, a comedy by Liz Duffy Adams at Echo Theatre at the Bath House, a bit of all right. Based on the life of 17th-century English playwright Aphra Behn (played by Jessica Cavanagh), this 2009 farce finds her bouncing in and out of the arms of King Charles II (John Venable, looking hubba to the second power in tight black trousers), actress-girlfriend Nell Gwynn (Morgan Garrett, a bombshell with crack comic timing) and former husband and probable spy William Scot (Venable again in looser pants). Aphra also has a deadline to meet for her latest script, which she can't finish with the bedroom hopping keeping her quill off the parchment.
Director Terri Ferguson keeps the action stirred to high froth as actors Venable and Garrett make split-second costume changes when they switch into different characters. As smart, sassy Behn, Cavanagh is part crumpet, part strumpet under a nimbus of curls.
The zingy language of Or, blends classical phrasing with crude contemporary slang in a stylized Restoration-era roister-doister, which is spiffily acted and funny enough to restore our faith in the talent at Echo Theatre.