Five years ago, actress Diana Sheehan had what she describes as "the most euphoric day of my life." Both of her young children were in school all day at last and, for the first time in years, Sheehan found she was free to do whatever she wanted.
"I danced for joy," she says of that day. "It was this incredible re-awakening. Everything, all my senses, came alive. I started writing down songs. Before you know it, I had 25 songs written down. I divided them into two parts. The first group is all songs about waking up again. The next part is about how these songs work together, all about longing and hope."
The result of this blast of creative energy became Midway, a solo 90-minute cabaret show Sheehan will perform for local audiences for the first time at this year's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at Addison's WaterTower Theatre. (Dallas Observer is a sponsor of the 10-day celebration of theater, music and dance.)
"It's the story of my midlife crisis," says Sheehan, 46. "Your midlife crisis can keep going. It's all about how you look at it. The show asks, are your best days ahead or behind you?"
Sheehan will do Midway in the intimate Stone Cottage at the Loop Fest, and the space will be fitted out with small café tables for cabaret atmosphere. Musical director James McQuillen will play piano. There'll also be a cellist and string bass.
The music comes from the American musical theater songbook, with selections by Rodgers and Hart, Gershwin, Sondheim, Jacques Brel, Peter Allen and Leonard Cohen. "It's a big range of music," says Sheehan. "As I tell my story, I talk a lot about the songs, where they came from and who wrote them."
Sheehan, a Massachusetts native, moved to Dallas from New York several years ago, when her husband, a doctor, accepted a job at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She had been a busy actress back east, working Off-Broadway and performing Midway at Manhattan's Triad Theatre. She wasn't sure if she'd pursue stage work in Dallas, but was soon cast in Lyric Stage's revival of As Thousands Cheer, and was then picked for the starring role of Little Edie in WaterTower's terrific production of Grey Gardens. Sheehan landed another lead at WaterTower in the musical Black Pearl Sings and co-starred with James Crawford last summer in WaterTower's sweet two-hander Shooting Star.
"I moved here to be supportive of my husband. I had no idea there was anything waiting for me here. It was overwhelming to have things happening. I'm amazed at the continued support from the Dallas theater community and the people I meet down here. In New York City you get a tough skin because you have to. Down here, people let you do your work. You don't spend your whole life trying to get the job. You get to live your life and do the job," says Sheehan.
In her show at the Loop festival, the only other character in Midway will be the audience, Sheehan says. "These are really songs as monologue and dialogue. It's really fun to take these songs out of context and reconstruct them and make them relevant and meaningful. It's very universal, this show."
And, she says, a festival like Out of the Loop, with shows happening simultaneously on three stages, is a good way for theatergoers to sample lots of different performances in one place. "For performers, Loop is an incredible opportunity to get your work seen. You're in something bigger than yourself. I hope more people will take advantage of that."
Diana Sheehan's cabaret show Midway will play at 8 p.m., March 2; 2 p.m., March 4; 7:30 p.m., March 8; and 2 p.m., March 10, in the Stone Cottage at WaterTower's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in Addison. For tickets or more information, call 972-450-6232 or visit www.watertowertheatre.org. Tickets are $10 for Midway, or festival passes are available for $65. Individual tickets go on sale at noon, February 14.