Titan Comics
It's our annual fave, and the other local comics shops should not take offense; when you've experienced the prosecutorial hell Keith's Comics has been through of late ("Comic Appeal," August 14), you deserve at least honorable mention and then some. But Jeremy Shorr's place on Bachman Lake, twixt a dollar store and a karate classroom, rings up this annual accolade because it's a pure comics shop--back issues that go way back to the Golden Age take up most of the space, ringed by walls of new stuff from the majors (DC and Marvel) and the minors and dang near every indie this side of Hoboken. Shorr, aided by a knowledgeable and friendly staff, has also taken to carrying an estimable library of comic-book histories, in addition to boxes full of old mags about comics; it's a history lesson in here, as well as a sneak peek at the bright future of a once-accursed medium that now provides the movies with endless source material.

How does this college theater do it? Using student actors and non-pros cast from open auditions, Quad C consistently offers professional-level productions that outshine Equity-heavy downtown stages. In three acting spaces, including the 350-seat John Anthony Theatre, Quad C produces enormous, spectacularly designed shows. Last fall's elegant and disturbing A Clockwork Orange featured a huge cast of promising young actors, particularly Plano native Brian J. Smith, now off to complete his acting studies at Juilliard. Quad C's dynamic artistic director, Brad Baker, has earned a national rep as a teacher, director and writer (he penned the Clockwork script). For the donation of a new stuffed animal (gathered at the box office for a local charity), tickets to most Quad C shows are free. Quad C's new season starts out with a bang October 2 with Assassins, the controversial Stephen Sondheim musical. Also on the season lineup are a trilogy of Horton Foote plays and a production of Neil Labute's latest, The Shape of Things.@choice:Contemporary Theatre of Dallas - 5601 Sears St. 214-828-0094

Look at the wildly diverse work versatile director Rene Moreno has helmed for local theaters recently: the romantic two-character musical The Last Five Years at Plano Rep, the raucous comedy Buford Gomez: Tales of a Rightwing Border Patrol Officer for Martice Productions in the basement of the Majestic, Michael Frayn's difficult drama Copenhagen at Theatre Three, the abstract Crave for the Festival of Independent Theaters and the warm Southern comedy The Exact Center of the Universe at Fort Worth's Circle Theatre. He also managed to fit in some acting with an intense performance in Harold Pinter's Old Times at the Bath House Cultural Center. This SMU MFA grad also directs for Milwaukee Rep, and he's worked at the Guthrie Lab in Minneapolis and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Actors say they trust Moreno's directing because he casts his plays wisely and doesn't mess around with a good script. Directors too often get the blame when a production is panned and don't snag much credit when it's a hit. Moreno is the secret behind much of Dallas' best theater. Up next for Moreno: Love's Fire at SMU's Margo Jones Theatre scheduled for October 23 through November 2.
Playing a charming psychopath, a frat boy, a wild-haired anarchist or a suave sophisticate, Regan Adair, 29, manages to bring to every role he plays a relaxed authenticity that makes his performances fascinating to watch. Trained as a fashion designer, Adair turned to acting four years ago and over the past few months has popped up in productions at half a dozen area theaters. He's onstage now at Dallas Theater Center playing Rosencrantz in Hamlet, one of the few local actors director Richard Hamburger personally has recruited for a role (DTC casts mostly out of NYC). It was Adair's riveting performance in Crave at the recent Festival of Independent Theaters that caught Hamburger's (and the critics') attention. One local director describes Adair as "a character actor trapped in an ingenue body." That's a nice way of saying he's immensely talented and really cute.
Blessed with a singing voice so powerful it shows up on Doppler radar, Denise Lee, 43, proved this year that she's also one of the area's best serious dramatic actresses. In WaterTower Theatre's production of The Old Settler, John Henry Redwood's lovely play about spinster sisters in 1940s Harlem, Lee didn't sing a note. Instead, she wore dowdy dresses and no makeup and gave a quietly moving performance highlighted by some white-hot chemistry with handsome co-star Kes Kehmnu. Lee also was a knockout in Uptown Players' musical The Last Session. Known for her showstopping way with musical comedy (she's a repeat star of WaterTower's annual Rockin' Christmas Party), Lee does her cabaret thing most Friday nights at Bill's Hideaway (4144 Buena Vista). And if there's a production of Once on This Island in the works, she's probably in the cast. "I love that show," says Lee, "but it would be nice to be called in more often for roles that aren't designated 'minority.'" Look for Lee this fall on television in the role of captured American soldier Shoshanna Johnson in the NBC teleflick Saving Jessica Lynch.
Plush Gallery
If you said Dallas wouldn't buy it, and Randall Garrett couldn't do it, you were wrong. As Garrett opens the fourth season of Plush, even the naysayers are starting to show up at South Akard on Friday nights for the gallery's "high levels of cultural noise." Live music, eccentric paintings and sculpture, performance art and a bohemian club atmosphere enliven Plush. Exhibition opening events now attract an interesting cross section of people, and Garrett is likely to host rap poets, ballerinas or skateboard performers with live music to kick off new art shows by new artists. "I have consciously tried to create a space that puts the Modernist white-cube gallery of the 20th century in the past," Garrett says. "I want a space that is infiltrated by art that pollutes culture and is polluted back every time." Plush is all that. It's unerringly cool and as close as our generation and our city will ever get to the heyday of Andy Warhol's Factory and the insanity of Studio 54.

Dallas Museum of Art
If public schools paid one-tenth the attention to arts education that the Dallas Museum of Art does, the world would be a better place. Education is at least half of the DMA's mission, and programming for children, with families encouraged to participate, is plentiful and of exceptional quality. The museum's Gateway Gallery is the focal point for young children and parents to learn about art--not only the stuff in the museum's collections but work by local artists who lead free sketching activities, and, of course, hands-on work by the kids themselves in the Gateway Gallery studios. The DMA's dedicated kids space is interactive with puzzles, books, rubbings and crayons, continuously staffed with volunteers and professionals alike. Family art classes are offered, and the summer season is filled with "Children's Storytime" and "Family Film" events. Free weekend programming called "Family Days" includes multiple hands-on art activities, treasure hunts, live music and dance performances and a host of cultural entertainment. DMA educators are quick to remind you that arts education isn't merely about drawing or painting; children develop conceptual thinking, problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, communication, fine motor development, history knowledge and visual skills through art exploration.

When MTV "unplugged" some top rock stars, a whole new generation of young people shivered with the discovery of the sheer power and beauty of the human voice--a cappella or with the subtlest acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment. This, of course, is no big whoop for season-ticket holders of Dallas' Turtle Creek Chorale, who tingle five times a year as 225 lusty male voices reverberate the rafters of the acoustically perfect Meyerson Symphony Center. For almost a quarter of a century, TCC audiences have applauded the award-winning, Carnegie Hall-playing chorus that, under the direction of Dr. Timothy Seelig, performs rock and pop music, Broadway show tunes, spiritual and religious fare, as well as holiday favorites. When they're not singing a cappella, TCC selects the best local musicians to accompany them. Either way, they achieve a pure, special sound with impeccable harmonies and robust rhythms.

Kimbell Art Museum
We took our 9-year-old to this exhibit, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. When children are 9, anything you do, say, present or wish for is declared "booooring." But this exquisite exhibit, which (too bad for you) just ended, was one of the most impressive Egyptian tours allowed in the United States since the King Tut exhibit. Perhaps it was Osiris resurrecting, perhaps the sarcophagus of Khonsu, perhaps the full-scale reproduction of the tomb of Thutmose III--whatever it was, the kid loved it. The audio tour, much of which has children-specific entries, helps keep them involved as well. In all, it was much more inspiring and educational than whatever was going on in the classroom that day. Not saying our munchkin's teacher gave us flak for doing this. Not saying that at all.

Generally, we shy away from that which is popular. Popular movies, popular music, popular mayors--we give 'em all hell. But not when it comes to radio morning shows. The No. 1-rated show for years has been Skip Murphy and the Morning Team, and we think there's a damn fine reason for this: They do radio right. They are intensely local, they love their jobs, they are funny and honest, they make mornings seem joyous. What more could you want from your radio dial?

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