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For about two months solid, it seemed, the Granada Theater showed nothing but old episodes of Absolutely Fabulous and maybe a football game. The beautiful space, once a movie house and then a live music venue, had tumbled to the point of hosting a few concerts a month and otherwise lying fallow. That changed when CD World owner Mike Schoder bought the place earlier this year and refashioned it as a comfortable, considerate music club for adults, the kind who can't always stay out till 2 a.m. to see their favorite band. The place is smoke-free, serves food and hosts the kind of shows that grown-ups want to see: Wilco, Jack Ingram, Malford Milligan. Will it fly? We certainly hope so. Schoder has proven himself a passionate musical advocate, and the success of CD World indicates a market savvy. Either way, we applaud him for taking the risk.

Talk about stand and deliver. For two years in a row (2002 and 2003), SEM, one of DISD's court-mandated magnet high schools, had more minority students pass the advanced placement calculus exam than any other school in the nation. It's even more remarkable considering how small the student body is. With only 400 students, 113 passed the test in 2003; of those, 60 were Hispanic or African-American. On the AP chemistry exam, minority students at SEM tied for first place in the state; of the 23 SEM students who passed, 10 were minorities. "It always starts with the teacher," says Gregg Fleisher, president of the nonprofit AP Strategies, which works with school districts and businesses to manage AP programs. "And SEM Principal Richard White has recruited some of the best calculus teachers in the state." The program is also supported by the Texas Instruments Foundation and the Advanced Academic Services department in DISD, which provides lead teachers, curriculum and other materials. We know the program works. Now, why can't it work everywhere?

A good director will inspire actors to give their best performances and let the playwrights' words shine without the directing getting in the way. René Moreno, who directed eight productions in Dallas and Fort Worth theaters this year, is one reason so many good actors are staying in the area instead of migrating toward the coasts. They're eager to collaborate with this actor-centric artist who says he just tries to elicit "good, honest work" from his casts. Since his first directing gig at Kitchen Dog Theater in 1996, Moreno, 45, has been in demand here and at Milwaukee Rep (where he'll stage Cabaret soon). Dallas audiences have applauded his work recently for the spitfire bio-musical La Lupe for Martice Enterprises, Edward Albee's cryptic Marriage Play at WingSpan, Arthur Miller's gut-wrenching All My Sons at Classical Acting Company, God's Man in Texas at Fort Worth's Circle Theatre and The Drawer Boy at Plano Rep. Moreno's next job: directing A.R. Gurney's Far East at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas in February.

At a feel-good, PR-style luncheon where many of the guests are whispering on their cell phones, Dallas City Councilman Gary Griffith is not only listening intently to the speaker but actually making tiny little notes with a ball point pen on a small leather-backed notepad that he keeps pulling out and then redepositing in his breast pocket. It's typical of the quiet, behind-the-scenes intensity and thoughtfulness this freshman member of the council brings to the mission. Often unheralded, Griffith has helped the council pluck its way through several political spiderwebs already, including supplemental pay for injured cops, hiring a new police chief and countless neighborhood battles over streets and parks. So far he's been modest, cautious, smart and effective. Of course, he hasn't been sipping the Marilla Kool-Aid all that long. Let's try to get some more good out of him before they bring the refills.

Readers' Pick

John Loza

It happens at almost every play for which Randel Wright designs the set. The lights come up onstage, the audience gets its first look at his spectacular handiwork and everyone applauds. For A Girl's Guide to Chaos at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, Wright filled the acting space with a ceiling-high tribute to the line drawings of the late pop artist Keith Haring, including Haring's signature crawling babies and barking dogs. For Lone Star/Laundry and Bourbon, also at CTD, Wright created an authentically shabby back porch and yard (complete with clothesline), then magically transformed it during intermission into a run-down West Texas honky-tonk lit by a gigantic rising full moon. The effect brought a satisfied "aaaaah" from the crowd. He's the only set designer successful at making the cave-like Bath House Cultural Center into an elegant acting space. For WingSpan's production of Edward Albee's Marriage Play, Wright incorporated the odd architectural elements of that venue into his rendering of a sprawling penthouse apartment. This designer definitely has a fine career building.

Now in its third season of plays and musicals at the Trinity River Arts Center, the Uptown Players upped the ante this year with more ambitious work and higher-quality productions. This company, founded by co-producers Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch, performs gay-themed shows for a dedicated audience composed mostly of young gay theatergoers (everyone's welcome, of course). To their small stage they attract the best local talent--Denise Lee, Coy Covington, Nye Cooper, Regan Adair, Donald Fowler, BJ Cleveland--to casts of musicals such as Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Life and the cross-dressing comedies of Charles Busch (this year's Red Scare on Sunset was a winner). At least once a season they stage a sprawling, large-cast drama. The recent production of Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!, featuring more nudity than Dallas stages have seen in many a moon, played to sell-out crowds. Finishing out the current season is The Wild Party (through October 24). Next year's slate includes A Man of No Importance, Mambo Italiano, Southern Baptist Sissies and The Who's Tommy. Snaps all around!

Some people like to visit Mark Cuban's blog for its train-wreck aspects. You know, how he'll promote his show The Benefactor and say how great it is just before it airs to an indifferent public. We like it, weirdly enough, for all the other posts. Like the one about his take on politics and its effects on the business environment. (He took a shot at Senator Orrin Hatch and never mentioned that he once contributed money to Hatch's campaign, but it didn't affect his point, so whatever.) Or the one about how much he loves his new Sidekick II gadget. (Want one!) And especially the one about the future of HDTV, DVDs and the hard drive. It's in posts like these that Cuban shows he deserves at least a bit of the "business genius" label that is constantly attached to him. True, we long for the post where Cuban shows a smidge of humility, but in the meantime we'll settle for the insight and geekdom he offers.

Readers' Pick

For years we've watched Lulu Ward dazzle Dallas theater audiences by disappearing so convincingly into characters that she's almost unrecognizable. Like the twin divas (one gorgeous, one homely) in Pegasus Theatre's black-and-white comedy Cross Stage Right: Die! Or the three parts she played in Cloud Nine at the Bath House. She was Medea in Orgasmo Adulto Escapes From the Zoo. A slatternly crack whore in The Abandoned Reservoir. A jealous mistress raging in the afterlife in Ground Zero's 10:10. And she took on a dozen characters, including a 6-year-old, a hippie teen and an elderly Irish maid, in Contemporary Theatre's The Dining Room. Getting good at the acting thing meant giving it up for a few years, says Ward, 45. "I left, gained some weight, got a little older, and it made a difference. I felt like I owned my own talent after that. It was healthy for me," she says. A self-described former "pageant queen," Ward went through college on a Junior Miss scholarship. In the works now: a one-woman show called Texanese Confessions, based on stories about her parents. Mom Yoko is Japanese. Ward's late father was a "redneck steel guitar player who hung out with Willie Nelson." Ward has been married for five years to musician Michael Beall and offstage is an ardent animal rescuer who tends to four dogs and six cats. Little Lulu, we love you-lu.

He's drop-dead handsome, hugely talented and bald as an egg. Halim Jabbour, 30, also is one of Dallas' most in-demand leading men, cast in a variety of tasty roles at theaters large and small over the past year. For Ground Zero Theater Company, he was a cheating groom in the premiere of Vicki Cheatwood's smoldering drama 10:10. He played a New Yorker romancing a Georgia doll in Contemporary Theatre's nostalgic The Last Night of Ballyhoo. At Richardson Theatre Centre, he was the terrifying killer in Wait Until Dark. He never let up on intensity playing two roles (with and without toupee) in Boaz Unlocked's Three Days of Rain, even before an audience of three. "And that included my sister," he recalls. Born in Lebanon, raised in Saudi Arabia (his dad was a civil engineer there), Jabbour started pre-med at Baylor before transferring to UT-Austin, where he earned a radio-TV-film degree. After a stint at Circle in the Square theater in Manhattan and a year of study in Los Angeles, he moved to Dallas in 2002 and has worked steadily onstage ever since (by day he's production coordinator for Barney the Dinosaur). Dream role: one of the brothers in Sam Shepard's True West. Catch Jabbour in a new Texas Lottery commercial or onstage as Friar Laurence in Classical Acting Company's Romeo and Juliet.

The LCC has had operating fits and starts during its first year, but the Ricardo Legorreta-designed building has added warmth and beauty to a cold corner between downtown and East Dallas. The $10 million structure makes the colors purple and orange seem understated, even though the center's grandeur is in stark contrast with its across-the-street neighbors, a still-underdeveloped string of parking lots and sad-state buildings.

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