Theatergoers who know his work smile when they see B.J. Cleveland's name in the program. Something about his moonfaced mug just glows, and when he's really on, he could light up a five-state area. Now in his 25th season as artistic director at Theatre Arlington, Cleveland has acted in 362 roles (by his count) since he started in showbiz at age 6. He's averaged no fewer than six shows a year since and doesn't plan to slow down. Last season's highlight was his romp as Mad King Ludwig in Uptown Players' Valhalla. This season he'll be directing Studs Terkel's Working at TA and then acting in Moonlight and Magnolias. He's played The Music Man and George M! and giggled like a goose in a white wig as Mozart in Amadeus. Happy to play the sad clown, Cleveland is the area's funniest character actor. All those comparisons to Nathan Lane don't even bother him anymore. "Physically I would covet being synonymous with Brad Pitt," he says. "But there's lots of life left for character actors. Take that, Zac Efron!"
Sure, to get there you have to drive an hour and a half through the corrugated tin and abandoned bass boat architecture of un-beautiful Upper East Texas. But you need to think of a search for pretty country near Dallas sort of the same way you might think of escape from Alacatraz. It's not supposed to be easy. When you get to Mineola, keep going a few miles east out of town and then head north on any halfway decent-looking road. You will find yourself in a land of rolling hills, tall pines and glittering lakes. It could be Wisconsin, if you took away the ticks and water moccasins. Well, and the people. It's very pretty country, and it's way less than a plane ride away from Dallas. Bet you didn't know that was possible, eh?
Good Records
You already know that Good Records is the best record store in town. OK, maybe it's the only real record store left in this chain store-dominated burg. But it's also the most kid-friendly record store we've ever been to. A few times a year, Good Records has in-store performances especially geared toward young ears. There is no better example than the Gustafer Yellowgold shows. The creation of singer-songwriter-illustrator Morgan Taylor, Gustafer Yellowgold is a fantasy creature with weird friends who seem to have skipped straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. It's a great way to introduce kids to music that's not only fun, but also rocks. And that's just one way the coolest record store in town makes parents feel at home. Check out the plastic bin of toys the store's owners keep on hand to entertain little rockers while you browse. This sort of attention to future record-buyers is music to our ears.
Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts
Sara Kerens
For almost 35 years Kathy Burks has designed and produced puppet shows that make high art of non-human figures brought to life with strings, rods and hands. From a collection of puppets and marionettes that goes back to the early 1900s, Burks and her expert puppeteers make the characters so real that children in the audience, given the chance for post-show Q&A, will often address the puppets directly, completely ignoring the black-clad actors holding them. Magical shows such as Frog Prince and Velveteen Rabbit, presented at Dallas Children's Theater, home to Burks and her creations for the past decade, appeal to the kid in all of us. This company makes "wooden acting" a good thing.
Museum of the American Railroad
History buffs, especially the little ones, would be remiss if they never visited this gem in Fair Park. The Museum of the American Railroad (formerly the Age of Steam Railway Museum) boasts more than 30 pieces of actual railroad equipment. Like, real reach-out-and-touch-'em old-school locomotives. Pullman sleeper cars, dining cars and a complete passenger train from pre-World War II days are just some of the pieces that constitute the impressive collection. And for those less "all aboard," the memorabilia (signs, china and more) in the depot represents stunning history. A visit to the MAR transports you back to the days when people dressed to travel and Cary Grant narrowly escaped the bad guys in a too-short steward's uniform in North by Northwest.
Bootstraps Comedy Theater @ Bath House Cultural Center
Comedy is their middle name. This 3-year-old theater company, founded by drama grads from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, has built a fine following as the go-to group for a great big laugh. In their mission statement, founders Matt and Kim Lyle vow to use comedy to "break down the walls that exist between people shackled by societal norms." And if that means tripping and falling through a wall onstage, they're happy to do it. Scoring hits at the past two Festivals of Independent Theatres with Matt's plays Sunny & Eddie Sitting in a Tree and The Boxer (being revived for another run at the studio space at Dallas Children's Theater in mid-November), the Bootstrappers are pulling themselves up to stand as Dallas' funniest, most inventive young theater troupe. These Lumberjacks (that's the SFASU mascot) are OK.
When Bobcat transitioned a few months ago from his longtime spot behind the board at Club Dada to the one just down the street at Darkside, he left a trail of legend and, even more important, genius ability behind him. This is a man who reportedly romanced Julie Napol of Concrete Blonde, a man who constantly is courted by touring bands to drop what he's doing and come work for/with them, a man who can make your out-of-tune, two-chord experimental reggae punk jam band sound like the Rolling Fuckin' Stones. Or, you know, Mozart, since he also helmed the knobs at Bass Performance Hall. We actually don't know what makes Bobcat so good. It's one of those things that's mystifying, genius, like why you could play the same three notes the same way Jimi Hendrix played them and never sound like him at all. All we know is Bobcat makes the fair and middling sound like Fair to Midland, and he makes the great sound like a band fronted by God.
Mayoral candidate Sam Coats first threw out this suggestion in the spring as a way to jumpstart Dallas' kinda sorta revitalizing downtown, and he unwittingly started a lot of chatter on local sports talk shows. While there are all sorts of pragmatic concerns involved, including the unlikely approval of Major League Baseball, Coats' idea is at least more feasible than luring the Summer Olympics to Dallas. So if we had enough optimism to consider the latter proposal, we should at least take a look at making a push for a National League team in the Big D. Unlike Jerry Jones' football stadium, which will host only a handful of events a year, a baseball park would draw tens of thousands of people to downtown at least 81 times a year, which is the number of times a team plays at home. Besides, while the Ballpark at Arlington is a beautiful place to catch a game, there's absolutely nothing to do afterward other than visit the line of chain restaurants that litter Interstate 30. But a park in downtown Dallas wouldn't be just a one-stop shop. We imagine MLB Commissioner Bud Selig would balk at putting two baseball teams in North Texas, unless we can convince him that the Rangers don't count. It shouldn't be that hard.
Six years ago, Paul Varghese made his stand-up debut at a comedy writing class showcase at the Addison Improv. This July, Varghese worked a much bigger room: national television. Featured on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham, Varghese brought his wonky-smart comedy to the masses. His thirst for stage time keeps him going up at every open mike and bar show in town, so you don't have to have cable or cash for a two-drink minimum to see him. Varghese's attention to detail (he mentions his Charles in Charge T-shirt as an aside) keeps his material fresh, along with his self-deprecating nature and smooth, radio-announcer voice. Varghese's quiet, deadpanned jokes can earn laughs from the most jaded of audiences. You won't see him coming, but once he's captured you in his humorous lair, you'll want to see him come back for more.
It's been nearly 28 years since the 1979 incident that put the State Fair's Swiss Sky Ride out of action, killing one and injuring 17. Before that, the ride had been one of the Fair's top attractions, shuttling passengers back and forth across the Midway and providing a bird's-eye view of the neon-lit festivities. This year the fair will reopen a new version of the ride—renamed the Texas Skyway; the cable system of 34 gondolas comes complete with the latest and greatest safety features afforded by modern technology. It also marks the first permanent addition to the Midway since the opening of the Texas Star, and it's about time—we've been waiting more than 20 years for something else to challenge our fear of heights. So keep an eye out for us up there—we'll be the ones hyperventilating with our eyes closed.

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