Theater and dance groups bring new works, hot-button topics to Dallas Arts Month

Though new shows have been creeping onto the schedule for a couple of months, April offers the first full slate of theater and dance productions since the pandemic. Variety is the dead giveaway, from heady political fare to a profane musical pirate, from ballet stars to a baring of more than the soul. The thread is that differing perceptions of reality are everything, a sign of the times.

Rage against the machine

What does it mean to rebel? Janelle Gray conceived Rage to challenge the notion that enslaved people and African Americans during the oppressive Jim Crow era didn’t do enough to resist, especially women. “I intentionally found stories that I didn’t think people would be familiar with,” the Dallas playwright and podcaster says.

Based on research at the Library of Congress, she wrote monologues for 11 fictional female characters reacting to historical events, from the 1842 Cherokee Revolt to the streetcar boycotts of 1900-1906 to present-day protests over police brutality. “In times that were so dangerous for black women, rebellion couldn’t always be outward or they wouldn’t live to tell. What I really wanted to do was break the cage of our definition.”

From left, Jazzay Jabbar, Victoria Angelina Cruz, Natasha Wells, Tharmella Nyahoza and Catherine Whiteman in Janelle Gray’s “Rage.”(Ashley Washington/Ashley Harris Photography)

Rage is a selection of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, highlighting work by independent artists and emerging troupes, as is Maya: The Illusion We Livein which Indicates Dance Company deals with the subjectivity of individual perspectives and how they shape our relationships. Guest artists from Cry Havoc Theater Company will participate.

Cara Mia Theater also explores the idea of ​​perception, giving masks for Origins/Origins, a collaboration with Mexico’s Laboratorio de la Máscara that uses movement and live music to tell immigration stories. Second Thought Theater goes politically subjective, too, with Dry Powdera familiar-sounding tale of private-equity greed—a lavish party thrown amid layoffs—that starred Claire Danes and John Krasinski off-Broadway.

Phillip Cole White portrays Arnold in Uptown Players' production of "Harvey Fierstein's...
Phillip Cole White portrays Arnold in Uptown Players’ production of “Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song.”(Mike Morgan)

Meanwhile, Uptown Players revisits gay 1970s New York with Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Songthe story of a Jewish drag queen who despite all the intolerance and fear insists on being happy. Details, tickets: attpac.org, ragetheplay.com, indicatesdancecompany.com, cryhavoctheater.org, caramiatheatre.org, secondthoughttheatre.com, uptownplayers.org.

Argh! Musicals new and traditional

Dallas has a reputation for developing wacky musicals like the time-traveling On the Eve and end-of-the-world Pompeii! Stede Cup: A [Expletive] musical pirate, marking the return of Theater Three to its home stage at the refurbished Quadrangle, plunders the tradition. The so-called “Gentleman Pirate,” Bonnet was a wealthy 18th century aristocrat who turned to a life of seafaring crime, winding up mentored by and pillaging alongside Blackbeard.

Parker Gray as the title character in Theater Three's premiere of Nicole Neely and Clint...
Parker Gray as the title character in Theater Three’s premiere of Nicole Neely and Clint Gilbert’s “Stede Bonnet: A [Expletive] Musical Pirate.”(Jeffrey Schmidt)

“He just woke up one morning and said, ‘I think I’m gonna change my life today. I think I’m gonna be a pirate,’ ” explains Nicole Neely, who came up with the idea and wrote the book. “It’s so funny because he knew nothing about what that life entails. … He’s such a doofus.”

With little trouble, Neely persuaded her composer fiancé, now husband Clint Gilbert, to write the music and lyrics as a wedding present. They bill it as “adult Disney,” rated argh! mostly for curing.

Compared Stede Bonnet to a trio of name-brand musicals hitting local stages. The delayed national tour of Jesus Christ Superstarpresented by Broadway Dallas (formerly Dallas Summer Musicals), harkens back to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s original concept album released 51 years ago.

Donna Summer is portrayed by three actresses in the musical about her life and career....
Donna Summer is portrayed by three actresses in the musical about her life and career. “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” will be presented in Dallas by the AT&T Performing Arts Center.(nick gould)

At Winspear Opera House, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical envisions three-singers-in-one: diva, disco and duckling Donna, played by three different actresses. And Dallas Theater Center employs a diverse cast for war-horse The Sound of Music. Tiffany Solano and Paolo Montalban play the lead roles. Details, tickets: theatre3dallas.com, broadwaydallas.org, attpac.org, dallastheatercenter.org.

Tiffany Solano as Maria in "The Sound of Music" at Dallas Theater Center.
Tiffany Solano as Maria in “The Sound of Music” at Dallas Theater Center.(Imani Thomas)

cowtown calliope

What if a public high school teacher went on stage and told the truth, including how her determination changed students’ lives? Originally written and performed by Bronx educator Nilaja Sun and filmed in 2020 for PBS, the one-woman show No Child… is now matriculating at Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage.

The cast of Stage West's production of "Witch."
The cast of Stage West’s production of “Witch.”(Evan Michael Woods)

Kymbali Craig, a spoken-word artist, painter, filmmaker and novelist, takes up where Sun left off, portraying the teachers, administrators, students, security guards, janitors and parents of Malcolm X High as they overcome obstacles at their under-resourced school .

Down the road, Stage West Theater opens a new show just as the previous production closes, thanks to a recently built second performance space. What to Send Up When It Goes Down is described as a play, pageant, ritual, home-going and celebration in response to the loss of Black lives. Through a series of vignettes in which the performance and reality increasingly collide, the line between the actors and the audience starts to blur.

What to Send Up creates a space for catharsis, reflection and healing,” the producers say, “offering a way for the community to move forward with greater compassion and care for one another.” The play arrives on the heels of witcha comedic take on a supposedly true 17th century English-Jacobean drama about a shunned woman who sells her soul to the Devil. Details, tickets: amphibeanstage.com, stagewest.org.

Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia of New York City Ballet in Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux."
Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia of New York City Ballet in Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.”(Erin Bayano)

Familiar and bare dances

This many ballet stars haven’t stepped foot or even toe in Dallas since the pandemic as presenter TITAS/Dance Unbound brings back its Command Performance gala for the first time in three years. Headlining are New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia, the Fort Worth-born son of ballet legend Paul Mejia, and choreographer Kyle Abraham, who will spin out a solo or two.

MOMIX's "Table Talk" is on the program of the 2022 TITAS Command Performance.
MOMIX’s “Table Talk” is on the program of the 2022 TITAS Command Performance.(Sharen Bradford)

The roster also includes members of American Ballet Theatre, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, MOMIX, Pilobolus and Parsons Dance. A new work commissioned by TITAS from Norbert De La Cruz III features a pairing of Bruce Wood Dance’s Cole Vernon and Xavier Mack of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Caroline Atwell and Eugene Barnes III in the Avant Chamber Ballet program "Legacy of...
Caroline Atwell and Eugene Barnes III in the Avant Chamber Ballet program “Legacy of Diaghilev.”(Richard Hill)

TITAS also has scheduled one of the rawer offerings in its “Unfiltered” series, Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s underpants-only take on Bosch’s classic triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Meanwhile, Avant Chamber Ballet closes its season with a tribute to Ballet Russes impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the bad boy of early 20th century dance, matching music from his era with contemporary choreography.

It includes the premiere of Fernanda Oliveira’s Gamesset to Debussy’s composition, and a new production of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Talethe choreography by artistic director Katie Puder, the music played live by MAKE Trio. Details, tickets: attpac.org, titas.org, avantchamberballet.org.

From left, Cherish Love Robinson, Jovane Caamaño and Marti Etheridge in "Stede Beanie: A...
From left, Cherish Love Robinson, Jovane Caamaño and Marti Etheridge in “Stede Bonnet: A [Expletive] Pirate Musical.” The comedy, with book by Nicole Neely and music and lyrics by Clint Gilbert, premieres at Theater Three during Dallas Arts Month.(Jeffrey Schmidt)
The eight-story artwork by Georgia artist Steve Penley faces Uptown on the Fountain Place...
Conductor Paul Phillips takes a bow before leading the SMU Meadows Symphony Orchestra, on a...
Pegasus Contemporary Ballet company member Mackenna Pieper.  Founded last year by former...

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