Dallas — Fifteen years ago Craig Lynch and Jeff Rane had a fundraising idea for their fledgling production company, Uptown Players. What would happen if they styled a special performance themed around men singing songs written for women on Broadway? They selected a clever name, Broadway Our Way, and identified six men and one woman (Denise Lee) who donated their time to the cause. It worked. Broadway Our Way (BOW) has become one of the most popular and eagerly anticipated annual productions in Dallas. The Kalita Humphreys Theater space is rarely more festive than on opening night of BOW.
That original cast of six plus one has become 14 “diva men” and 13 “diva women” for this year’s production. B.J. Cleveland directs this star assemblage through renditions of songs from Kinky Boots, Chicago, First Date, Bonnie and Clyde, Company, The Wild Party, Funny Girl, Pippin, Sweet Charity, Seesaw, Motown the Musical, A Chorus Line, Cabaret, The Life, Guys and Dolls, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Into the Woods, Newsies, The Little Mermaid, Hair, City of Angels, Beautiful, Merrily We Roll Along, Shrek the Musical and a medley from The Toxic Avenger, a musical that Uptown Players will give its area premiere in August. Kevin Gunter leads a seven-piece band through Adam Wright’s arrangements of the musical numbers. Cleveland co-hosts it with BOW "virgin" David Lugo. (Over the years, Cleveland has hosted BOW many times; past hosts include the now Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominted actress Allison Tolman, of TV's Fargo).
The “diva women” are Nikki Cloer, Kelly Holmes, Linda Leonard, Laura Lites, Janelle Lutz (recently the star of Uptown’s production of Over the Rainbow), Grace Neeley, Cara Serber, Sara Shelby-Martin, Amy Stevenson, Molly Welch, Wendy Welch, Sky Williams, and Jodi Wright. The “diva men” are Michael Albee, Coy Covington, Christopher Curtis, Peter DiCesare, Sergio Garcia, Alex Heika, David Lugo, Michael Scott McNay, Darius-Anthony Robinson, Ashton Shawver, Michael Sylvester, Rhett Warner, Paul J. Williams and B.J. Cleveland.
The show begins with a big welcome from fairy godmother, Coy Covington. Act I is designed as a celebration of marriage equality. DiCesare and Sylvester’s “You Love Who You Love” (Bonnie and Clyde) is beautiful and more appealing than the original cast recording. Sara Shelby-Martin follows with a performance of Sondheim’s “Marry Me a Little” from Company that is about as close to perfect as one can get.
Jeremy Dumont’s choreography for “Rich Man’s Frug” is true to the style of this seldom-seen Fosse dance goodie from Sweet Charity. The diva men slay “Mein Herr” (Cabaret), creating one of the most photographable numbers of the evening.
So familiar is Coy Covington on our stages that Dallas audiences can forget that his characterizations are pretty extraordinary. He makes it seem easy, but it is not, which is why many that try fall short. His interpretation of “Nobody Does It Like Me” (Seesaw) is one of the more enjoyable moments of the first act.
One of the sweetest moments in the first half is “At the Ballet” (A Chorus Line) with Christopher Curtis, David Lugo and Paul Williams. It is not a number one might immediately think of through a middle-aged male perspective but as the men are singing, all thoughts of women performing the number disappear.
Darius-Anthony Robinson is hi-LARious with “The Oldest Profession” (The Life).
Act II is themed “twisted Disney.” Two standout numbers are the duets. Laura Lites introduces Cara Serber to “A Whole New World” (Aladdin), and Wendy and Molly Welch drop their mics with “You’re Nothing Without Me” from City of Angels. Surprisingly, this was actually the first time the Welch mother and daughter team have shared the stage. They should do so more often.
The solo number that is still resonating with me is Ashton Shawver’s performance of Carole King’s “Natural Woman,” which is included in the musical Beautiful. Shawver is visually stunning and vocally commanding.
The company closes the evening with “This is Our Story” (Shrek the Musical). This season’s Broadway Our Way reaffirms the answer to Uptown Player’s question 15 years ago: If you assemble the right team and arrange a great show, people will come and support your efforts year after year after year. Clearly, Uptown Players has figured out how to do this very well.