Dallas — Director, host, and classic song-and-dance man B. J. Cleveland opens Uptown Players’ 2018 production of Broadway Our Way with the show’s 26-member company in a rousing rendition of “Comedy Tonight.” The energy and joy of the determined upbeat anthem from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum never flags all evening.
Ground rules for Uptown’s annual fundraiser and variety show play into their mission of presenting terrific theater for the LGBTQ+ community, their allies and anyone who loves a good show. Men sing show tunes written for women, and vice versa. Oh, and all these talented singers and dancers work for free and put on the show with just two weeks rehearsal, max. Amazingly, the formula works. Year after year, the show brings a welcome chutzpah and pizazz to Dallas. Certainly, the gender reversal of the singers helps us hear songs from classic and contemporary Broadway musicals in a fresh way.
This year’s BOW delivers 28 widely varied numbers served up with an easy fluidity, in just over two hours. Director Cleveland and Musical Director/Conductor Kevin Gunter and his tight, eight-member band utilize the Kalita Humphreys Theater’s revolving stage to the max, cuing up a solo right after a big song and dance number. The athletic, rowdy men’s chorus knocks out “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” from South Pacific, followed by Brandon Wilhelm’s sardonic solo, “Heart to Hart” from 9 to 5. Duets and quartets and every variation in between fill the stage, executing choreographer Trevor Wright’s upbeat moves.
The buoyant first half included a stylish mixed ensemble song from Hamilton and a grand medley from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Uptown’s next big production. Cleveland and Coy Covington, in a stunning Bob Mackie dress and five-inch heels, camp it up as the drunken stars of the Britcom Absolutely Fabulous, while singing “As We Stumble Along” from The Drowsy Chaperone. After intermission, we hear mostly love songs, celebrating lovers and babies and life itself. The actors somehow bring the diverse styles and emotional content of the songs together to make us feel the thrilling throb of the Broadway stage by evening’s end.
All the divas, female and male, are experienced, elegant performers and all earned plenty of laughs, tears and applause from an appreciative opening night audience. Pretty Beth Lipton and caucy Jacie Hood Wenzel were funny and sexy singing “Bad Idea” from Waitress, and a mixed ensemble showed their snazzy tap-dance riffs in “Forget About the Boy” from Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Standout solo numbers in an outstanding cast are Janelle Lutz’s full-throated and heartrending “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hanson; Jodi Wright’s confident “Being Alive” from Company, and Peter DiCesare’s poignant, gorgeous “It’s As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard, for which he got a standing O after a rapt moment of wow.
Walter Lee got roaring applause in gorgeous drag for “The Lady is a Tramp” (from Babes in Arms) with the ensemble, as well as his solo number, “This is Me,” from the recent Hollywood musical The Greatest Showman.
The full company closed the show with a resounding and moving “You Will Be Found,” the song from Dear Evan Hansen that sends a beautiful message of hope and a hand-up to the frightened, the sad and the deeply lonely of the world. A great ending to a rich night of music and wholehearted performances.