Dallas — For arts organizations to survive, there has to be no fear in trying out new formats, new spaces or new ways to use existing space. For instance, the museums create party atmospheres and late-night events with DJs and performances; the opera companies take on adventurous, contemporary work; and even the Dallas Symphony is trying new things with this season’s “Re-Mix” concerts at City Performance Hall. When you expand and collaborate, audiences have more options, and everyone grows from the experience.
Turtle Creek Chorale, which has used the four large performance spaces in the Dallas Arts District (Meyerson Symphony Center, Winspear Opera House, Wyly Theatre and City Performance Hall), is wising up, too. Last year, the TCC started collaborating with Uptown Players for a large-scale concert staging of a musical (Ragtime was 2013; and upcoming is Sweeney Todd). To complement that concept, the group has an added attraction to the current season, a new musical designed for men’s chorus, Alexander’s House, commissioned by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C.
Happening two nights at the Latino Cultural Center—a sizeable space but smaller than the aforementioned venues—the work uses five actors, a three-member band and a chamber chorus of less than 40 singers, and is similar to the concert format.
Alexander’s House, featuring music and lyrics by Michael Shaieb and a book by Shaieb and Brent Lord, is directed by Ann Nieman (who frequently works with Lyric Stage) with music direction by Sean Baugh and Trey Jacobs.
The action of the hour-long work happens on a simple set of furniture to represent the titular home, a beach house owned by Alexander (Martin Guerra) and his partner Carson (Hunter Lewis). Behind them on risers, the chorus often backs up the actors, but is sometimes featured with their own plot-moving songs. In the first number, the title character sings “The Tale of Alexander,” letting us know that he loved this vacation home and the memories in it.
We soon find out that he has died, and in a surprising move, left it to his 25-year-old straight son Sam (Kyle Montgomery), who was never a part of Alex or Carson’s lives, no thanks to Sam’s mother. The couple’s friends Willougby (Mikey Abrams) and Joey (Gerard Lucero) don’t understand either, but they all meet Sam as he arrives to survey the property, which he’ll likely sell.
Everyone expects a face-off, but Sam and Carson realize they have more in common than they expected (not least of which is Alex), and everyone learns to embrace differences and distance. It’s a heartwarming tale of gay-straight alliance, and in this case, the gay characters (notably Willougby) are the ones who need to be more accepting.
Shaieb’s music is deceptively simple, and many of his biggest melodies are smartly used for the chorus, beautifully conducted by Baugh; “Gifts Unsent” is my favorite. In a few instances, chorus members take on the voices of minor characters, including Alex’s father (Peter Mena) and a Priest (Larry Carter).
The five main actors are engaging, especially in the show's best storytelling song, "They Played a Tape of the Pope." But Guerra’s lovely tenor steals the show. His character stays on stage throughout, watching over the proceedings, and Guerra finishes it off in the affecting “A Final Gift.”
Nieman’s direction is pretty unfussy, although there are a few odd choices, such as the scrim that constantly lowers and rises between the actors and the chorus. The effect is supposed to signal that the chorus is not an integral part of certain scenes, but Scott Guenther’s lighting can provide the same function (and does) without the distraction.
But that’s a minor gripe. The Turtle Creek Chorale is to be applauded for trying new formats, and Alexander’s House is a fine way to diversify. If you leave with a tear in the corner of your eye—that’s a bonus.