Dallas — Director and all-around theater man B. J. Cleveland and famed drag artist and wigmeister Coy Covington open Uptown Players’ 2020 production of Broadway Our Way with the show’s 26-member cast in an all-new rendition of “9 to 5.” Grousing and dancing and celebrating all at once, the performers sing of being “on the stage from nine to five.”
That’s literally true, according to Uptown’s executive producer Craig Lynch, who thanked all the performers, musicians and crew on opening night for the “hard work” of putting together a top-notch show with over thirty numbers in just two weeks. Plus, these terrifically talented actors from around North Texas volunteer their time.
Uptown’s annual fundraiser and revue supports their mission of presenting professional theater for the LGBTQ+ community. In this show, women sing showtunes written for men, and vice versa. It’s a cool formula, sometimes funny and sometimes sad, but always revealing. The gender reversal of the singer for sure prompts us to hear the songs with a fresh ear.
Director/conductor Kevin Gunter and co-director Vonda K. Bowling, both on keyboards, lead an eight-member band, accompanying all the songs and a few providing sound effects between numbers as needed on Dennis Canright’s simple, effective risers and stairs set design.
The program lists 12 Diva Women and 14 Diva Men. The “divine” designation is not an exaggeration for this fine, fiery cast, in or out of drag. They bring their talents and all-out energies to songs from new shows and old, their very diversity and gender-bending deliveries reminding us how big Broadway has always been in our formulation of how we see ourselves in America.
The whole show is a treat, and all the numbers got applause and shouts of approval from the geared-up opening night audience. Standouts in the first act, featuring songs loosely set in the world of business, are David Lugo and Randy Pearlman, as the CEO and CFO carrying on an affair that’s the talk of the corporation. When they sing “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma!, there’s no camping it up or hamming it up. We see two middle-aged men, shyly making their way toward each other in a society where certain signals can only mean one thing. Love is love. Great song. Charming rendition.
Lindsay Hayward, Kylie Arnold and Gena Loe make the chemistry of attraction feel inevitable singing “That’s What’s Gonna Happen” from I Love You Because. Uptown regular and vibrant persona Linda Leonard joins them in a lyrical “I Love Betsy” from Honeymoon in Vegas. Radiant Soprano Sarah Powell is terrific singing “Go the Distance” from Hercules, a song I’d forgotten how much I love.
Covington is elegant and alluring in feathers and negligee delivering “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I, and the title song from Dream a Little Dream in his sexy mezzo voice. Cleveland follows him with a funny, raunchy delivery of “The Hot Dog Song” from Bullets Over Broadway. We go from romantic fantasy to our smiling host demanding, “I want a hotdog for my bun.” Stomping and applause all round.
The ensemble closes out the first act with choreographer Trevor Wright’s big dance moves and a medley of songs from Uptown’s upcoming productions of Fun Home and Head Over Heels. You can buy season tickets at intermission.
The second act is set in Las Vegas, signaled by projections of major casino signs surrounding the stage, and a rowdy crowd of tipsy women in bathing suits and beachwear hanging out at the pool and singing “Margaritaville” from Escape to Margaritaville. The female ensemble takes over the stage, flirting with each other and the laughing audience. The same gang hits the slot machines singing “Luck Be a Lady,” from Guys and Dolls. Sinatra would love it.
Walter Lee steams it up in bustier and dark stockings singing “Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge, with an adoring male ensemble creating their own heat. Peter DiCesare, a radiant tenor with a perfectly true musical voice, sings a moving love duet with Trey Tolleson that makes “In His Eyes” from Jekyll and Hyde resonate in new directions.
Soprano Laura Lites and mezzo Patty Breckenridge embody the joy of lovers seeing themselves in a singular moment of time in the lovely duet “One Second and a Million Miles” from The Bridges of Madison County.
Special guest stars Sonny and Cher appear in a hilarious cameo (you’ll just have to see it), and diva of divas Denise Lee takes the stage with a resounding rendition of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, and she’s singing at a queer wedding. Wonderful!
Diva-may-care Breckenridge follows with an evocative rendition of “Beautiful City” from Godspell and the full ensemble brings the evening to a close with a rich delivery of “Unruly Heart” from The Prom, as everybody stands up to clap hands and wave back to the cast.
No doubt serious cash was raised in Uptown’s happy annual fundraiser. Spirits were lifted, too. Two good reasons to cheer.