Since its founding in 2001, Uptown Players has put a heavy emphasis on relationships—not only with its patrons, the majority of whom identify as LGBTQ+, but also with its performers, musicians, crew, artistic and administrative staff, and playwrights and composers.
These relationships are at the forefront of the Dallas company’s 2024 season. Several regional premieres share billing with one-of-a-kind shows developed especially for beloved Uptown Players personalities.
One such performer is Lee Walter, whose alter ego is the drag diva Jada Pinkett Fox. The statuesque Walter starred in their very own tinsel-tinged revue, Jada Bells–A Holiday Extravaganza, in December. Written and directed by B.J. Cleveland and with music direction by Gary Adler, the festive romp followed Fox and friends as they anxiously awaited the results of the Miss Merry Dragmas pageant. It put theatrical twists on songs such as Sia’s “Ho Ho Ho” and Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas,” plus a clever Christmas interpretation of Gypsy’s “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” and was equal parts raunchy and sentimental.
Several Uptown Players favorites shared the stage with Fox, and co-founder Craig Lynch reveals that some of these performers will be returning for a new spring cabaret series produced with local cabaret queen Denise Lee.
“We’re excited to announce that directly following Broadway Our Way in May, we’ll be trying out a cabaret weekend,” Lynch says. “We’ll be bringing back the Kinsey Sicks, who performed Oy Vey in a Manger with us in 2021, for the Saturday night show. Friday and Sunday will be themed around divas and feature Peter DiCesare, Lee Walter, Bethany Lorentzen, Trey Tolleson, and others singing Celine, Whitney, Aretha, Reba … Can you just imagine?!”
Lynch is hopeful this diva cabaret will become an Uptown Players staple. Uptown audiences traditionally connect to the community they find there and feel as though they’ve watched “their” performers grow and succeed onstage over the years.
But Uptown isn’t against shaking things up from time to time. From March 7-17, 2024, the company will present Terrence McNally’s Fire and Air in the Studio Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. This departure from the Kalita Humphreys Theater is the first of many exploratory performance spaces on deck, says Lynch, though the remaining shows in the season will be at the Kalita.
“We had a strong relationship with Terrence and his husband,” says Lynch. “They’ve come to see a show here and were open to direct correspondence about casting and text changes. This play has just undergone revisions from its 2018 premiere and is rumored to be going to Broadway sometime soon under a different title.”
Uptown Players Co-Founders and Executive Producers Craig Lynch and Jeff Rane. Photo courtesy of Uptown Players.
Lee Walter in the Uptown Players production of Jada Bells. Photo by Mike Morgan.
Micah Greene, Sammy Swim and Isaiah Harris in the Uptown Players production of Jada Bells. Photo by Mike Morgan.
Brett Warner, Sara Shelby-Martin, Presley Duyck, Lee Walter, Peter DiCesare, Jacob Hemsath, Seth Paden and David Lugo in the Uptown Players production of Jada Bells. Photo by Mike Morgan.
This gives Dallas audiences the chance to see the skeleton of a Broadway-bound play here first, under the direction of Cheryl Denson. Set in early 20th-century Russia, Fire and Air delves into the tempestuous relationship between two legendary figures in the world of ballet: impresario Sergei Diaghilev and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Diaghilev, the founder of the renowned Ballets Russes, and Nijinsky, a groundbreaking male dancer, form a complex bond that intertwines artistic brilliance, personal desire, and the conflicts that arise from the pursuit of artistic excellence.
Following the popular original revue Broadway Our Way May 2-5, 2024, and the newly announced cabaret series the weekend following, Dallas gets a jolt of energy with the regional premiere of The Prom, directed by Penny Maas, with music direction by Vonda K. Bowling and choreography by Evor Wright.
“A lot of people know it from Broadway and the movie,” says Lynch. “The Prom has such great messaging about love and acceptance, and we’ve already had calls asking about group rates to come see it.”
The Prom follows high-school student Emma, who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. However, when the school’s conservative PTA board cancels the prom to avoid controversy, a group of eccentric Broadway actors decides to rally behind Emma and travel to her small town to help her fight for inclusion. Lynch estimates at least 300 local performers auditioned for the production, with taped submissions from people all over the nation.
The season concludes with The Boys in The Band, a play by Mart Crowley that was mounted on Broadway in 2018 for its 50th anniversary. Marquee names such as Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, and Andrew Rannells headlined, and the full cast of openly gay actors reprised their roles for the 2020 film.
Set in New York City, The Boys in the Band takes us into the apartment of Michael, a witty and sharp-tongued host who throws a birthday party for his friend Harold. As the evening unfolds, a group of diverse gay friends gathers and the celebrations quickly become a rollercoaster of emotions, revealing hidden desires, unresolved conflicts, and the complexities of their individual journeys.
“In all three of these shows—Fire and Air, The Prom, and The Boys in the Band—there is opportunity for us to not only fulfill our mission, but there is messaging about love, acceptance, forgiveness, and tolerance,” says Lynch. “That’s what we aim for: not to alienate the mainstream audience, but to educate and open their eyes.”