Theater

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Celebrating gay playwright Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams in 1965

Gay playwright Tennessee Williams would have been 100 years old this month. Just in time to honor that milestone comes the play “Confessions of a Nightingale.”  It’s directed by Patrick McColery and stars Sid Shier, both of whom are gay.

The play, based on Charlotte Chandler’s interviews with Williams for the book “Ultimate Seduction,” takes places in 1983 near the end of Williams’ life. According to Shier, it’s basically a conversation with the audience about Williams’ life, his relationships (Williams never hid the fact that he was gay) and his career, including his successes and failures.

“He was very complex,” says the actor, who shares the common sentiment that most of Williams’ great work was done early in his career.

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Actor’s Express needs $50,000 by end of March

Hedwig and the Angry Itch at Actor's Express

Actor’s Express, the gay-inclusive Atlanta-based theater company, is in danger of closing its doors unless the company can come up with significant cash by the end of this month.

Artistic Director Freddie Ashley, who is gay, sent out an email last week explaining the situation the company faces. “Our theatre is at a critical juncture — a true life or death moment. As you know from our many recent calls for support, we are fighting to make it through an extraordinarily difficult time for the arts in Atlanta. Decreased discretionary spending and a reduction in philanthropic support have dramatically impacted our revenues.

“Our staff and board have worked tirelessly to do more with less — cutting our spending while continuing to present works of the highest quality and importance. In spite of our efforts, though, we are faced with an impending deficit that quite literally threatens our existence,” the email explained.

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Singular sensation ‘A Chorus Line’ comes to Atlanta

'A Chorus Line' at Cobb Energy Centre

It’s an iconic image: 17 eager dancers on a bare stage auditioning to get a role in an upcoming musical. “A Chorus Line” — the longest running American Broadway musical ever and winner of nine Tony awards — is about to return to Atlanta as part of the Gas South Broadway Series, with openly gay actor Paul Flanagan in the cast.

Flanagan stars as Al in the musical. Al is 30 years old, from the Bronx, and a very experienced dancer who is in the audition with his wife, Christine.  “He is ready to settle down and is at the audition to settle down Christine,” he says.

The actor has been in “A Chorus Line” once before, back in a Hilton Head production when he was 20. He started with this tour back in the fall and will be with it until the late spring, when the tour goes international in Tokyo.

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Actor’s Express pleads for funding, facing ‘life or death moment’

Actor's ExpressActor's Express, one of several Atlanta theater organizations known for producing gay and gay-favorite plays and musicals, is in dire need of financial support, according to an e-mail sent out today by Artistic Director Freddie Ashley.

“Our theatre is at a critical juncture — a true life or death moment,” Ashley, who is gay, says in the e-mail. “As you know from our many recent calls for support, we are fighting to make it through an extraordinarily difficult time for the arts in Atlanta.”

Ashley says in order to save Actor's Express, the organization must raise $50,000 in four weeks and $150,000 in the next four months.

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‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ breaks mold for gay character

Judith Ivey directs 'Carapace' at Alliance Theatre

Playwright and former Atlantan Lauren Gunderson’s comedy “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” is about to have its world premiere locally, courtesy of Synchronicity Performance Group, with gay actor Clifton Guterman part of the cast.

Described as one part “I Love Lucy,” one part revenge tragedy and one part feminist ballad, “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” is the tale of Nan (Veronika Duerr), a woman living in the North Georgia mountains. She loves her husband Kyle but is in an abusive relationship with him.

With the help of her best friend Simon (Guterman), a gay man, and a stripper named Sweetheart, Nan decides to leave and get revenge. Revenge is served by tying Kyle up and re-enacting bad moments from his past, making him realize what a bad husband he has been — and by putting meat and honey beside him to draw attention from bears.

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Visually stunning take on ‘Peter Pan’ not just for kids

'Peter Pan' promises to wow audiences

In an era where Cirque du Soleil productions wow audiences around the globe, it takes more than ever to impress theater-goers. The producers of the new touring version of “Peter Pan” have a catch – the world’s first 360-degree CGI theater. The production, now in Atlanta, features at least two gay performers in its large cast.

Atlanta is one of only three cities scheduled for the U.S. tour and the first outside of California. This production follows the traditional J.M. Barrie plot with characters such as Wendy, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and of course Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t want to grow up. Ian Street plays Curly, one of the Lost Boys, while Josh Swales is Starkey, one of the pirates.

The big difference here is that instead of a traditional stage, “Peter Pan” takes place in a tent, in an “in the round” setting. The interior of the tent is lit up with more than 15,000 square feet of hi-resolution video. That is three times the size of IMAX screens. It’s a terrific show visually, making audience members feel as if they are flying with the characters to Neverland.

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New musical by gay writer Jeff Whitty brings cheerleading films to stage

Bring It On: The Musical at Alliance Theatre

A key player on the all-star team launching the world premiere “Bring It On: The Musical” in Atlanta is a familiar name to gay theatregoers – Jeff Whitty, who shot to fame when his puppet play “Avenue Q” became a sensation. Whitty, who is gay, is writing the new musical, which plays at the Alliance Theatre through Feb. 20.

The cheerleading musical features a rich array of talent. Besides Whitty, there is Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights).Blankenbuehler, who directed “In the Heights” and is directing and choreographing this production. The music and lyrics are by Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, also of “In the Heights.” Also in the collaborative team are Tony winner Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) and Amanda Green (“High Fidelity”).

Unlike the creative team for “Avenue Q,” which was mostly gay, this is a largely heterosexual crew, yet Whitty is positive that they will be able to make a show that pleases everyone.  He feels that the world of cheerleading – with all its drama, intrigue and politics – will resonate LGBT theater fans.

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Local gay playwright Topher Payne explores long-term commitment

'Beauty and the Beast' returns to Atlanta

Openly gay writer Topher Payne is used to penning new plays, but with his current “Tokens of Affection,” he adds a new hat — that of director. His world premiere comedy opens at Georgia Ensemble Theatre this week.

Payne calls it “The Parent Trap” for grown-ups. “Tokens of Affection” is the story of siblings Charlie and Claire (Matt Myers and Kelly Criss), whose parents split after 37 years of marriage. Not happy with the idea of having two single parents in their 60s, the siblings scheme to get them back together.

Payne says he had a couple of inspirations for “Tokens of Affection.” The main one was marrying his husband in 2008.

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Holiday theater offerings

Holiday theater offerings are plenty in Atlanta

Each year, the holiday season in Atlanta seems to grow longer and longer. The first week of November, for instance, saw the debut of “White Christmas,” the kind of production normally reserved for December. The long season, however, means there’s no shortage of holiday fare in local theaters, from the familiar to the edgy.

Of course, no holiday season would be complete without Horizon’s annual “The Santaland Diaries,” based on gay writer David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice.” This is the 12th year for the show, which stars Harold Leaver as the often grumpy, openly gay Crumpet, forced to serve as a department store elf one holiday season. Back is sidekick Enoch King, the usual doses of snideness and “plenty of fresh jokes and references,” promises Leaver.

“The Holiday Ice Spectacular” will feature laughs as well as skating. It stars a cast of 16, including some recognizable skating names. Among the cast is openly gay skater Michael Stack, who promises fun for all kinds of audiences, gay and straight.