Theater

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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.

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Cirque du Soleil goes ‘Ovo’ the top

OVO

“Ovo,” the new show by Cirque du Soleil that debuted in Atlanta last week, is set in the insect world, where bugs all of kind populate an onstage kingdom. A mysterious egg appears, piquing the interest of all the insects. Within the chaos, there is also something of a love story between a ladybug and a foreigner amidst themes of life and birth.

Cirque is also something of a love story for those who create the intricate circus of acrobatics, music, dance and theater. For many performers and producers, joining the troupe is the culmination of years of dreams and hard work.

Andrew Corbett at one time hoped to be a dancer with Cirque du Soleil, but working on the management side has been a great compromise.  Corbett, who is gay, serves as an artistic assistant with Cirque.

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‘White Christmas’ puts you in mood for holiday season

Erick Devine stars in 'White Christmas'

During his long stage career, openly gay actor Erick Devine has found himself in quite a few Christmas-themed holiday shows. As luck would have it, he does so again this year, appearing in “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” debuting in Atlanta next week courtesy of Theater of the Stars.

According to Devine, the stage version follows the film pretty closely, with some exceptions. It’s set in 1954 on Christmas Eve, where two World War II Army buddies have a successful song and dance routine. After the two follow a pair of singing sisters to a Vermont lodge – belonging to their former commanding general — they decide to stage a Broadway revue in the hopes their Army pals can come out and help save the lodge.  Devine stars as General Waverly, the gruff owner of the lodge.

He calls the gig a high point of his career.

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Pearl Cleage explores a Southern tradition in ‘Nacirema Society’

Nacirema Society at Alliance Theater

Atlanta native Pearl Cleage’s work has always been embraced and supported by the LGBT community. Now she hopes her new production — “The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years,” bowing next week at the Alliance — is met with the same level of enthusiasm.

Described by Cleage as a romantic comedy, “Nacirema” deals with the beloved tradition known as the cotillion, especially popular in the South. As a new group of African-American debutantes gets ready to meet society circa 1964 in Alabama, their strong-willed grandmothers try to take care of their romantic lives. Trouble comes, however, when one debutante decides she wants to forego the life and move to New York to be a writer, and the racial issues of the day stir up.

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True Colors explores life of bisexual blues legend

‘Gut Bucket Blues’ examines the life of unapologetic early blues icon Bessie Smith

The lives of two music legends come to Atlanta stages this week in two new productions, one directed by a gay man and the other starring a gay actor.

The warts and all life story of blues singer Bessie Smith is presented in True Color’s world premiere production of “Gut Bucket Blues.”

Smith was regarded as the most famous female blues singer of the ’20s and ’30s, but her life was anything but straightforward.   The musical is directed by former Atlantan David H. Bell, who served as the associate artistic director under Kenny Leon for a number of years at the Alliance Theatre.

The openly gay Bell says he has long been a fan of the singer, but his research gave him a new appreciation.  He had been working on a Bessie Smith show for a while when Leon called him about collaborating — and the musical became a reality. Bell left the Alliance roughly around the time Leon did. The two had formed a great partnership and always vowed to work together again.

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Diana DeGarmo does Dolly in ‘9 to 5’

American Idol alum Diana DeGarmo

“American Idol” veteran and local girl Diana DeGarmo grew up idolizing Dolly Parton, so it’s somewhat fitting that she’s now taking on the role the singer played in the film “9 to 5” in the touring version of the new musical.

With music and lyrics written by Parton, “9 to 5: The Musical” debuted on Broadway last year. DeGarmo saw that version, liked it and was naturally receptive to doing the tour. She’d seen the movie with Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin several times, even though it was released before she was even born.

According to DeGarmo, there are subtle differences in the musical but for the most part the plot is the same — a trio of secretaries bond and decide to get even with their boss. In doing so, they practically take over their company. Parton has written new songs for the musical, but not surprisingly the show opens with her popular, titular song.

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Tony Award winner Melba Moore loves her gay fans

Broadway star and Tony winner Melba Moore

She’s performed with some of the best musical artists in the business, recording hit songs and earning numerous Grammy nominations. She’s made history on Broadway.

And she’s fallen on serious hard times but still keeps doing what she loves the most — singing and performing.

Melba Moore brings her spirit to Atlanta’s Black Gay Pride, performing live on Sunday, Sept. 5, at Django’s as part of Wassup N ATL’s lineup of artists.

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Fall Preview: ‘Pageant’ and much more…

Upcoming theater shows

From marquee-level touring shows to Atlanta premieres, the fall promises to be a busy time in local theaters for gay and lesbian patrons.

Currently running is the musical comedy “Pageant: The Musical,” which opened in August and runs until October. The show, a satire of beauty pageants, stars openly gay Brian Clowdus as Miss Texas, one of a half dozen contestants trying to be named Miss Glamouresse.  The actor envisions the crowd-pleasing Miss Texas as a pageant regular, one who does not take kindly to losing.

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‘Shopping and F***ing’ is meaty, and decidedly adult

Shopping and F***ing

“Shopping and F***ing,” first produced in 1996, is gay English playwright Mark Ravenhill’s first full length play, one that is considered by many to be among the most controversial of the ‘90s. It’s set in the underbelly of London — a world sprinkled with rent boys and drug lords, shoplifting and desperate attempts to get money, as well as lots of the titular f***ing.