For Phillip Duggins and Masquerade Theatre, all the world’s a stage
by Donalevan Maines
You know you’re gay when you love show tunes. You know you’re really gay when Broadway musicals come alive in your living room and you sing along.
That’s what happens to Man in Chair, the gay music-theater buff in The Drowsy Chaperone, which The Masquerade Theatre opens November 19 at Zilkha Hall. Drowsy’s “musical within a comedy” is a concept as ingenious as Masquerade itself. Not crazy like Patti LuPone playing the tuba in the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd, but clever—as in 16 resident actors doing double-duty as set makers, costume designers, box-office personnel, and whatever else it takes to lift your spirits and make them fly.
“Mix-ups, mayhem, and a gay wedding!” cheers Man in Chair. Of course, he notes, gay has a different meaning now than when the musical he’s introducing lit up Broadway in 1928.
“It just meant fun, and that’s just what this show is: fun!” he says, dropping the needle on his favorite LP—yes, LP—and escaping into a world of dizzy showgirls, Latin lovers, and vaudeville-type gangsters. They’re “the kind that are not very intimidating,” explains Man in Chair. “Unless you find dancers intimidating. Which I do, but for reasons which would not be appropriate for this situation.”
Masquerade is the brainchild of Phillip Duggins, who was born in Friona and grew up thinking the Texas Panhandle “was the world,” he says. In his senior year of high school, he rode Aesop’s Fallibles all the way to state University Interscholastic League competition, a first for Friona.
At West Texas State University (now part of the Texas A&M system), Duggins earned a bachelor of arts in theater and a master’s in business communication. But after teaching school for almost 10 years, he moved here because he wanted to study with the late University of Houston professor Cecil Pickett and theater department head Dr. Sidney Berger.
Both Pickett and Berger mentored Duggins as assistant director/stage manager while Duggins studied for his Master of Fine Arts degree. Berger, in particular, convinced him to use his teacher retirement funds to open a theater in › a former antiques store in the Heights.
“It was one big room and one little bathroom,” says Duggins. He built walls (“I’m not a carpenter; I’m resourceful”), set up 100 folding chairs, and called it Masquerade.
After only three shows, a patron offered Masquerade a new space—what is now In-N-Out at 1537 North Shepherd—where audiences grew, especially for musicals.
When Frank Young of Theatre Under the Stars saw Ruthless at Masquerade,
he started nurturing Duggins and eventually invited him to make Masquerade the resident musical theater company at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
“I had to put on a helmet. When they showed me Zilkha Hall, it was a cement hole,” says Duggins.
When the 500-seat Zilkha Hall opened, Masquerade scored a hit with only one performance of Chess, with music by ABBA performers Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and lyrics by Tim Rice. Last month, in a nod to its beginnings downtown, Masquerade opened its sixth season at Zilkha with an expanded production of Chess.
Masquerade’s office is at 3558 East TC Jester Blvd., where its shows are designed, built, and rehearsed on a replica of the stage at Zilkha. “We break it all down, box it up, and re-assemble it when we get downtown. It’s kinda become a science,” says Duggins.
The set for The Drowsy Chaperone is mousy Man in Chair’s apartment, enhanced with shimmering fantasy backdrops in homage to a Jazz Age musical farce.
“I love that style,” says Duggins. “For people who love musical theater, there is every cliché and reference to every show and everything ever thought of.”
November 26 is “Fabulous Friday” for the LGBT community, with a cast party hosted by Ernie Manouse and Trevor Eade at Artista following the 7:30 p.m. performance.
What: The Drowsy Chaperone
When: November 19–27 (special LGBT cast party on November 26)
Performance venue: Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby
Tickets: $36.25–$66.25, available at 713/315-2525 (The Hobby Center) and thehobbycenter.org
More info: Masquerade Theatre box office at 713/861-7045 and masqueradetheatre.com.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.