‘Tommy Tune’ actress embraces the gays
by Donalevan Maines
ONLY AVAILABLE ON THE WEB
“There’s no better people on earth than theater people,” says Shannen Soffar. The LGBT ally from Sugar Land is looking forward to celebrating with her favorite people—including her gays—at the 10th annual Tommy Tune Awards on Tuesday, April 17, at the Hobby Center.
This will be Soffar’s third year to walk the red carpet at the Tony Awards-style ceremony honoring excellence in Houston-area high school musicals.
Among her credits outside of theater, the Kempner High School senior was historian of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance during its brief tenure last year. The group might have continued, but it seemed—well, redundant. Weekly after-school meetings of the GSA segued into show rehearsals.
“It was the same sort of crowd,” explains Soffar. “It was still nice to have. It was a safe space. We just talked about the way people were treated. Nobody ever specifically stated they were gay or bi or questioning. It’s rough for high school students to come out. It will be a lot easier for them in college.
“I was a freshman when I was first exposed to people who were open about being gay,” she adds. “They were really good friends, and I was perfectly okay with it. I’m disgusted that anyone would discriminate against a boy who likes boys or a girl who likes girls. It’s all love.”
Soffar was 11 years old and in sixth grade when she came face-to-face with religious prejudice. Explaining that her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian, Soffar says, “A boy looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m so upset that I won’t see you in heaven. And your dad.’ I said, ‘Are you serious right now?’”
Now to the subject of white slavery. Last fall, Soffar was a scene-stealer as the sinister Mrs. Meers in Kempner’s Tommy Tune entry, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Her character was a failed actress who, running a women’s hotel in 1922 New York City, masterminded a kidnapping operation that sold pretty young white gals to a slave ring in the Orient. The famous showstopper Beatrice Lillie played Mrs. Meers in the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews.
“Theater has been my life since I was really young. I adore it,” says Soffar, who also served as dance captain for the rousing tap numbers in Kempner’s version of the show. The past two years, Kempner was nominated for best choreography at the Tommy Tune Awards, for Guys and Dolls and The Apple Tree—shows that Soffar appeared in.
Forty-five schools vie for honors in the annual competition that’s sponsored by Theatre Under the Stars. From September to March, panels of three Houston-area theater professionals critique a performance of their musicals, leading to nominations in about 15 categories. Winners are announced at the awards ceremony that is highlighted by numbers from each nominee for best musical and all of the finalists for best actor and best actress.
In addition, about eight scholarships are announced on the big night and presented onstage.
Tickets go on sale to the general public on April 3. Details: www.tuts.com.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.