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New TUTS Artistic Director Vows Plenty of Panache

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Out NYC theater veteran Dan Knechtges returns to Houston.

By Don Maines 

The new artistic director at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) hopes audiences will feel as welcome at the Hobby Center as Houstonians’ hospitality made him feel last year when he guest-directed and choreographed a show for TUTS. “For the month and a half I was in Houston, everyone was so welcoming—in ways that larger cities often aren’t,” Dan Knechtges told OutSmart last month after TUTS announced that the out Tony Award nominee had won the post in a national search.

“What I found so interesting about Houston’s LGBT community is how large and diverse it is,” Knechtges added. “My time directing for TUTS last year was incredibly fulfilling, both creatively and personally—so much so that I was drawn to becoming a permanent part of the community in Houston.”

With Knechtges at the helm, he says, “Shows at TUTS are going to be very fun and smart, with panache.”

In the 48th season of TUTS, Knechtges directed and choreographed a relevant revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1962. Its Houston run during the last month of the 2016 presidential campaign allowed Knechtges to poke fun at slimy supporting character Bud Frump (rhymes with “Trump”) and the “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Knechtges hails from Ohio, the mother of all battleground states, but most recently lived in New York City until moving to Houston, just in time to prepare for the Theater District’s 24th annual Open House.

Among his New York theater credits are Xanadu, starring Cheyenne Jackson; Clinton the Musical, which spoofed politics in 1990s Washington DC; and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, in which the two gay dads of Logaine SchwartzandGrubenierre were helicopter parents.

Spelling Bee was phenomenal and life-changing,” recalls Knechtges. “One of those times where you feel you are absolutely in sync with the art that you are making and the place and time in which you are making it. I don’t know if that kind of experience will ever happen again, but I’m hoping.”

In 2007, Knechtges choreographed 110 in the Shade, which starred six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald as Lizzie Curry in a musical of N. Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker. “In pre-production,” says Knechtges, “I casually asked Audra if she would mind doing a cartwheel in her number ‘Raunchy,’ and her reply was ‘Which side? Right or left? I can do either!’ How fabulous is that?”

Knechtges also has fond memories of working with Liza Minnelli. On short notice, the two were once called upon to choreograph the TV Land Awards together. Knechtges recalls that after meeting with the producer, he scrambled to cast 50 dancers, pulling from friends and colleagues he’d worked with. A few days later, during a camera rehearsal, she told the producer she didn’t want any dancers. “I was flabbergasted,” he says. “Why didn’t that get communicated to me earlier and save a whole lot of stress and money?”

About 10 minutes later, the producer came over and told Knechtges that Minnelli wanted to speak with him. “I went up to the set and, behind a large set piece where Liza was going to make her entrance, she pulled me down and said in her trademark wobble voice, ‘I was a dancer, too, you know, so what if we don’t cut the dancers and we just have them come out from the key change?’” he recalls. “So, that’s what happened and that’s what we did. If ya can’t laugh about that, get out of show biz.”•

This article appears in the September 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine. 

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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