Arts & EntertainmentFeatures

Some Like Art Hot! (continued)

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By D.L. Groover

Return to part one

Sleeping Beauty
October 18-20
Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre

What will Houston’s newest modern ballet company do with this classical ballet beauty, originally choreographed by 19th century master choreographer Marius Petipa. The gorgeous Tchaikovsky score will remain, we hope, as well as Princess Aurora’s brilliant “Rose Adagio,” but you never know what Walsh might have up his poet’s sleeve. Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre
713/652-3938
www.dwdt.org
 
Appalachian Spring
October 18-21
Houston Symphony

The dean of gay American composers, Aaron Copland, wrote this classic score for Martha Graham’s 1944 modern dance masterwork about newly wed 19 th century pioneers.   Optimistic, deeply reflective, with quiet grandeur and expansive spirit, the music is quintessentially American in sound, using a Shaker hymn as the foundation for a series of variations. His Symphony No. 3 completes the program.
Houston Symphony
713/224-7575
www.houstonsymphony.org

A Masked Ball
October 19-November 2
Houston Grand Opera

Giuseppe Verdi’s 1859 political thriller, based upon the assassination of Swedish king Gustav III, is more indebted to librettist Scribe than historical accuracy. The Roman censors, after the Naples bluenoses edited the plot and so incensed Verdi that he sued the theater, also took a very large red pencil to the story and demanded that Stockholm now be replaced by Boston, and the monarch be demoted to a colonial governor. We can’t have a conspiracy and royal assassination in Europe, can we? Verdi supplies the basic love triangle plot with dramatic music of startling clarity, and his opera zooms toward its inevitable finale. Listen to the way Verdi sonically paints the doom-laden prophecies of witch Ulrica and the flighty outbursts of court page Oscar.
Houston Grand Opera
713/228-6737
www.houstongrandopera.org

Sing for the Cure: A Proclamation of Hope
October 23
Bayou City Performing Arts

With the collaborative voices of the Bayou City Women’s Chorus and Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston, this unique, moving song cycle is a fundraiser for the Houston affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The libretto by Pamela Martin uses true stories of breast cancer survivors and their families and friends to chronicle the treatment, survival, loss, and courage of those who face this journey, and those sadly left behind. Various composers (Leo Arnaud, Jill Gallina) and traditional Shaker hymns augment the stories, elevating the personal into the universal.  
Sing for the Cure @ Jones Hall
713/521-SING
www.bayoucityperformingarts.org
Avenue Q
October 23-November 4
Broadway Across America

This little raunchy show with its potty-mouth puppets was the surprise Tony winner for best musical in 2004, kicking behemoth Wicked in its pompous green ass. It’s the little show that could. With jaunty tunes and X-rated lyrics, the show is a scathing parody of both Sesame Street and Rent .   It’s South Park with hand puppets—hilariously politically incorrect. On Avenue Q, NYC’s farthest-grunge neighborhood, you’ll find Republican closeted-gay Rod, lascivious Trekkie Monster who sings “The Internet’s For Porn,” Lucy the Slut, a Japanese therapist with no clients, TV has-been Gary Coleman, and the Bad Idea Bears, two cuddly teddy bears from hell who prod the characters to do all the nasty things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Refreshing and brash, this may be the musical for people who hate musicals.
Broadway Across America @ Hobby Center
713/622-7469
www.broadwayacrossamerica.com

Daughter of the Regiment
October 26-November 9
Houston Grand Opera

Gaetano Donizetti’s 1840 comic opera with its tomboy heroine has been a favorite of coloratura sopranos like Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, Joan Sutherland, and Beverly Sills. They’re supposed to be the army mascot, but always wind up looking like a Thanksgiving Day parade float.   Fantastic, svelte Laura Claycomb has never been confused for a sack of potatoes, and she’s absolutely right for this role, visually and aurally. We’re rooting for tenor Barry Banks to nail those treacherous seven high Cs that Donizetti throws at him in the famously demanding aria “Pour mon me.”  
Houston Grand Opera
713/228-6737
www.houstongrandopera.org

Fools
October 26-November 17
Theatre Southwest

Neil Simon’s comic fable—something akin to sit-com Chekhov—was a big fat flop when it appeared on Broadway in 1981 and ran for 40 performances. Though savaged by critics, this onionskin little comedy has plenty of warmed-over Borscht Belt charm in its incessant one-liners, easy-on-the-brain story, and characters whose main purpose is to be as dumb as a stump. The inhabitants of the remote Ukrainian village of Kulyenchikov have been cursed with stupidity, and the new schoolmaster has 24 hours to dispel the scourge or the village will be stupid forever.   
Theatre Southwest
713/661-9505
www.theatresouthwest.org

Keely and Du
November-December
dos chicas theatre commune

Leave it to playwright Jane Martin to be in your face when it comes to writing about hot-button social issues. In this play, the “anonymous” writer takes on abortion with a capital A. Rape victim Keely is kidnapped on her way to the abortion clinic by right-wing extremists. They plan to hold her until she gives birth. Pro-life nurse Du, Keely’s caregiver, is both motherly and terrifying, yet a symbiotic friendship ensues. Controversy follows Martin’s play like an avenging shadow.
dos chicas theatre commune (venue to be announced)
832/283-0858
www.doschicastheatrecommune.com

Bocca Tango
November 1
Society for the Performing Arts

?If you’re a dance junkie, you know ballet superstar Julio Bocca, a staple of American Ballet Theatre for years.   Smoky and smoldering, his Argentine roots have served him well as a dark, sexy prince in all the classic roles. He is also a smashing tango dancer, and this stop on his farewell tour partners him with Ballet Argentino for a “tango with a twist” evening. “Partial nudity,“ the press release subtly screams. That’s enough for us. It’s gonna be hot in Jones Hall.
Society for the Performing Arts @ Jones Hall
713/227-4772
www.spahouston.org

Marriage of Figaro
November 8-17
Opera in the Heights

The only word fit to describe Mozart’s sublime operatic comedy of manners from 1786 is masterpiece. It has everything: radiant melody, sparkling libretto, emotional depth, laugh-out-loud situations, truth, and a profound sense of life lived to the fullest. It is complete, incandescent, and infused with sunshine. To librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s loving adaptation of Beaumarchais’ scandalously sexy play, the 30-year-old   genius added dazzling musical textures that elevated everything into the empyrean. At its premiere, Figaro was too spicy for Vienna, and it wasn’t until it caused a sensation in Prague, seven months later, that the opera turned into an instant classic, as it remains to this day and evermore. Masterpiece-status aside, Figaro is easily assessable and a radiant introduction to the intoxicating joy of opera.
Opera in the Heights
713/861-5303
www.operaintheheights.org

The Refuge
November 10
Houston Grand Opera

This “large-scale community oratorio,” subtitled A Song of Houston , is a world premiere commissioned by Houston Grand Opera. The composer is the prolific, young   Christopher Theofanidis, and the libretto by Leah Lax tells the stories of our Bayou City’s diverse communities.   Hooray for Houston!  
Houston Grand Opera
713/228-6737
www.houstongrandopera.org
 
Mr. Pim Passes By
November 10-December 23
Main Street Theater

Until the late ‘20s, before fame and fortune from his Winnie-the-Pooh juvenile books diverted his talent, A.A. Milne was the most famous playwright in England, and his “parlor room” comedies were highly regarded as the best of English entertainment. This Edwardian delight from 1919 is like a lovely high tea of scones and clotted cream with strawberries. Even the scandal—is Olivia still married to her first husband?—is handled with charm and grace, never raising its voice to scare the children. This comedy definitely hails from a different time—and one sorely missed.  
Main Street Theater
713/524-6706
www.mainstreettheater.com

Gypsy
November 15-25
Masquerade Theatre

Can you say classic American musical? Purists may argue endlessly over what is the greatest musical ever, but this 1959 Jule Styne (music), Arthur Laurents (book), and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) show is in the pantheon, without question. It is the ultimate backstage showbiz story and ultimate parental conflict tale, as ambitious, ruthless mom Rose pushes her daughters June and Louise (soon to be known as stripper extraordinaire Gypsy Rose Lee) toward the footlights and out of her life. Ethel Merman, of course, indelibly created the conflicted Rose, but lost the Tony (as did the show to Mary Martin and The Sound of Music ).   Even with the awards snub, though, this great icon of musical theater will never fade and gets better with age. Can‘t say that about those annoying von Trapps.
Masquerade Theatre @ Hobby Center
713/861-7045
www.masqueradetheatre.com

Over the River and Through the Woods
November 9-December 15
Company OnStage

Joe DiPietro’s 1998 homespun comedy is all about the three F’s: family, faith, and food. For 29 years, Nick has been going to his grandparents for dinner. When he declares that he is moving far away to take a job, the four old-school Italian American geezers hatch a scheme to keep him home. Known for his audience-friendly revue I Love You! You’re Perfect! Now Change! , DiPietro has Neil Simon down pat. The ties that bind are smooth and painless.
Company OnStage
713/726-1219
www.companyonstage.org

Rent
November 16-18
Broadway Across America

Jonathan Larson’s exuberant rock paean to Life has become a pop culture phenomenon, tinged with ineffable sadness because of his horribly ironic death on the eve of the premiere. Posthumously, Larson has been heaped with Tonys, Drama Desks, Obies, and a Pulitzer. In a decade or so of really egregious musical theater, Rent deserves it all.   It spins its La Boheme tale in contemporary hues of AIDS, sexual nonconformity, drug addiction, multi-culturalism, and the horrors of selling out to those emotionless mega-conglomerates. Larson’s heartfelt empathy for his band of outsiders can be as sappy as a Hallmark card, but his passion packs a mighty wallop.
Broadway Across America @ Hobby Center
713/622-7469
www.broadwayacrossamerica.com

The Twelve Ways of Christmas
November 17-December 30
The Ensemble Theatre

It wouldn’t be Christmas without music, and who better than the Ensemble to raise the roof in praise and cheer? This world premiere musical depiction by Carlton Leake (combining jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel) is guaranteed to be festive, full of spirit, and a slap-happy good time.  
The Ensemble Theatre
713/520-0055
www.ensemblehouston.org

A Christmas Carol
November 20-December 29
Alley Theatre

Charles Dickens’ ghostly little book about “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” Ebenezer Scrooge was an instant success upon its 1843 publication and immediately entered the world’s consciousness. This okay adaptation is more blessed than cursed, but there are enough weird little director’s touches that might confound even the great Dickens—the dancing ghosts, for example, who frighten Scrooge even before Marley clangs and materializes through the bedroom door.   The message of goodness, though, comes through loud and clear—and that’s what really matters in Dickens.  
Alley Theatre
713/228-8421
www.alleytheatre.org

Christmas Belles
November 23-December 16
Stage Door Inc. Center for the Performing Arts and Education

Whenever a new company forms, somewhere a theater angel gets its wings (or something like that). At any rate, the launch of Stage Door is good news, particularly because managing director Gregory Brown was one of the guiding lights behind the late, lamented Little Room Downstairs. Local theater vet Marc Anthony Glover is Stage Door executive director. The inaugural production is a world premiere Southern-fried comedy featuring the three Eutrelle sisters. The 2008 season includes What the Butler Saw and The Laramie Project.
Stage Door Inc. @ Mid-Town Art Centre
877/548-3237
www.stagedoorinc.com

Miracle on 34 th Street
November 23-December 2
Country Playhouse

Is the kindly old gent who’s hired to play Macy’s Santa Claus the real thing or a demented derelict? Young Susan, who needs a healthy dose of Christmas cheer, believes he is Kris Kringle. Her work-obsessed mother thinks Susan’s unshakable faith is unhealthy, while Mr. Macy sees a bonanza for his business. Based upon the Oscar-winning screenplay by Valentine Davies, the play is a sweet divergence from sugarplums, Scrooge, and Handel. You, too, will believe.
Country Playhouse
713/467-4497
www.countryplayhouse.org

The Nutcracker
November 23-December 29
Houston Ballet

A perennial holiday ritual and the young person’s guide to the ballet, Ben Stevenson’s Victorian-era balletic Christmas card envelops the audience in the warm glow of the season.   The Tchaikovsky score glimmers anew with each rehearing (unless you’re dancing the 31 performances), the tree grows impressively, the snow gently falls, and we’re whisked away to a land of utter grace and beauty.
Houston Ballet
713/227-2787
www.houstonballet.org

Annie
November 23-December 16
Playhouse 1960

You may think this is based upon Harold Gray’s classic Depression-era comic strip, but until little orphan Annie struts down the staircase of Daddy Warbucks’ Manhattan mansion at the very last moment in her signature red dress and red curls, everything else is made up. But that’s okay, because this musical, a real throwback to the shows of the ‘50s, is toe-tappingly entertaining. It’s irresistible—the pastiche music by Charles Strouse, the clever lyrics by Martin Charnin, and the inventions of book writer Thomas Meehan. And there’s always evil Miss Hannigan to kick those wayward, tuneful orphans in the butt. We love her.  
Playhouse 1960
281/587-8243
www.playhouse1960.org

A Fertle Holiday
November 23 – January 12
Radio Music Theatre

Butter pie for everyone! Yes, the Fertles of Dumpster, Texas, celebrate the season in the only way they know how—insanely. Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell, and Rich Mills play all the loony inhabitants as the dizzy Fertles celebrate a holiday reunion with their tony relatives from San Diego.   The comic bedlam is fast and furious, with laughs as thick as Mildred’s trademarked butter pie. Holiday started the Fertle cult cycle two decades ago, and it‘s as fresh and weird as ever. RMT is one of Houston’s premier companies. If you’ve never seen one of the shows, what are you waiting for?
Radio Music Theatre
713/522-7722
www.radiomusictheatre.com

It’s a Wonderful Life
November 30-December 22
ACE Theatre

As a seasonal change of pace, Charles Dickens is being edged out by other holiday classics—in this case, a stage version of the popular Frank Capra schmaltz-fest that memorably starred James Stewart as woe-is-me George Bailey, who is shown by his guardian angel what life would be like if he had never been born. The 1946 film is a dark, bittersweet view of America after WW II, using average folks’ failed dreams and conventional existence to question their happiness.   Not exactly typical holiday fare, but it does has a sublime happy ending — thanks to Stewart’s powerful performance.  
ACE Theatre
281/587-1020
www.acetheatre.org
 
Jubilee of Dance
November 30
Houston Ballet

Now in its fourth year, the Jubilee is the hottest ticket in dance. The consummate artists of Houston Ballet will dazzle with their technique, flawless musicality, and unbridled theatricality in a program that showcases programs to come (including a tasty glimpse of artistic director Stanton Welch’s Cinderella ) and the gala revival of Welch’s full-company pièce de résistance, Ravel’s Bolero .
Houston Ballet
713/227-2787
www.houstonballet.org

Altar Boyz
December 7-January 13
Stages Repertory Theatre

Plant your tongue firmly in cheek as Mathew, Mark, Luke, Juan…and Abraham—the eponymous Christian boy band—“raise the praise” to give us a taste of hip-hop proselytizing in this smash off-Broadway musical still going strong three years after the premiere. Slacker attitude and delicious, goofy satire surround these hunky Biblical boyz in the band as they regale us with their group history and their own grunge brand of religious instruction. “’Yo, stay away from her, no matter how Mary Magdalicious she might be look.'” Don’t stay away from this one, though.
Stages Repertory Theatre
713/527-0123
www.stagestheatre.com

A Wonderful Life
December 11-23
Theatre Under the Stars

Here we go again. If you liked the movie as a stage play, how about a musical? This Texas premiere, presented by Theatre Under the Stars, has a score by Joe Raposo (Sesame Street ) with book and lyrics by Broadway pro Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof , Fiorello , She Loves Me ). It may be new to Texas, but the show has been around the block: originally written in 1986, refurbished in 1991, and performed in a one-time-only concert version in New York in 2005. Harnick has added new music to this production. Will this show have wings?    
Theatre Under the Stars
?713/558-8887
www.tuts.com

Ho-Ho-Ho-down to Holly-wood: Echoes of the Season   December 18
Bayou City Performing Arts

All our favorite singing groups in one place for a holiday concert—what a treat. We mean, of course, the robust voices of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston, the ethereal sounds of Bayou City Women’s Chorus, and the mixed tonal purity of the Bayou City Chorale, comprised of singers from both. What better way to celebrate than with a GLBT song-fest?
Bayou City Performing Arts @ Jones Hall
713/521-SING
www.bayoucityperformingarts.org

Messiah
December 21-23
Houston Symphony

George Frederic Handel’s 1742 immortal oratorio is one of the wonders of the world. In his typically speedy mode, Handel composed his masterwork in three weeks. He had problems with censors and sensitive prima donnas. The premiere in Dublin was only a modest success, and it took decades for this unique composition to work its magic. But once it took hold, the radiant music has remained eternally majestic and haunting.  
Houston Symphony
713/224-7575
www.houstonsymphony.org

Return to part one

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MORE ART AHEAD
In the October OutSmart, we will preview highlights of the fall season in the visual arts, including the 20th anniversary of The Menil Collection and the 50th anniversary of the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens.

D. L. Groover frequently writes about the arts for OutSmart and the Houston Press. Tim Brookover also contributed to this article.

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D.L. Groover

D.L. Groover writes on the arts for the Houston Press, OutSmart magazine, Arts & Culture, and Dance Source Houston. He has received two national awards for his theater criticism from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN), and has previously won three statewide Lone Star Press awards for the same. He is co-author of the irreverent appreciation Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin’s Press), now in its fourth printing.

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