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Some Like Art Hot

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With a lineup that bounces from steamy seduction to woozy romance to knock-about farce, the new arts calendar offers plenty of sizzle all season long—even on those few chilly days in December.

Arts preview by D.L. Groover EXPANDED WEB VERSION

See part 2

Hot enough for you? Well, things will get hotter, as the fall arts season heats up with a range of simmering productions that will invigorate, tweak, provoke, make you laugh and cry. Sweating is optional.

The Best Man
Through September 16
Main Street Theater

BestMan
The Best Man at Main Street Theater though September 16

Now that the presidential campaign has been pushed forward earlier than any of us agreed to, Main Street joins the rancorous fray with Gore Vidal’s 1960 political satire.   Sharp-tongued Gore, a celebrity author for decades, and openly gay before it was cool, knows his politics: two unsuccessful bids for Congress, grandson of former Oklahoma senator Thomas Gore, kin to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and a distant cousin of Al Gore (well, we won’t hold that against him). Dirty schemes, blackmail, smoke-filled rooms, good hair, and mental illness are some of the themes that swirl through the prescient drama.   Nice to know some things in politics never change.
Main Street Theater
713/524-6706
www.mainstreettheater.com

Doubt
Through September 23
Alley Theatre

Winner of a slew of prizes, among them the Pulitzer for drama and the Tony for best play, John Patrick Shanley’s immensely watchable “parable” pits disciplinarian Sister Aloysius against the new man at Catholic school, liberal Father Flynn. Has the good-time Father made inappropriate advances against a young black student? She says yes, he says no, and the play’s off and running with multiple, conflicting viewpoints, like a theological Roshomon .   It’s grand theater with grand thoughts in its head to keep you talking about it long after the curtain falls.   
Alley Theatre
713/228-8421
www.alleytheatre.org

Treasure Island
Through September 16
Playhouse 1960

No matter what they do to Robert Lewis Stevenson’s amazing adventure novel, it’s got to be better than the Alley’s screwy take last season. However, If Playhouse 1960 adds a Las Vegas female pirate, a pedophiliac Ben Gunn, or Jim Hawkins in drag, then all bets are off!
Playhouse 1960
281/587-8243
www.playhouse1960.com

Rough Night at the Remo Room
September 6-November 17
Radio Music Theatre

What better way to start the new season than a visit with our favorite Texans, the Fertles of Dumpster. The ultra-talented loons (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell, and Rich Mills) play all the quirky family members along with their equally nutty friends and neighbors, and their surreal antics and quick-change entrances (usually just a wig or a pair of glasses) keep you in stitches. It’s always delightful nonsense at Radio Music Theatre. If you’re unfamiliar with them, now’s the time to get acquainted. Be warned: Once bitten, you’ll be hooked.
Radio Music Theatre
713/522-7722
www.radiomusictheatre.com

The Secret Garden  
September 6 – 9
Bayou City Concert Musicals

Perhaps the first eco-friendly musical—the eponymous garden holds the secret to everyone’s wholeness—Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s Tony-winning adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 children’s novel receives the prodigiously green thumb treatment from Paul Hope’s Bayou City Concert Musicals (performances benefit Ronald McDonald House). As in the novel, the musical transforms the Edwardian murk into life-affirming color and light. There’s theatrical magic at work in the atmospheric music and the literate adaptation that weaves the psychological, the phantasmagoric, and the rustic twee of Yorkshire moors into a healing, sweet completeness.
Bayou City Concert Musicals @ Heinen Theatre
713/465-6484
www.bayoucityconcertmusicals.com

The Merry Widow
September 6-16
Houston Ballet

MerryWidow
The Merry Widow at Wortham Center, September 6-16.

Franz Lehar’s sumptuous operetta gets an equally sparkling dance treatment in choreographer Ronald Hynd’s adaptation of this Viennese bonbon. With ravishing new sets and costumes designed by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, wealthy widow Hanna is still wooed and won by dashing Count Danilo, who has been sent by his impoverished country to pursue her and bring back her fortune. Intrigue, finance, and romance is a potent storyline, and the dancing Widow never disappoints, even if they never sing.
Houston Ballet
713/227-2787
www.houstonballet.org

Souvenir
September 7-23
Stages Repertory Theatre

If you’re a die-hard opera queen, you know all about Florence Foster Jenkins. If not, you’re in for a weird treat in meeting Madame Jenkins, who could not sing but fancied herself a diva and gave charity concerts in New York City in the ’30s and ’40s that were sold out. She was a bad TV reality show before TV—and to this day nobody really knows if she knew what she was doing or that she realized that she was a laughing stock.   Stephen Temperley’s comedy digs into who exactly had the last laugh.
Stages Repertory Theatre
713/527-0123
www.stagestheatre.com

Fall for Dance
September 7-8
Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre

For his sixth season opener, Walsh and his company go al fresco—and free—in a series of highlights and new works at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park, including Walsh’s Le Spectre de la Rose and I Napoletani , Enrico Morelli’s Funabula , and Lindsey McGill’s video-dance Adorning Breath .   The music is as eclectic as the choreography: classical Weber and Vivaldi, Italian folk songs, and Radiohead.   Pack your picnic hamper and enjoy.  
Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre
713/652-DWDT (3938)
www.dwdt.org

Mad Women
September 7
Ars Lyrica Houston

There was something about the Baroque that drove women mad and compelled composers to set these distaff personal bedlams to sublime music. Here’s a fascinating selection of arias seldom heard nowadays that are as magisterially sublime as anything warbled by Carmen, Violetta, Tosca, or Brünnhilde. The crazy women on display will be Purcell’s Bess of Bedlam , Clerambault’s Medee , Handel’s Lucrezia , Corelli’s La Folia , sung by soprano Melissa Givens and mezzo Marie Lenormand. You go, girls.
Ars Lyrica Houston @ Hobby Center
713-315-2525
www.arslyricahouston.org
 
Dreamgyrlz
September 9
Fusion/Club 2020

The Theatre Under the Stars production of Dreamgirls isn’t the only one to hit the boards, kids. Harrison Guy, the man behind the Black Diamonds female-illusionist troupe, directs a drag version of the musical in conjunction with Fusion, the drop-in center offering HIV education and support center for African-American men, a program of the St. Hope Foundation. The cast includes well-known local performers Tommie Ross, Alexis Gabriel Sherrington, and Nuandre Bonet Dupree.
Fusion @ Club 2020
713/523-0093

Whistle Down The Wind
September 9-22
Theatre Under the Stars

Here’s your chance to see an Andrew Lloyd Webber show that never made it to Broadway, closing out of town in 1996. This musical has had many revisions, a concept recording with such diverse singers as Meat Loaf, Donnie Osmond, Tom Jones, and Boy George, and a somewhat successful run in London’s West End in 1998. Whistle Down the Wind never really caught on with the public, even with Webber’s track record and press machine, and lyrics by rocker Jim Steinman (“Bat Out of Hell”). Is the stranger hiding in a Louisiana barn really Christ, as the kids believe, or a deranged felon, as the townies believe?
Theatre Under the Stars
713/558-TUTS
www.tuts.com

Musical of Musicals
September 12-October 13
Theater LaB Houston

The original cast returns in this reprise of the popular, sassy spoof of Broadway musicals. The story is told through distinct compositional signatures, ranging from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim. The talented Jimmy Phillips directs and choreographs all the wicked nonsense.
Theater LaB Houston
713/868-7516
www.theaterlabhouston.com

Joe’s Fairie Tales
September 13-15
Theatre New West

Company artistic director Joe Watts, dean of Houston queer theater, presents this evening of his own short plays and monologues at Silver House, the former Chinese restaurant-cum-theater downtown. At the same time, Watts is looking for a permanent theater home after a deal to present shows in a Montrose space he dubbed the Loft fell apart.
Theatre New West @ Silver House Theatre
713/522-2204
[email protected]

Laughing Stock
September 14-29
Country Playhouse
The backstage world of summer stock and the “theatuhhr” get farcical skewing in Charles Morey’s ditzy comedy about a low-talented regional playhouse that stages an ambitious rep that includes Hamlet , Dracula , and Charlie’s Aunt .   Everything that could go wrong does.  
Country Playhouse
713/467-4497
www.countryplayhouse.org

Sing for Hope: An Evening of Art Songs & Arias
September 15
Bering Omega Community Services

Native Houstonian Camille Zamora has organized these intimate evenings of music as a fundraiser for Bering Omega since 1994. The first half of the program always features operatic selections, and the second half features Broadway tunes. Proceeds benefit Bering Omega services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Sing for Hope @ Hobby Center
713/341-3761
www.beringomega.org
 
Grown-Up Storytime
September 18
BooTown

This new theater company presents an evening of performances pieces by Houston artists. Though inspired by children’s stories, the pieces “are intended for adults. Themes that will be explored are philosophy, gender identity, racial inequality, and sexuality.” Now those sound like some bedtime stories.
BooTown @ Mind Puddles Art Gallery
832/541-2861
www.myspace.com/bootowntheatre

The Four Seasons
September 20-30
Houston Ballet

Time and sex get their due at the ballet with this mixed-rep program. There’s a world premiere by artistic director Stanton Welch about life’s passage, set to the exquisite Antonio Vivaldi masterpiece, The Four Seasons ; Ji?í Kylián’s duet-infused Petite Mort (French for “orgasm”)—need we explain?—set to Mozart; and modern ballet masterpiece William Forsythe’s technique-laden In the middle, somewhat elevated, with its Thom Willems’ percussive, overbearing score.
Houston Ballet
713/227-2787
www.houstonballet.org

Carmen
September 20-October 6
Opera in the Heights

Georges Bizet’s eternally fresh opera from 1875 might be awfully familiar through excerpts we’ve heard our entire lives, but seeing it live on stage is still an experience not to be forgotten. The familiar tale of the fiery, liberated Gypsy who would rather die than be hemmed in by jealous lovers remains shocking, scandalous, and amazingly lifelike. Bizet died during the premiere run, thinking his girl had shocked his native Parisians who weren’t accustomed to such brazen hussies on the stage of the Opera-Comique. Boy, was he wrong.   The opera shot off around the world as if from a cannon and still hits its mark square on.  
Opera in the Heights
713/861-5303
www.operaintheheights.org

The Four Corners
September 21
Mukuru Arts for AIDS

Mukuru, the dynamic arts series presented by AIDS Foundation Houston, opens a new season with an evening of world music. On the program: works by American George Gershwin, Shih-Hui Chen of Taiwan, Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzolla, and Johannes Brahms, the great German. Mukuru proceeds support AIDS community education programs.
Mukuru Arts for AIDS @ The Rothko Chapel
(713) 623-6796, ext. 278
www.mukuru.org

Infrared
September 21 – October 7
Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre

Our favorite puppet theater displays its deep talent and bizarre imagination with a puppet play set in contempo New York City by Mac Wellman, who also happens to have deep talent and a bizarre imagination. The narrator, “an ungainly self in search of itself,” is an amorphous, terrifying presence in search of his shadow that went mad and morphed into “the others I had terrified.” His poetic odyssey into a mirror world leads to Cathy X and her psychic dog Wow, and to various Holes and Shadows. I told you it was bizarre.   Does he merge with himself at the end? Is Cathy X salvation or damnation?
Puppets are weird.
Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre @ Ovations
713/526-7434
www.bobbindoctrin.org

Sordid Lives
September 21-October 20
Unhinged Productions

Before comic treasure Leslie Jordan hit his mark as Beverly Leslie, Karen Walker’s nemesis/best friend on Will & Grace, he famously starred in the 2000 screen version of Texan Del Shores family comedy. Unhinged returns the Lone Star hi-jinks to the stage in this season opener.
Unhinged Productions @ Silver House Theater
www.u-p.org

Blue
September 27-October 21
The Ensemble Theatre

Charles Randolph-Wright’s soft “remembrance” play sings with music, the scratchy 45 rpms of singer Blue Williams, who appears to the characters whenever they listen to his old records. Although this upper middle class black family has a “secret” to be hushed up, it’s ultimately revealed and proves not nearly as important as the timeless themes that have been a part of family drama since Aeschylus: sensitive Reuben comes of age, socialite mom disparages the girl he brings home, mom’s mom is her own force of nature. It’s a sweet work, strongly abetted by Nona Hendrix’s pastiche blues songs that give the play probably more weight than it would otherwise have.
The Ensemble Theatre
713/520-0055
www.ensemblehouston.org

The Busy World Is Hushed
September 22 – October 21
Main Street Theater

Keith Bunin’s smooth polemic about faith and family—its abandonment and rediscovery—centers its three-person drama around Episcopal priest Hannah, her estranged gay son, and the young gay man she hires to help co-write a book about a newly discovered fifth gospel. It’s heady stuff filled with disquisitions, serious and comic, on Biblical theory and practice in today’s society as well as how belief and parenting are much the same.   
Main Street Theater
713/524-6706
www.mainstreettheater.com

Mamma Mia!
September 25-30
Broadway Across America

The juggernaut that is the pop group ABBA’s jukebox musical again rolls through Houston, and you had better get out of the way. Numerous of the Swedish group’s biggest sellers are shoehorned onto the plot, which centers around daughter Sophie who asks three of her mother’s former lovers to her wedding to find out which one is her father.   The eager-to-please show has been phenomenally successful, estimated to have earned a cool two billion dollars since its 1999 premiere. Momma mia!  
Broadway Across America @ Hobby Center
713/622-7469
www.broadwayacrossamerica.com

Celebration of Diversity!
September 29
Houston Pride Band

The band opens its 30 th season with a program that honors various aspects of the local GLBT community and its many organizations. A portion of ticket sales will benefit one of those groups, AssistHers.
Houston Pride Band @ Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church
713/862-9491
www.houstonprideband.org

Exile and the Kingdom
September – October
dos chicas theatre commune

After world-renowned French-Algerian author Albert Camus published this collection of short stories in 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The tales certainly helped, but so did his pioneering novels The Fall, The Stranger , and The Plague , which are models of “absurdist” doctrine: happiness is fleeting, mortality is certain, yet we strive for happiness. Adapted for the stage by Bob Morgan, the various stories portray states of exile, internal and external, and that by finding freedom, the characters often find themselves imprisoned.
dos chicas theatre commune (venue to be announced)
832/283-085 8
www.doschicastheatrecommune.com

City of Angels
September 28-October 7
Masquerade Theatre

If any theater company can produce this charmer, it’s Masquerade. In ’40s Hollywood, screenwriter Stein adapts his detective novel as a movie. The screenplay comes alive in glorious black-and-white film noir, while his Technicolor real life becomes more drab. The two realities, two musical scores, two casts, and two endings mix and match in Cy Coleman, David Zippel, and Larry Gelbart’s multiple Tony Award-winning 1990 musical. Life imitates art in this extremely clever hard-boiled movie gangster parody.
Masquerade Theatre @ Hobby Center
713/861-7045
www.masqueradetheatre.com

Arsenic and Old Lace
October 5-November 4
Alley Theatre

Elderberry wine, anyone? Joseph Kesselring’s 1941 screwball comedy was the perfect antidote to the world’s perilous condition at its premiere. It still is. The lovable elderly Brewster sisters don’t bat an eye at murdering old homeless men. They’re doing them a favor, don’t you know? Nephew Mortimer is suitably appalled. Then there’s nephew Jonathon, who has escaped from an insane asylum, and crazy brother Teddy, who, thinking himself Teddy Roosevelt, charges up San Juan Hill and buries the victims in the basement, thinking they are casualties of the yellow fever epidemic at the Panama Canal. It’s great fun and one of the first truly black comedies.  
Alley Theatre
713/228-8421
www.alleytheatre.org

An Evening of Classic Lily
October 6
Society for the Performing Arts

The one and only Lily Tomlin. We love her (read our interview, page **). What else is there to say, except that your ticket purchase includes a tax-deductible donation to AIDS Foundation Houston’s Mukuru arts program. So go, already.
Society for the Performing Arts @ Jones Hall
713/227-4SPA
www.spahouston.org

Dreamgirls
October 9-21
Theater Under the Stars

Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s Tony Award-winning musical is one of Broadway’s most vivacious shows.   Loosely based on the rise of the Supremes, this 1981 sung-through operetta-cum-Motown is both backstage musical and social history, as changing pop styles mirror the black and white influences that made the music. The show is all about music, and it moves seamlessly—unlike the recent, lumbering movie version—with its sung backstage scenes played against what is happening out in front.   “Dreamgirls…will always be with you,” the talented gals sing. We hope the TUTS production does the same.
Theatre Under the Stars
713/558-8887
www.tuts.com

A Streetcar Named Desire
October 5-27
Playhouse 1960

Do you really need to know anything about this classic of American theater from Tennessee Williams? If you’ve never seen it live on stage, wear asbestos, for the drama blisters skin, not the least on the frail, pale arms of Blanche DuBois, who has always “depended upon the kindness of strangers.” When confronted by her sister’s primal-scream of a husband Stanley (the incandescent Marlon Brando, at the premiere) and his utter lack of pretense, Blanche is destroyed. Williams teaches through his searing poetry that if one is unprepared for reality, beauty and illusion can be a death sentence.  
Playhouse 1960
281/587-8243
www.playhouse1960.org

Regina Carter
DaCamera of Houston
October 12

The acclaimed jazz violinist returns to Houston with a program based on her recent CD, I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey. Carla Cook is guest vocalist in a program of works by Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, and W.C. Handy.
DaCamera of Houston
713/524-7601
www.dacamera.com

Rumors
October 12-November 3
ACE Theatre

This is Neil Simon’s French-style farce (slamming doors, mistaken premises, slapstick routines) about a dinner party gone horribly wrong—very funny in a grade-school way.   That the comedy doesn’t possess the biting wit nor the characterological soundness that Feydeau patented in his exceptional works is breezily upstaged by Simon’s hilarious one-liners, as four couples at a dinner party scramble to make sense of their missing host and the zany complications that ensue to keep the rumors from everyone.   
ACE Theatre
281/587-1020
www.acetheatre.org

The Pink Panther Strikes Again
October 12-27
UpStage Theatre

If you love the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, who solves his cases in spite of his incredible ineptitude, then this comedy cartoon will be heaven. Based on the film by Blake Edwards and Frank Waldman, this adaptation by William Gleason has all our favorite characters: Dreyfus and the doomsday device, Mata Hari-like Olga, and man-Friday Cato, hired by the inspector to test his reflexes by allowing Cato to attack him when least expected. Clouseau never sees him coming.
UpStage Theatre
713/838-7191
www.upstagetheatre.org

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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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