OutSmart’s 2009 Fall Arts Preview
By D.L. Groover • Collage by Caleb Smith
House of Yes
Through September 12
There’s a perfectly good reason why fiancées don’t like to meet potential in-laws—and you’ll learn even more reasons in Wendy MacLeod’s deep dark comedy about a deep dark all-American family with their black secrets. Madness and sexual perversity go hand-in-hand in this Freudian Gothic when innocent Lesly meets the Pascals, who have an unhealthy obsession, to say the least, with the Kennedys. Watch out for anyone wearing a pink pillbox hat. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury Lane. 713/467-4497.
Through October 25
When somebody says wooden shoes, you think Holland, don’t you? The land of dikes has nothing on Omar Angel Perez, whose wooden creations would give splinters to Manolo Blahnik. Wicked and stylized, his sky-high pumps deconstruct the fetish and the pain our poor sisters endure with their strap-ons, sling backs, and wedges. Perez accessorizes his fantasy footwear with feathers, Swarovski crystals, snakeskin, and band saw blades curled seductively up one’s calf. Pain and pleasure will have you swooning and begging for Dr. Scholl’s. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main. 713/529-4848.
The Lighter Side of the Recession
September 3–November 21
A two-parter from the loonies at Radio Music Theatre. The first act is their own brand of patented sketch comedy that deals with the current economic climate. And the second act is a little gem starring the incomparable Fertles of Dumpster, Texas. All the characters—and there are many—are played by the trio of comic geniuses that comprise RMT: Steve Farrell, his wife Vicki Farrell, and Rich Mills. If you’ve suffered lost revenue or future earnings, you’ll leave RMT richer and laughing like a fool. Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt. 713/522-7722.
The Wayside Motor Inn
American writer A.J. Gurney, perhaps in a nod of homage to English playwright Alan Ayckbourne, who likes to mix up time and space (usually at the same time), took up the concept in 1977 and juggles just as deftly. Five pairs of travelers check into a motel: lovers out for a tryst, mom and dad visiting their married daughter, a lonely salesman, overbearing father and son on the way to a college interview, and a doctor wanting a divorce. The set stays the same as the people in the room change—how’s that as a comment on American life? Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest. 713/661-9505.
The House of the Spirits
September 5–October 11
Caridad Svich’s stage adaptation of Isabel Allende’s sprawling, multi-generational novel of love, power, and political horrors in an unnamed South American country opens in its English-language premiere—her Spanish version of House recently premiered in New York City. It promises to be a theatrical event. Highly regarded as translator, author, and playwright, Svich has recast Allende’s highly powerful work and doesn’t use any of the original text. “This is another beast entirely,” she said before the New York premiere, as she explained her personal method of adaptation. “It’s very much my response.” Prepare to be moved. Main Street Theatre, 2540 Times Blvd. 713/524-6706.
Although no high school on earth remotely resembles Rydell High, the loveable losers who buck the establishment at every turn—and just want a quick feel at the drive-in—speak to the anarchistic teen in all of us. For all its bad-boy attitude, the show’s a hymn to conformity. Creators Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey made an instant classic and then never did anything of note again. But their one-hit wonder went on to be the longest-running show on Broadway at the time, spawned two films, innumerable touring editions, and countless regional revivals. I guess there are worse things they could have done. Theatre Under the Stars. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. 713/558-TUTS(8887).
On the Town
Musical queens are positively giddy at the thought of Paul Hope’s annual Bayou City Concert Musicals production this year: Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Leonard Bernstein’s classic show from 1944. This is one of the greats (and the only show I know adapted from a ballet, Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free, with music by Bernstein that premiered at [American] Ballet Theatre earlier that year). Three sailors on leave have 24 hours to experience NYC—you know, “the Bronx is up, the Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground.” They, of course, after meeting three eager gals, experience much more than a subway ride. Energetic, youthful, and ever fresh. Heinen Theatre at Houston Community College, 3517 Austin. 713/465-6484.
Based on Massenet’s 1884 opera, this adult ballet by English choreographer Kenneth MacMillan doesn’t use a note of music from that work. Instead it draws upon Massenet’s rich Victorian-era catalog that includes oratories, operas, and orchestral suites, all with swirling, sensuous melodies for which the Frenchman was duly famous. The music works brilliantly, describing not-so-innocent Manon as she free-falls through Parisian society, until degraded and penniless, she dies an outcast in the wilds of Louisiana. Like Sir Kenneth’s other full-lengths, it’s a ballerina’s dream role, requiring as much acting ability as languid toe work. Houston Ballet. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713/227-2787.
The Trilogy: Wolfgang
Most of Mozart’s sublime music already dances, but choreographer Dominic Walsh mixes it up with his signature movement, theatrical flair, and great eye for intriguing stage pictures as his company dances al fresco and free. Sarasota Ballet, the company on whom Walsh created the first part of the trilogy, “Wolfgang for Webb,” performs part I, the Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre troupe performs the second part, “Amadeus for Anita.” Both companies join forces for the finale, “Mozart.” Designer Libbie Masterson created the luminescent icebergs, and company heroic dancer Domenico Luciano designed the period-infused costumes. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive. 713/284-8351.
September 19–October 18
This is the fifth work in August Wilson’s monumental 10-drama series that chronicles the American black experience during the 20th century—one play for each decade. Guitars represents the ’40s, and it’s Wilson at his most Chekovian, full of autumnal regrets for what might have been and wistful hopes for the future. It’s also about music and how it plays with and through people, the main character being a flawed musician who is very much dead at the beginning of the drama. This rich, satisfying work is much more than the solving of a mystery, though, for Wilson delves into his patented brand of magic realism, Belasco-type slice of life, and flights of poetic wordplay that weave these seven people into a complex emotional tapestry. But be careful, once you’ve been touched by Wilson’s brand of theatricality, all other plays seem strangely lacking. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main St. 713/524-6706.
September 23–October 18
Eric Coble has got to be the only playwright born in Scotland who grew up on a Navajo reservation. That may explain his many works that deal with wacky characters out of their natural element. Remember The Dead Guy, his extreme take on reality TV, where the audience votes on how the contestant should die? Well, this comedy from 2008 parodies the not-so-heavenly real-life controversy when North Carolina’s Charlotte Repertory Theater put on Tony Kushner’s gay fantasia Angels in America. All hell broke loose. The city was in an uproar, the actors faced police arrest, and the company fielded real threats and financial ruin. Coble takes the usual suspects and runs wild—and wicked. And, for shame, Charlotte’s known as the Queen City. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. 713/527-0123.
Editor’s note: for more on Southern Rapture, see page 57.
Il Tabarro and Pagliacci
September 24, 25, 26; October 1, 2, 3
Italian ace opera composer Giacomo Puccini (Madama Butterfly, Tosca) didn’t invent verismo, but, boy, did he refine it. Kings, gods, and other fancy types in those daffy Bellini waxworks and those highflying Rosinni warblers were banished, and in their place arose “real” people, somewhat like TV soaps of their day. Sex, scandal, violence, and more sex were the Jerry Springer ingredients for this successful genre, and the Italian public lapped it up like gelato. We still do. Of course, it helps if the music’s good, which is a no-brainer when it comes to Puccini and his slice-of-life-on-a-Parisian-barge little shocker, Il Tabarro. Leoncavallo’s Pag is a “heavy breather,” a late-19th century form of stage realism akin to a Tarantino movie today. It’s a backstager about adultery among a troupe of traveling performers. One of opera’s most famous tenor arias, “Vesti la giubba” (“Put on the costume”) graces this work, as Canio transforms into his clown character while his heart breaks over his wife’s infidelity. Short and violent, Pag packs a wallop. Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd. 713/861-5303.
September 24–October 4
Eight women in black sleeveless leotards undulate, twitch, and glide through Czech master choreographer Jiri Kylian’s Falling Angels (1989). Set to the heartbeat of Steve Reich’s hypnotic “Drumming, Part I,” the abstract piece with its semaphore movement connotes mystery, romance, and a cryptic feminine beauty. Sly Kylian once said that the piece was about “our profession,” whatever that means. Pulsing rhythm of another sort is afoot with Twyla Tharp’s sneakers-and-toe shoes propulsive whirlwind In the Upper Room (1986), set to an equally energetic Philip Glass score. In this piece of adrenaline, Tharp doesn’t use nouns, only verbs—rush, fly, spin, jump! Sharing the program is artistic director Stanton Welch’s world premiere Elements, using Paul Hindemith’s astounding “Four Temperaments” and four of HB’s dazzling male dancers to represent earth, wind, air, and fire. As Chorus Line so wisely puts it, “Everything is beautiful at the ballet.” It’s also hot, cool, and shirtless. Houston Ballet. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713/227-2787.
Der Rosenkavalier—Film and Music
September 25, 26, 27
When German filmmaker Robert Wiene (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) adapted Richard Strauss’s operatic masterpiece Der Roserkavalier in 1926, the movies weren’t talking, let alone singing. But that little impediment never stopped the movies. There was always an orchestra in the big movie palaces, if not a grand organ, or at least a piano and/or violin to play along, even when musicals were made into silent movies. Wiene, the preeminent filmmaker working in Vienna, convinced the maestro and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal to collaborate, and both eagerly agreed. Strauss liked the money. Hofmannsthal added characters (the Marchallin’s husband ), and Strauss slashed his radiant score to a more reasonable length, but added a march not in the opera. Strauss even conducted the Dresden film premiere, although he made a mess of it—apparently the movie ended way before the orchestra did. Once thought lost, the film has been restored by the Filmarchiv Austria and Channel ARTE. At the symphony, the role of Strauss will be played by maestro Hans Graf, but I guarantee the film and music will end at the same time. Houston Symphony. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. 713/224-7575.
15th Annual Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance
September 25, 26, 27
This mesmerizing festival that throws the spotlight squarely on our Lone Star State’s sterling array of mighty fine contemporary dance takes the light beautifully. Among the numerous companies and choreographers strutting their stuff are gravity-defying Amy Ell, Freneticore and its dance-on-film Tetjusin, CORE Performance Company with Polly Motley’s Charmed Romantics, the Metropolitan Dance Company in Caleb Mitchell’s Stirring Simple Gifts in Shades of Blue, Urban Souls Dance Company, HIStory Dance Company, Hope Stone, the American Repertory Ensemble, and REDDance. It’s more than a toe-tapping weekend—it’s soaring. Free admission. Miller Outdoor Theatre. 100 Concert Drive in Hermann Park. 713/224-3386.
September 25–October 4
One of the great idiosyncratic musicals, Lionel Bart’s 1960 adaptation of the Charles Dickens immortal tale of Master Twist and his life in the Victorian London slums deserves that exclamation point. The English music hall approach (“Consider Yourself,” “Oom Pah Pah,” “Food, Glorious Food”) coupled with the faithful adaptation literally re-invented the British musical. It was a must-see in London for three years before it opened on Broadway in 1963, where it again became the show everyone had to see. Sadly, the fame and fortune didn’t last for gay Bart, who in his prime had befriended Noël Coward, Judy Garland, and Princess Margaret. After fame enveloped him—Bart was infamous for often being in a drug-induced haze—he inexplicably sold his rights to the biggest show of the ’60s and spent his remaining 30 years desperate for a return to the glory days. Sadly, he never made it. But his show remains, triumphant. Masquerade Theatre. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. 713/861-7045.
Meet Me in St. Louis
September 29–October 11
Theatre Under the Stars has been threatening to bring this adaptation of the classic, gay-friendly 1944 MGM Technicolor cakewalk to the stage for years, but finally the wait is over. Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, even Louise Bremer come alive on stage, or at least their reasonable facsimiles. Previous film-to-stage productions have been pretty lame, so our expectations are fairly low, but how can you go wrong with those infectious Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane songs, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Boy Next Door,” and the Oscar-nominated “Trolley Song.” For the love of Judy, please, let this be good. Theatre Under the Stars. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. 713/558-TUTS(8887).
Little Shop of Horrors
September 30–October 31
Cheery and cheesy, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s funky little musical about nebbish Seymour who sells his soul to a man-eating alien plant to get fame, fortune, and the girl of his dreams positively blossomed off-Broadway after its 1982 premiere. Lovingly knocked off from Roger Corman’s bargain-basement 1960 B-movie, this low-rent show with high-rent irony soars, thanks to Ashman’s tongue-in-cheek book and lyrics and Menken’s soft rock-infused score. The success of Little Shop propelled the duo into the waiting arms of Disney, for whom they penned Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, before Ashman’s untimely death in 1991. Texas Repertory Theatre Company, 14243 Steubner Airline Road. 281/583-7573.
A Disaster Beginning
The Great Storm roared onto Galveston Island during the night of September 8, 1900, and when the sun rose on a calm morning, the largest city in Texas and America’s busiest southern port had been flattened. The hurricane was so powerful that the wind speed on Galveston can only be estimated, for the anemometer blew away after topping out at 100 miles per hour. There were so many dead that to bury them the city dumped the bodies into the Gulf, only to watch them float back to the island. Soon, funeral pyres dotted the beach and the scent of burning bodies floated inland to Houston. It was the greatest natural disaster in U. S. history. Writer Ain Gordon (Will & Grace) focuses on one woman survivor whose tale of horror speaks for all. Tony Award-nominated Veanne Cox (Company, 1996) portrays the plucky woman. A co-production with DiverseWorks and Pick Up Performance Co(S.), DiverseWorks’s co-executive director, Sixto Wagan, explains, “The play is not just about the loss and devastation one feels after a hurricane, but also about the great change that was happening at the turn of the century—change that seems awfully similar to this moment in U. S. history.” Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston Street. 713/529-1819.
Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin—romantics, my ass! These guys were horn dogs. Crazed Schumann died of syphilis while his wife bedded Brahms, frail Mendelssohn carried an unhealthy torch for his sister Fanny, and Chopin screwed his way through the musical salons of Europe. When these composers’ hormones weren’t sublimated into their rapturous music, romance was the farthest thing from their minds. However, we’ll dim the lights, set out the incense, array the candles, and bask in the ethereal music making of the Julliard String Quartet as they waft the sublime meodies into our brains and make us giddy. DaCamera of Houston. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713/524-5050.
October 7–November 1
Is there another American play that can reduce a hardened, skeptical audience to uncontrollable weeping? That breath of genius wafts through Thornton Wilder’s 1938 masterpiece, as the mundane routine of everyday life—even its tired dreams—morphs into the universal. The quiet days in Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire, circa 1901 through 1913, carry an import and emotional wallop that Shakespeare would envy. Wilder tapped into a reservoir that remains potent and quivering with insight. Poor Wilder, however, never quivered quite so much, for he defined a generation that remained firmly in the closet, although while writing Our Town he had a torrid affair with Samuel Steward, who would later became infamous as the S/M aficionado Phil Andros. What a play that would have been. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. 713/220-5700.
Vanishing Worlds: Art and Ritual in Amazonia
October 9–January 10
If you ever wondered what an Amazonian male fertility rite entails (and that’s the operative word), then paddle your dugout to the Museum of Natural History. If you like feathers, you’ll be in heaven. Even with deforestation and the constant encroachment of non-indigenous people, there are at least 200 extant Indian tribes along the shores of the mighty Amazon, some whose way of life hasn’t changed much since the Paleolithic age. Come celebrate rites of passage and prehistoric ceremony, intricate costumes, even furniture. Diversity reigns, and life in the rainforest bursts forth with exuberant color, exciting graphic design, and weird tribal practices—much like the Montrose on a Saturday night. Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, One Hermann Circle Drive. 713/639-4629.
Doubt: A Parable
So, who’s telling the truth at St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx? Free-wheeling Father Flynn, basketball coach deluxe and beloved by the boy students? Or pinched head mistress Sister Aloysius, who suspects the good father of being more than a role model to the impressionable boys? There’s a whiff or two of molestation on her mind. He does sport those long fingernails, you know. But she has no proof. The boy’s mother would rather have her young son continue at school than be busted and sent back to the ghetto. But didn’t Flynn leave his last job under mysterious circumstances? John Patrick Shanley’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner, among a slew of other awards, keeps you guessing. But then again, he has those long, clean fingernails. Playhouse 1960, 6814 Gant. 281/587-8243.
If anyone in theater history is responsible for the blast of popularity that dance engendered in the pre-WWI era—and for the most part continues to ride high—it was Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev. He dazzled Paris, the place any self-respecting artist had to dazzle. To rapturous acclaim, he exhibited Russian portraits in 1905 and staged Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov in1908, but his crowning glory was his eye-popping presentation of the Ballets Russes with legendary Nijinsky and Pavlova in 1909. Dance was never the same again. Dominic Walsh Dance Theater celebrates the 100th anniversary of Diaghilev’s producing genius with its own distinctive and imaginative look at four epoch-changing works: The Dying Swan, The Firebird, Afternoon of a Faun, and Le Spectre de la Rose. Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. 713/652-3938 or 713/315-2525.
Ecstacy in dance takes many forms: sometimes it happens with a fleeting image (the soaring couples at the finale of Balanchine’s Four Temperaments), dramatic story (the “white acts” of any classical ballet by Petipa), radiant score (Poulenc’s Gloria), or you can spin around until you get sick (Turkey’s whirling dervishes). Collaborating with indie rock band LOW and their distinctive minimalist sound, Minneapolis-based lesbian choreographer Morgan Thorson goes to heaven, or tries to approach the empyrean through movement, lighting, sound, and costume. We call it theater, but if she can find paradise, we’ll be grateful. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, Naylor at North Main. 713/223-8346.
Matthew Day Jackson:
The Immeasurable Distance
October 17–January 17
Named in 2005 by New York Magazine as one of “10 artists most likely to succeed”—and you know how hip and knowing that mag is, so it must be true—Matthew Day Lewis gets an impressive solo show right here at the Contemporary Arts Museum. NY Mag called him a sculptor, but he’s everything and then some—photographer, painter, printer, maker of exotic mobiles. He’s had his trial by fire at the extremely prestigious Saatchi Gallery in London, Texas’ Chinati Foundation in Marfa, and been part of the Whitney Biennial in NYC. For this exhibition, I’ll let the CAMH brochure inform you, since, like writers of menus, these publications know best how to turn the simple into the inscrutable: “Jackson continues his investigations into human consciousness and explores how positive evolutionary developments in human thought and culture occur under physical or mental stress.” It all has something to do with technology taking over, but it’s colorful and thought-provoking, whatever it means. Just what art should be. Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose Blvd. 713/284-8250.
Gruesome Playground Injuries
October 21–November 15
The crisscrossing Klieg lights along Texas Avenue are cause for celebration: the Alley has a world premiere. The first of two this season, Frank Wildhorn’s musical, Wonderland (as in, “Alice in”), opens in January. This one’s penned by young hot playwright Rajiv Joseph, who’s already stacked up a tidy little pile of rave notices for All This Intimacy and his latest, his “apolitical drama about the Iraqi war” that premiered in LA in May, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. If Injuries, which examines “why people hurt themselves to gain another’s love,” warrants half the praise heaped upon Tiger by the LA Times and other west coast papers, we’ll be blessed by a new writer of distinction, vision, and beauty. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. 713/220-5700.
October 22–November 8
Really, what can you say except Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? The Disney theatrical juggernaut (Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Little Mermaid—we’ll forget about Tarzan) found a kindred spirit in director/choreographer Matthew Bourne (he of the superhit gay ballet version of Swan Lake). Bourne seems delighted as a schoolboy to create spirited dances that rush across rooftops or tap upside down across the proscenium. It’s quite a production, very much a carbon copy of the classic film, although the penguins are gone. Mary’s a bit of a drag—not literally, but wouldn’t that be fun—but who could ever really replace Miss Julie’s starchy charm and irrepressible good manners? Broadway Across America. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713/622-7469.
The Elixir of Love
October 23–November 7
For all you patrons who go to the opera just to take a long snooze, this comic masterpiece from Gaetano Donizetti should keep you awake. It is charm-filled and never fails to please, as sunny and pleasant as the congenial plot that hopscotches through misplaced jealousy, fake magic potions, and quack doctors. The opera contains one of the most famous of all tenor arias, Nemorino’s “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (“A Hidden Tear”), sung when he realizes that Adina might, in fact, love him. Donizetti sets this “romanza” in a lilting minor key, befitting the sentiment. And if you’re keeping score, Elixir’s one of the few “feminist” operas, wherein soprano Adina owns property, controls her destiny, and buys the contract of the man she loves so he doesn’t have to go off to war. Houston Grand Opera. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713/228-OPERA (6737).
An Evening with Stephen Sondheim
As part of the Notables series at the Society for the Performing Arts, the incomparable theater artist Stephen Sondheim is interviewed by Frank Rich, New York Times columnist and its former drama critic. Not exactly a recluse or shrinking violet, Sondheim has been rather stingy about granting interviews, so a chance to hear him live is something rare. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 40 years, Sondheim re-imagined the American musical with such landmark works as Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Follies, and Company, to say nothing of writing lyrics for the classics Gypsy and West Side Story. Needless to say, both Sondheim and Rich are gay as fruitcakes. The evening promises to be both educational and entertaining. Society for the Performing Arts. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. 713/227-4SPA.
Editor’s note: see interview with Frank Rich in the October issue of OutSmart.
October 30–November 15
While the incomparable Richard Wagner composed his medieval romance—which finally convinced conflicted King Ludwig II of Bavaria to bestow imperial munificence upon him—who was he making love to? Wagner was one horny dude and was always busy cheating on or seducing first wife Minna, mistress Jessie Laussot, patroness/mistress Mathilde Wesendonck, second wife Cosima, his maid/mistress Marie, another Mathilde (this time a Mayer), or mistress Judith Gautier. How Wagner ever had time to write anything is a mystery. Fortunately, he didn’t let his consuming passion and heavy breathing go to waste, for it’s all there, smack in the music. Lohengrin’s no exception, with its famed “Bridal Chorus” (i.e., “Here Comes the Bride”), though it’s more ethereal than usual for the great Teuton—all that “swan” music, don’t you know. It’s still a great piece of theater, with evil Ortrud, the mezzo role, scurrying around the castle, cursing everything in sight. Houston Grand Opera. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713/228-OPERA (6737).
November 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14
You’ve seen the MacMillan ballet (see September 10), now see what inspired it. Jules Massenet’s masterpiece from 1884 sounds very much like the era when it was composed, the filigreed Belle Epoque. It’s lacey and swirly, filled with Massenet’s patented upswept melodies. The opera’s 1884 premiere was a huge success, and ever after the role of dissolute Manon has been a touchstone for reigning divas, such as Sybil Sanderson, Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Renee Fleming, and Karita Mattila. You can understand why: you sing ravishing love-fueled arias and duets, wear great clothes and jewels, slut around Paris, and merrily go to hell. Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd. 713/861-5303.
Mary Wilson of the Supremes
November 6, 7, 8
If you’ve ever seen Dreamgirls, either the movie or the much better stage version, then you’re already familiar with a distillation of our favorite Supreme, Miss Wilson. She’s not the snooty Diana-like diva, nor the fat one, but the normal no-nonsense, let’s-get-on-with-it mom substitute. When the Supremes finally broke up in 1977, after years without Miss Ross, Wilson went on to a successful life after Motown—recording, touring in musicals, and writing a successful autobiography. Come hear her. She’s still a dream. Houston Symphony. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. 713/224-7575.
Cirque Shanghai-Bai Xi
Let’s say this once and for all: the best, most pretzel-like, hardest working, biggest smiling contortionists are the Chinese. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the asthenic model to the muscular Mongol, but, boy, can they do things to their bodies that are downright alien, if not out of this world. This super-acrobatic show is modeled upon the phenomenal Canadian franchise Cirque du Soleil, but without its hoity-toidy pretension. You’ve got your spinning plates, your balance beam, your trampoline pole, your spinning hoops, your teeter totter, all the glitz and color imaginable. How is all this boundless youthful agility going to fit on The Grand’s stage? The Grand 1894 Opera House. 2020 Postoffice St. Galveston, TX. 800/821-1894.
November 7–December 13
The great 20th-century literary lion George Bernard Shaw delighted in kicking people in the butt. He got his jollies tweaking the complacent, the dull, and the conformist. By dazzling with his wit and flair, he willed them to listen to his rich, cholesterol-laden arguments. This middle-period Shaw from 1908, falling between Major Barbara and Pygmalion, is one of his plays of ideas, or “disquisitory extravaganzas,” as he ceremoniously labeled them. It eshews plot and each act breaks for conversation around one topic—in this case, marriage: the whys and why nots of it. It’s a delight just to listen to the plummy phrases, the Oscar Wilde-esque repartee that makes you laugh out loud, and to Shaw’s prescient themes of social and gender equality that infuse nearly all his numerous works. The Bridgenorth’s youngest daughter is getting married, and the entire family and friends debate, cajole, goad, carp, seduce, and whine about the state of marriage in England. When one of the daughters asks her father, “Then it’s a mistake to get married?” He wisely replies, “It is, my dear; but it’s a much bigger mistake not to get married.” Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. 713/524-6706.
Trey McIntyre Project
The magnetic and very tall Trey McIntyre, who danced at the Houston Ballet and was its choreographic associate from 1995 to 2007, launched his own full–time company in 2008 based in Boise, Idaho. His troupe’s had a busy year touring all over the place, including a recent engagement in America’s dance capital, New York City. As noticed by the sparkling reviews, he hasn’t lost the theatrical flair evident in Second Before the Ground (1996), Peter Pan (2002), or The Shadow (2003). Check out his latest work for TMP, (serious), set to music by gay musical pioneer Henry Cowell.(Henry Cowell is no doubt the only American musician to serve time at San Quentin Penitentiary. He pleaded guilty to oral copulation of a 17-year-old “friend” in 1936 and served four years of a 15-year sentence. He was fully pardoned in 1942.) Listed as “single and gay,” 6’ 6” blond McIntyre was selected as one of People Magazine’s 25 Hottest Bachelors in 2003, and whether McIntyre’s still single—or blond—is unknown, but he’s still 6’ 6”. Society for the Performing Arts. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. 713/227-4SPA.
November 13–December 19
When life throws you those annoying little curveballs, how do you react? What if it turns out to be a screaming line drive aimed at your head? What if that line drive behaved like Mr. Bean and decided to stick around his new best friend’s house for a while? What if he likes to squirt cheese into his mouth, wears an ubiquitous pocket protector for about a hundred leaky pens, and pokes your eyes like one of the Stooges? How long would it take until you decided to kill him? Those questions and others get answered by laughs in Larry Shue’s 1981 frenetic cartoon comedy. Shue’s best-known play, The Foreigner (1983), was equally manic. He died in a plane crash in 1985. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square. 713/726-1219.
Miracle on 34th Street
November 18–December 20
Valentine Davies’ and George Seaton’s wistful Christmas story has been a seasonal classic ever since it originally appeared as a 1947 film, starring Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwynn, who won an Oscar for his performance (as did the writers for Best Original Screenplay). Gywnn says he’s Santa Claus, young Wood believes him, even though her modern rational mother O’Hara says not to believe in such things. He’s tried for being insane, innumerable mailbags are presented as evidence, O’Hara marries her beau, and Wood gets a new house. Merry Christmas, everyone! Texas Repertory Theatre co-founder Craig Miller has adapted the movie for the stage. Could be just what we need this season. Texas Repertory Theatre Company, 14243 Steubner Airline Road. 281/583-7573.
Panto Sleeping Beauty
November 18–January 3
If this loony English-style “panto” is as nuts as last year’s, then Stages has another holiday full house. With book by Stages Rep artistic director Kenn McLaughlin and music by David Nehls, all we know is that Beauty lives in Houston, her absent father’s too busy running his oil conglomerate, her nanny’s a former nun who’s smitten with the stage, and her boyfriend’s left town. No wonder, she sleeps all the time. Everything’s over the top, wacky, and camp, just as it should be. Panto rules. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. 713/527-0123.
A Christmas Carol: The Musical
November 19–21, 27–29
The immortal 1843 “little ghost story of Christmas” by Charles Dickens has been adapted to stage and screen more times than Scrooge says humbug. This 1994 version was an extravaganza put together by Radio City Entertainment to play limited holiday runs on Broadway and featured an all-star, Tony-winning theatrical production team: music by Disney megahit maker Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast), book by Mike Ockrent (Crazy for You), lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime), choreography by Susan Stroman (The Producers), sets by Tony Walton (Pippin), lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Assassins), and costumes by William Ivey Long (Grey Gardens). The seasonal show permanently closed in 2003 and then was filmed for NBC by Hallmark Entertainment, starring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge. Since this show is a musical, who better to present it than Masquerade Theatre, Houston’s preeminent musical theater company, who can reanimate the tired as if by Botox. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. 713/861-7045.
Like a very fine dry martini, comedian Rudner hits our funny bone with a gradual levity that envelops us before we realize it, until we’re flat on the floor and wondering how we got there. She’s smart and clever and can cut with a quip that might leave you bleeding if she weren’t so nice about it. That’s part of her universal appeal. We find her one of the funniest ladies around, along with Dame Edna, of course. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice St. Galveston, TX. 800/821-1894.
A Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas
November 21–December 27
The Alley Theatre’s holiday cash cow lifts enough out of Dickens to overcome director/adaptor Michael Wilson’s sledgehammer touches—those annoying dancing ghosts have got to go, as well as the drag housekeeper. The principal ghosts who visit old Scrooge are wonderful apparitions, though. Christmas Past is all glittery light and snow, Christmas Present is a holly-encrusted Life force, Christmas Yet To Come rides a bicycle as he’s a grave digger employed by Lord Voldemort. Tiny Tim still shouts out his universal Christmas blessing, there’s the requisite roiling London fog, and miserly Scrooge redeems himself in time for turkey dinner. The tale works like gangbusters. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. 713/228-8421.
November 27–December 20
I know, I know, Mel Brooks’s 2001 stage adaptation of his legendary 1968 cult film favorite won an unprecedented 12 Tony awards, which is more than all the awards won by Albee, Williams, Berlin, Sondheim, O’Neill, and Sophocles combined! The low-rent movie, with its handheld moxie and unprofessional sheen, has the cheap, cheesy charm of producer Max Bialystock, but the bloated Broadway show (music by Brooks and Glen Kelly, lyrics by Brooks) is really cheap. (No one pays any attention to the abysmal 2005 film adaptation.) The Broadway show’s forgotten its zany progenitor and goes straight for old, old, old Catskills shtick. Brooks takes low-rent down to a new level. The classic movie was kissed by Zero Mostel and a shockingly young Gene Wilder, both of whom no one can replicate, but at least the stage version’s an equal-opportunity offender. Roger de Bris, as the Chrysler Building, is stupidly funny no matter how you slice it, and the tap number by the old ladies in walkers is divinely inspired. So you will laugh, even though your brain says stop it. Playhouse 1960, 6814 Gant. 281/587-8243.
November 27–December 27
Houston Ballet has its own holiday cash cow, as does every other American ballet company—some version of Lev Ivanov’s (co-choreographer of Swan Lake) 1892 work to Tchaikovsky’s most atmospheric score. Former HB artistic director Ben Stevenson gives this classic a Victorian gloss with Desmond Heeley’s sumptuous candy-box sets and costumes, and adds comic touches with rodent battlefield nurses and ear-trumpet oldsters during Act I. The Christmas tree grows to prodigious heights, and the Sugar Plum Fairy glistens. Let’s not forget those flying cooks in the Kingdom of the Sweets. Houston Ballet. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713/227-2787.
A Fertle Holiday
November 27–January 9
Are there any other shows in Houston as consistently funny as those from the loons at Radio Music Theatre? No, and you can bet a little baby owl on it. Holiday casts a magic spell all its own for all RMT-heads because it’s the show that first introduced the wacky Fertles of Dumpster, TX, 25 years ago. Seems like only yesterday when mom Mildred (Vicki Farrel) baked her first butter pie, when daughter Justicina (Rich Mills) stole everything not nailed down at the Holiday Inn to give as Christmas presents, when Doc Moore (Steve Farrell) spouted his brand of linguistic calligraphy, when slow son Earl (Rich Mills) posed as the TV antenna, when daughter-in-law Bridgett (Vicki Farrell) served up that green-tinged corn casserole. The list goes on—and gets funnier by the year. As you can tell, Farrell, Farrell, and Mills play all the characters, making split-second entrances and exits. With their goofy wit, there is no disappointment within a five-mile radius of RMT. Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt. 713/522-7722.
The Santaland Diaries
Crumpet the Elf (and the poor gay guy who takes the job at Macy’s for the holidays) is the perfect antidote against all those warm and fuzzy visions of Christmas sugarplums that threaten to rot your teeth. Humbug, indeed. You’ll never look at sweet toyland fantasies ever again without a jaundiced eye. Essayist/monologist David Sedaris turned his temp job from hell into a searing, and searingly wicked, look at rampant consumerism, bad parenting, out-of-control spoiled children, and bad costuming—his is a beaut. Alley Theatre veteran Todd Waite is a superb Crumpet, rumpled and spit-out with the best that Macy’s can offer. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. 713/220-5700.
Jubilee of Dance: 40th Anniversary Celebration
For dance lovers, Houston Ballet’s one-time performance gala has emerged as one of the hottest ticket in town. It happens just when true balletomanes need their fix the most, during the Nutcracker doldrums. The fall rep is but a memory, and HB doesn’t reopen until the end of February (for their exotic spectacular La Bayadere), so connoisseurs are itching for something without snow and battling mice. The jam-packed Jubilee fills the need in spades, showing off all the company in tantalizing scenes from the rep-to-be and beloved hits from the past. Usually there’s a jubilant piece d’occasion, created by artistic director Stanton Welch, that ends the fast-paced evening on a high that lasts for days. Houston Ballet. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713/227-2787.
The Sound of Music
Do I even have to tell anyone what this is? Perhaps the most beloved musical in history, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein’s alpine love fest—except for those nasty Nazis—has entered the world’s consciousness. If you’re one of those Music-heads who’s only seen the thick and ponderous Robert Wise memorial version starring Julie Andrews and the entire continent of Europe, you’ll find the stage production (1959) lighter, sweeter, and rather tame. This was the last work of the fabled, barrier-breaking R&H duo, and although it doesn’t live up to Oklahoma, Carousel, or The King & I, it spawned so many hit tunes that you’ve got to forgive the old-fashioned playmaking. Theatre Under the Stars. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. 713/558-TUTS(8887).
D.L. Groover frequently writes about the arts for OutSmart and the Houston Press.