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Beauty school dropouts: Theatre Under the Stars mounts the musical version of Hairspray, the John Waters camp classic, this time cleaned up for the enjoyment of the whole family.

A closer look at some of the highlights of our town’s upcoming performing arts calendar

by D.L. Groover

Houston’s 2010 theatrical fall season has something for everyone. There’s a psycho looking for his missing hand, a wild boy who refuses to grow up and lives with a fairy, a detective who falls in love with a painting, a southern Jewish woman who can’t drive, two ditsy gold diggers out for a transatlantic cruise, a crazy aunt who wants to “live, live, live,” a ballet set to Harry Winston’s baubles, a rock opera about a Dutch singer who throws himself out a window, a transvestite mom in a muumuu, a green ogre who pals around with a donkey, a man who dresses up as a bat, Marilyn Monroe as the ghost of Christmas past, a gay elf who hates children, etc. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Go grab some and make yourself interesting.

A Behanding in Spokane
September 1–26
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas
713/220-5700, www.alleytheatre.org
If you admire, or shiver through, Martin McDonagh’s neo-gothic view of the world in such scorchers as The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Pillowman, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, then you’ll love his new work. Recently on Broadway, this blackest of black comedy revels in outrageousness as our “hero” Carmichael searches for his lost hand, cut off years ago. A squirrelly couple just happens to have a hand in a bag ready to sell. Is it his? Would he know it if he saw it? This being McDonagh territory, nothing goes as planned. Needless to say, this is recommended for mature audiences. Don’t take Aunt Sally if she’s never heard an F-bomb.

You’ll Never Forget the End of the World
September 2–November 20
Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt
713/522-7722, www.radiomusictheatre.com
As the last of Radio Music Theatre’s “unfertile” comedies—those not containing the goofy Fertles of Dumpster, Texas—this one showcases the Very Reverend Jiffy Dillard, the most popular televangelist ever. During one of his many get-rich-quick schemes, he prophesies the end of the world for December 11 with such unabashed believability that Oaf Monahan, the most powerful woman in showbiz and host of her own feel-good juggernaut, sets out to expose the charlatan once and for all. Crappy furniture salesman extraordinaire, Uncle Dan—who once invented the “scoot and shoot,” the ultimate recliner fitted with a gun rack—sponsors the bitch slap. The company’s inspired acting trio (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell, and Rich Mills) introduces us to a whole new galaxy of loonies, hucksters, shysters, and the clueless. Priceless.

Laura
September 3–25
Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest
713/661-9505, www.theatresouthwest.org
Author Vera Caspary could have been her own movie. Independent and smart, she’s the less fluff version of Anita Loos, and penned a host of classic tales that defined career women in America: A Letter to Three Wives, The Blue Gardenia, and Easy Living. But her most endearing classic was the murder mystery Laura, which started out as a magazine serial, then a book, then a hit film, then a stage adaptation. The 1944 Otto Preminger movie, that launched the careers of Gene Tierney and Vincent Price, boasts a very gay reading of soignée character Waldo Lydecker by very gay actor Clifton Webb.

Driving Miss Daisy
September 8–October 17
A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama
713/526-2721, www.adplayers.org
In a marvelous reprise, A.D. Player’s artistic director Jeannette Clift George and Ensemble Theatre’s reigning artist Wayne DeHart come together again for Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Like a fine cameo broach, a whole lot is made of very little. This play is a series of impressionistic short scenes that say the most when it seems as if they’re not saying anything. The drama’s power resides in the silences between the sentences. After a car accident, feisty Miss Daisy is forced to hire a black chauffeur. Race history and social themes swirl gently around their battle of wills and wits, while their prickly relationship through the next 25 years evolves into deep, loving understanding and respect. Full of gentle, heart-wrenching humanity and affirming humor, the play sneaks up on you, and you’re under its spell before you realize it.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
September 9–12
Bayou City Concert Musicals
Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin
713/465-6484, www.bayoucityconcertmusicals.org
One of Marilyn Monroe’s most tantalizingly beautiful performances—and she looks it, too—is as Lorelei Lee, the gold digger in Anita Loos’ classic comedy musical directed by Howard Hawks in 1953. Adapted from Loos’ Roaring Twenties Broadway hit, the original musical has music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin, as showgirls Lorelei and best friend Dorothy travel on the Ile de France looking for rich husbands. The movie’s sex appeal is augmented by a men’s Olympic team training above and below a pneumatic Jane Russell as she sings, ironically, “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?”—a song written for the film. The men pump and preen, without so much as a glance at the radiant Russell. Houston theatrical luminaries Carolyn Johnson and Krissy Richmond star as Lorelei and Dorothy in Paul Hope’s annual BCCM production. All aboard!

Body, Soul & Gershwin
September 9–19
Houston Ballet
Wortham Center, 501 Texas
713/227-2728, www.houstonballet.org
If you missed The Core, Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch’s homage to New York City that premiered in 2008, here’s your chance to experience this marvelously rich and atmospheric homage set to George Gershwin’s rhapsodic Concerto in F. A kaleidoscopic tale full of chorus girls, ladies of the night, tenement lovers, dreams of success and happiness, and images from every movie and Broadway show about Manhattan and its glamorous allure. Paired with this are Jiri Kilyan’s expressionistic Forgotten Land, set to Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, and Welch’s Tu Tu, a joyous, plotless work, full of virtuosity and athleticism, set to Maurice Ravel’s mysterious Piano Concerto in G.

The Doctor’s Dilemma
September 9–October 3
Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd.
713/524-6706, www.mainstreettheater.com
The medical profession takes a drubbing from Sir Bernard Shaw, and he seems happy to give it. Dr. Ridgeon’s new vaccination is a lifesaver, but there’s not much serum remaining. Whom shall he inject? A worthy but boring patient, or a genius whose wife he adores? The rationing of medical treatment is a prescient subject these days. As usual, Shaw was ahead of his time. In the program notes for the play’s premiere in 1906, Shaw wrote, “Life does not cease to be funny when people die, any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”

Auntie Mame
September 15–October 10
Stages Repertory Company, 3201 Allen Parkway
713/527-0123, www.stagestheatre.com
Before little Judy skipped into our gay consciousness, we already had our den mother: Mame Dennis of Beekman Place, NYC. Created by Patrick Dennis in 1955, this irrepressible woman burst out of his comic novel and entered the realm of the classic—once she was transferred to Broadway—via Rosalind Russell and the quick-silver adaptation by playwright veterans Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Everything about her screams fabulous: her wardrobe, her friends, her adventures—and she drinks sidecars for breakfast. She hates pretense and confinement, loves her nephew, and lives each day to its fullest, no matter what disastrous setbacks besiege her. We all want to be in her family. Houston theatrical diva Sally Edmundson assays Mame, and a better fit of actor and role is inconceivable.

Hanky panky: The Gendermyn, Houston’s unabashed drag king troupe, bring their ultra-avant garde performance style to Come as You Are: Houston!, DiverseWorks’ September appreciation of all things queer.

Come as You Are: Houston!
September 17, 18
DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway
713/223-8346, www.diverseworks.org
Oh my, this is a two-day celebration of queer sex through performance art. Don’t blush and don’t be scared. You know DiverseWorks—all will be clear at the end, or not. Daaimah Mubashshir uses traditional Muslim movement to “identify queer sex as a holy experience” (tell that to the Mullahs!), Michael Harren plays Brahms while telling stories about growing older and how sex changes, while Daniel-Kayne and Michael Clay couple queer sex with war and country music. I don’t think that needs further explanation. Then there’s the acrobatic Gendermyn, whose gyrations definitely don’t need explaining.

The Philadelphia Story
September 17–October 16
Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr.
713/682-3525, www.theatresuburbia.com
Thank Katharine Hepburn for this classic comedy of manners. Philip Barry wrote it expressly for her, and she shrewdly bought the movie rights and subsequently had one of her biggest successes as goddess Tracy Lord, who must learn humility and get knocked off her pedestal to find true love. Sophisticated and witty to a fault, Story is quintessentially an ode to the good life, punctuated with wisecracks. It’s still about how the other half lives, even when they have to come down to earth to be
appreciated.

Sylvia
September 17–October 2
Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury
713/467-4497, www.countryplayhouse.org
In A.R. Gurney’s frolicking romantic fable, the title character is a dog. She’s brought home by unemployed Greg and immediately wins his unconditional love, making power-wife Kate quite jealous. Just who is top dog? Gurney’s sly treatment of marriage, commitment, and New York life gently mocks the universal, age-old battle of the sexes. The playwright’s arsenal of tricks is as clever and adorable as any by Lassie.

Three of a kind: Houston Ballet stages George Balanchine’s Jewels, a three-pack of precious stones employing the music of Tchaikovsky, Fauré, and Stravinsky. Dancers (l–r): Jaquel Andrews, Mireille Hassenboehler, and Amy Fote.

Jewels
September 23–October 3
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/227-2787, www.houstonballet.org
Famously labeled as the world’s first plotless ballet, George Balanchine’s 1967 masterpiece (one of so many) is as filled with story as any literary adaptation. Each of the three acts are distinct—music, theme, color, and movement. First, there’s the romantic Emeralds, using Gabriel Faure’s impressionistic music like fine perfume, easily invoking romance and mystery. Rubies, set to the spiky “Capriccio” by Stravinsky, is edgy and modern, all red and playfully sexy. Diamonds, using Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3, is glittering and white, blindingly classical and epic, recalling Balanchine’s progenitor, Marius Petipa, the great 19th-century choreographer. Jewels is a dance treasure, a milestone, and a true gem.

Tales of Hoffmann
September 23, 24, 25, 30, October 1, 2
Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd.
713/861-5303, www.operaintheheights.org
He might not have invented operetta, but Jacques Offenbach (Le Belle Helene, Orpheus in the Underworld) certainly popularized it and made his fortune—
and subsequently lost it—with this
genre. His masterpiece is this last
work, left unfinished at his death in
1880. A sprawling “opera fantastique” saga in five acts, poet Hoffmann recalls his failed love affairs with the mechanical doll Olympia, the dying singer Antonia, and the jaded Venetian courtesan Giuletta. Although finished by Ernest Guiraud, the work is still disputed to
this day, and even the 1993 discovery of Offenbach’s original manuscript and, earlier, the extant libretto by Jules Barbiere, failed to quell the disturbance. What’s left is one of the best operas
anywhere.

Sleuth
September 23–October 17
Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Steubner Airline Road
281/583-7573, www.texreptheatre.org
What a stylish and highly entertaining maze of a play. Anthony Shaffer (Death on the Nile, the creepy Wicker Man, Hitchcock’s Frenzy) penned this mystery/thriller in 1970, and it’s been causing goose bumps in audiences ever since. It played concurrently on London’s West End and Broadway, where it ran two years and won a Tony Award for Best Play. Mystery writer and games-player extraordinaire Andrew convinces his wife’s lover to commit a robbery, and nothing after that is quite what it seems. Tingly and ultra-clever, Schaffer’s twisty play startles and then makes you laugh at being tricked.

The Waiting Room
September 23–October 17
Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main
713/520-0055, www.ensemblehouston.com
Perhaps best known for his Tony-nominated comedy Home, playwright, actor, and former sparring partner of Muhammad Ali, Samm-Art Williams brings his unique family-friendly brand of humor to the unfunny world of the hospital. The Innes family awaits news of patriarch Pullen to see if he “gets right” with God, but it’s his trying to get right with his dysfunctional family that supplies the laughs.

Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance
September 24–25
Miller Outdoor Theater, 6000 Hermann Park Drive
281/823-7722, www.houstondance.org
Can you believe that this is the 16th annual weekend of contemporary Texas dance? It’s one of the best free performances anywhere, and a chance to see the best of what’s new in dance. A sample of featured companies includes Infinite Movement Ever Revolving, NobleMotion Dance, Cantalina Molari, Suchu Dance, and Vault. The excerpts are tantalizing, the dancing wondrous and athletic, the spirit moving.

Take a bow: violinist Joshua Bell fiddles around with the Houston Symphony in an early-October concert featuring the music of Mendelssohn.

Joshua Bell’s Mendelssohn
October 1, 2, 3
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana
713/224-7575, www.houstonsymphony.org
Not since John Garfield fiddled so picturesquely in Humoresque (1946), and won Joan Crawford’s unstinting devotion and sultry looks, has there been such a violinist with star quality and matinee idol presence. Well, Mr. Bell looks great and plays even better than Garfield, who had a violinist stationed under his coat and artfully shielded from the camera. Bell loves the good life, drives a red Porsche, plays a priceless Gibson Stradivarius, and once dated Broadway superstar Kristen Chenoweth and Hollywood star Natalie Portman—not at the same time, as far as we know. As of this writing, he is still available. Ask to see his fiddle. You never know. For this concert, he plays the ravishing Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, conducted by HS’s maestro Hans Graf.

Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America through Galveston Island
October 1–February 20, 2011
Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive
713/639-4629, www.hmns.org
Did you know that Galveston was second only to Ellis Island as a major gateway into America? From 1845 through 1924—with time off for the devastating hurricane of 1900—our favorite port of call worked overtime as it shepherded eager new arrivals into the New World. Of course, before the Civil War, Galveston also was a major gateway for the slave trade. The American Midwest wouldn’t have been settled quite so fast without the little island to our south, into which poured countless South Americans, Central Americans, Asians, and Europeans who couldn’t book passage into NYC. More than 200 original documents and artifacts bring this hazy past into the present.

Hairspray
October 5–17
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
713/558-8887, www.tuts.com
I don’t care how many Tony awards Harvey Fierstein has on his mantle, there is only one Edna Turnblad—the divine Divine in the original 1988 John Waters B-movie that started all this. You can’t take your eyes off him/her, something that can’t be said for either Mr. Fierstein on Broadway or the fat-suit wearing John Travolta in the 2007 musical film adaptation. Waters’ anarchism and low-rent moviemaking is given a Donna Reed clean sweep for this theatrical incarnation, but the musical is Lane Bryant-large in the heart department. The show goes on, sweet and lovely, even if most of the prickly humor and bizarro comedy has been drained out of Waters for this musical makeover. Marc Shaiman’s music (he’s responsible for the supremely good music for South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut) will have you smiling and bopping just like the energetic cast. The musical’s got lots of energy, that’s for sure, and the sight of plus-size Tracy dancing the frug and hitting her dream square-on is enough hope and change for any audience.

Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up
October 6–31
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas
713/220-5700, www.alleytheatre.org
If the wizards at the Alley supply the James M. Barrie play with all the fascinating strangeness that’s contained in it, we’re in for a real treat. This is the original 1904 play, a smash hit at its London premiere, and the forerunner of all the Pan-amania that followed. The boy on whom Barrie based his wild child was Michael Lllewelyn Davies, who later came under Barrie’s legal guardianship following the death of his parents, to whom Barrie was so close. Davies, while at Oxford, fell in love with fellow classmate Rupert Buxton, and their bond was inseparable, according to those who knew them at school. While swimming together in the Thames near Oxford, Davies and Buxton drowned. It was widely speculated at the time that the pair committed suicide, although accidental drowning can’t be ruled out, as Michael was a poor swimmer. Closeted Barrie never fully recovered from Michael’s death and candidly stated that it was “the end of me.”

Ghosts
October 7–17
Classical Theater Company
Talento Bilingue de Houston, 333 S. Jensen Drive
713/963-9665, www.classicaltheatre.org
All manner of conventions get skewered in Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 classic that caused a firestorm at its premiere (in Chicago, no less) and at many productions thereafter. Ibsen wanted unvarnished truth in his work and he didn’t give a fig what polite society thought. Mrs. Alving, a widow, attempts to hide her dead husband’s sexual debauchery, but it comes rushing back with a vengeance through her son, Oswald, who has inherited syphilis, and through her husband’s illegitimate daughter, Regina, who falls in love with her step-brother. Outmoded beliefs and dead ideas flood his characters, and modern drama is born. Critics of the time were fairly harsh, describing the new work as disgusting, filthy, or a loathsome sore, but Ibsen knew his own worth and plowed ahead, rubbing their blue noses in his next outrage, Enemy of the People, which brought his audience into the 20th century.

Up
October 8–7
University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance
133 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center
713/743-3003, www.theatredance.uh.edu
Eight years before the animated Pixar 3-D favorite hit the big screen, Bridget Carpenter (producer of TV’s Friday Night Lights) wrote a play about forlorn but intrepid inventor Walter, who, years earlier, had tied 35 weather balloons to his lawn chair and went up, up and away from his everyday existence. He’s been trying ever since then to duplicate that feeling of exhilaration. His wife and son are not pleased with his daydreams. At first glance, the stories are somewhat alike—both are about dreams and wishes, but really the intent is quite different, and the inspiration for Carpenter comes from an actual maverick, Larry Walters, who in 1982 did tie balloons to his lawn chair and sailed from Los Angeles, only to crash-land in nearby Long Beach. The FAA fined him $4,000 for impeding air traffic and said, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed.”

Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship
October 8–February 6, 2011
Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive
713/639-4629, www.hmns.org
Ahoy, me hearties! Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Jean Lafitte, Jack Sparrow, Captain Hook? Who doesn’t like pirates? Discover all sorts of fascinating facts about those smelly, sexually ambiguous, really mean rapscallions, gleaned off the ocean floor from the remains of the good ship Whydah. The ship began its short sea life as a slaver before being appropriated in the West Indies by famed sea outlaw Sam Bellamy, who used it as his flagship until it sank in a storm off Cape Cod. Organized by National Geographic, the exhibition is first-rate, from the personal history of the pirates and their unwilling victims to the technology used to uncover such wonders. Bring your own parrot.

Jackie Mason

October 17
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston
409/765-1894, www.thegrand.com
If you’re going to get mad, you might as well laugh. Who better to get mad at and to laugh with than this wily old master comedian, who continues to work nonstop at the top of his game. For his standup act, he earned a Tony Award when he played on Broadway in The World According to Me; and he won an Emmy Award for his voice-over performance in The Simpsons. His politically incorrect outspokenness isn’t for everybody, but his opinions and critiques of human foibles are as unique as they are hilarious.

Shrek the Musical
October 19–31
Broadway Across America
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
713/315-2525, www.broadwayacrossamerica.com
Never trust a show that omits a comma. Trying to outdo Disney at its Broadway best (Lion King, Beauty and the Beast), DreamWorks saw bags of gold in its phenomenally successful animated movie about the green ogre and his fairytale pals. Let’s turn it into a show, they shouted, dreaming of their bank accounts shooting skyward. What they didn’t figure was how hard it is to turn a cartoon into live action. Some cartoons should stay cartoons and be enjoyed for what they are. Jeanine Tesori (whose music fares much better in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Caroline, or Change) can’t quite measure up to the 2-D shenanigans, and the whole thing has the taste of leftovers. The kids, though, will adore the farting scene.

Dominic Walsh Dance Theater
October 21–23
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby
713/315-2525, www.dwdt.org
The fall dance season wouldn’t be complete without Dominic Walsh and his troupe’s Hobby Center performance. This year’s program is a provocative mixed bag, showcasing a section from 27’52” by Czech master choreographer Jiri Kylián. Running 27 minutes and 52 seconds, the ballet is an intense abstract trio of duets. To have any work of his in rep is a coup. DWDT has two. Also on the program will be the U.S. premiere of Walsh’s Medea, created last year for the Gala di Danza in Naples, Italy. Set to Giuseppe Mayr’s “Medea in Corinto,” the piece features three women as they deconstruct the ancient myth of princess Medea, who seeks horrible vengeance upon her children after she is abandoned by their father Jason.

Madame Butterfly
October 22–November 5
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/228-6737, www.houstongrandopera.org
Giocomo Puccini’s 1904 immortal opera about the tragic love of naïve Cio-Cio-San for the American bounder Pinkerton, who abandons her after a sham marriage, was pretty much a disaster at its world premiere—in spite of being conducted by the legendary Arturo Toscanini. The Milan audience didn’t like the Japanese-inspired music and hooted its disapproval, while also booing about the affair between Toscanini and Rosina Storchio, the soprano singing Butterfly. But the opera couldn’t be pinned down, and soon spread its wings around the globe. It hasn’t touched ground since. One of the most beloved works in the rep, it deserves all its accolades. It’s a powerhouse of passion, lush soaring melody, and deeply felt characterization. Pinkerton may desire Butterfly only for the easy sex (she’s supposed to be 15!), but their glorious love duet and arias are anything but quickies. Beautiful soprano Ana Maria Martinez sings the role of Butterfly for the first time in her career.

Richard III
October 29–November 7
University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance
133 Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center
713/743-3003, www.theatredance.uh.edu
Hey, it’s about time we see some Shakespeare around the bayou. Ever since its premiere in 1593, this brilliant dissection of England’s great royal villain has been a hit. It’s not hard to see why: Shakespeare invented the modern antagonist, the bad guy we love to hate. We can’t take our eyes off this fascinating spider who can’t seem to stop himself from doing mischief. He’s a charmer—psychotic, but a charmer. The play has undeniable energy, like Richard, as it drives itself forward to its inevitable climax with an immense clarity amidst big gusts of poetic wind.

Peter Grimes
October 29–November 12
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/228-6737, www.houstongrandopera.org
Benjamin Britten’s superb opera has the gayest subtext of any of his works. A loner and social misfit, fisherman Grimes is under suspicion from the townsfolk after his boy apprentice dies under his tutelage. Only Ellen, the schoolmistress, sees good in the temper-fueled Grimes, and, against the will of the inquest, secures for him another apprentice from the orphanage. When the townsfolk come to investigate the bruised new apprentice, he’s pushed out of the shack by Grimes and falls to his death over the cliff. Wracked with guilt and incipient madness, Grimes is lost in the fog and scuttles his boat in the sea. The music of the sea in all its infinite variety swirls through this famed theatrical drama and is just as important a character. The repressed homosexual theme only adds to the inevitable rage and gloom. Dramatic baritone Anthony Dean Griffey assays Grimes in this acclaimed Opera Australia production. HGO music director Patrick Summers conducts.

Die Fledermaus
November 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13
Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd.
713/861-5303, www.operaintheheights.org
One of the most delightful and popular operas, Johann Strauss’ 1874 confection is forever fresh. The Waltz King imbues Vienna with music that sparkles and bubbles like champagne, and can make you a little giddy with its carefree esprit. The lightweight plot hinges on adultery in such a winsome vein that you can’t help but be captivated by the fools. Life’s a bauble.

Prisoner of Second Avenue
November 5–20
Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury
713/467-4497, www.countryplayhouse.org
Neil Simon successfully combines comedy and pathos in this 1971 play where middle-aged Mel loses his job, and nearly his mind, after a series of mishaps that include his wife, Edna, going back to work, an unprecedented heat wave, a garbage strike, noisy German neighbors, and a particularly grating car driving around Central Park. If anyone can make us laugh about modern urban life with its ineffable sadness, it’s Simon.

9 to 5: The Musical
November 9–21
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby
713/558-8887, www.tuts.com
Although Dolly Parton’s first venture on Broadway didn’t share the success that the original movie claimed—the show only lasted 148 performances—the touring production might have more going for it: not too much competition, for one thing. The producers have over-inflated the movie, turning it into a parade balloon that the NY Times called “a flirtation with tastelessness.” That alone should have them lined up at the Hobby. But never underestimate Parton’s drawing power, even when she’s not in the show. It’s ’70s girl power that’s on display, and that’s a subject that can always draw a crowd.

Bluefinger
November 12–December 18
Catastrophic Theatre
DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway
713/522-2723http://catastrophictheatre.com
“I’ve had enough; maybe I’ll be seeing you around. Make it a great party.” That was the suicide note left behind by Dutch rock musician Herman Brood after he jumped out the window of an Amsterdam hotel in 2001. Fairly unknown over here, Brood was an icon in Europe, a pop art muralist, poet, musician, but subject to all the demons known to tormented artists, witness some of his song titles, “Dope Sucks,” “R & Roll Junkie,” “Hit,” “Skid Row,” and “Pain.” His sexed-up life and work will be subject to a rock opera, based on Charles Thompson’s album Bluefinger in collaboration with Catastrophic’s Jason Nodler. Thompson, a.k.a. Black Francis, was guitarist and songwriter for alternate rock band Pixies, a loud sound Brood would have loved—had he lived.

Revolucionario: The Tango of Piazzolla and His Peers
November 14
Aperio, Music of the Americas
Texas Gallery, 2012 Peden St.
713/965-4597, www.aperioamericas.org
Bringing chamber music to Texas from “down under”—Central and South America, that is—our hottest music group plays neuvo-tango from Argentina. Piazzolla, Bragato, and Schimmel will heat up the place. Bring a fan.

Plaid Tidings
November 18–December 23
Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Steubner Airline Road
281/583-7573, www.texreptheatre.org
That eternally Plaid quartet goes holiday. When last heard, the close-harmony boy group, created by Stuart Ross in 1990 and living a healthy life off-Broadway, was giving a ghostly concert to assuage their failed dreams when their tour bus veered off the road and collided with a bus full of nuns. Now the franchise sings Christmas, thanks to a heavenly push from Rosemary Clooney. All your favorites will be performed in the boys’ patented harmony and smooth moves.

Cinderella
November 18–December 26
Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main
713/520-0055, www.ensemblehouston.com
The classic unloved girl by the hearth gets a feisty update by San Francisco’s African-American Shakespeare Company. Her fairy godmother has “diva-tude,” which tells you all you need to know, except that Patdro Harris will direct and choreograph (and that’s very good news). Harris has brightened all of Ensemble’s recent musicals with real sparkle and old-fashioned theatrical pizzazz. He puts life on the stage. He’ll give Cinderella more soul than she ever knew she possessed.

The Drowsy Chaperone
November 19–28
Masquerade Theatre
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby
713/861-7045, www.masqueradetheatre.com
For its free-spirit, wit, and sheer pleasure, there’s nothing else like this show in the entire Broadway canon, and no original musical in recent memory can touch it. It’s nonstop smiles from the lights-out opening “I Hate Theater” to the aviatrix-in-a-biplane ending where our narrator, the Man in Chair, flies away—again—into his own personal little world of Broadway musicals. A multiple Tony Award-winner from 2006, the show is a glorious, heartfelt, post-modern homage to the power of musicals to make us forget our troubles and “disappear for awhile.” It works like gangbusters. While the show-within-the-show is a hilarious parody of a ’20s musical, with its whimsical theatrical conventions and broad racial stereotypes (before they were “banished to Disney”), it’s also a testament to why musicals continue to have such a powerful hold over our psyche. This show will be catnip for the pros at Masquerade. They’ll eat it alive.

Houston Via Colori 2010
November 20–21
Sam Houston Park
The Center for Hearing and Speech, 3636 West Dallas
713/523-3633, www.houstonviacolori.com
For two days, our downtown streets near Sam Houston Park will be covered by the most colorful murals this side of Renaissance Florence. More than 200 participants will bring their chalk and draw all over the sidewalks and asphalt, releasing their inner artists in a spirit of true adventure. Live music, food stands, and a kid-friendly interactive corner make this an eye-popping display. And it’s all for the most worthy of causes: the Center for Hearing and Speech.

A Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas
November 20–December 27
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas
713/220-5700, www.alleytheatre.org
The Alley Theatre’s holiday cash cow lifts enough out of Dickens to overcome director/adaptor Michael Wilson’s sledgehammer touches—those dancing ghosts have got to go, as well as the housekeeper in drag. The 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 if a grave digger employed by Lord Voldemort. Tiny Tim still shouts out his universal Christmas blessing, there’s the requisite London fog, and miserly Scrooge redeems himself in time for the turkey dinner. This tale works like gangbusters.

Panto Pinocchio
November 23–January 9, 2011
Stages Repertory Company, 3201 Allen Parkway
713/527-0123, stagestheatre.com
Each of Stages’ holiday Pantos gets loopier and loopier, which is exactly what we want for these world-premiere shows that are inspired by the English music hall, but really hail from old TV Land, especially The Carol Burnett Show with its outrageous silliness and wink-wink family fun. The original music is by Steven Jones, the lyrics by Kenn McLaughlin and Eric Coble, with book by Coble. In this contempo version of Carlo Collodi’s immortal tale, the famous wooden marionette is a robot, his dad’s a computer geek, and the evil Fox is now Miss Treats who wants to stop all the singing and dancing going on around town. I hope there’s a whale.

Santaland Diaries
November 23–December 31
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas
713/220-5700, www.alleytheatre.org
Crumpet the Elf (and the poor gay guy who takes this job at Macy’s for the holidays) is the perfect antidote for all those warm and fuzzy visions of Christmas sugarplums that rot your teeth. Humbug, indeed. You’ll never look at sweet toyland fantasies again without a jaundiced eye. Essayist-turned-monologist David Sedaris turned his temp job from hell into a 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, he could hold his own against the best that Macy’s can offer.

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
November 24–December 5
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby
713/558-8887, www.tuts.com
If you’re a softie for iconic children’s book author Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, then you’re the perfect audience for this holiday entertainment, which, for its limited run, always draws the kiddies in droves. (Wicked, eat your heart out!) There are no surprises to be found in Timothy Mason’s book or Mel Marvin and Albert Hague’s musical score, just warm fuzzy memories of the 1957 book and its 1966 TV cartoon. Sometimes, that’s all we ask.

White Christmas
November 26–December 18
Playhouse 1960, 6814 Gant Road
281/587-8243, www.playhouse1960.com
The crafty adaptors of Irving Berlin’s yuletide spectacle pull out all the stops with this holiday blockbuster, an adaptation of the beloved 1954 movie—the first movie released in Vista Vision, Paramount Studios’ answer to Fox’s Cinemascope—starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen. It’s called White Christmas, the Musical, as if to differentiate it from, what, White Christmas, the Dramatic Reading? Whatever it’s called, it’s an excuse to layer on as many of Berlin’s #1 hits as possible. The production is lavish like some expensive pop-up Hallmark card designed by Cecil B. DeMille, but the snow’s the thing—like in the movie—and there’s a wide-eyed surprise for the audience at curtain.

A Queer Carol
November 26–December 20
Unhinged Productions
Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation Blvd.
832/250-7786, www.comeunhinged.com
Wow, how cool does this sound? A gay re-telling of Dickens’ classic. I always wondered what Marley saw in Scrooge. Now, thanks to Joe Godfrey’s lavender wash, I’ll find out. Apparently they had a design business. Marilyn Monroe makes a cameo as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Tiny Tim is HIV-positive, and it’s rated PG13 for adult language and content. Sounds good.

The Heidi Chronicles
November 26–December 19
Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd.
713-524-6706, www.mainstreettheater.com
In 1989, Wendy Wasserstein’s warm, nostalgic, angry, knowing play about one particular woman and her struggle with modern life—and the woman’s movement—conquered Broadway after a brief off-Broadway run. It sill conquers. Heidi is an art historian, having lived through the euphoric women’s movement of the ’70s, but having to survive in the ’80s, when freedom hasn’t brought enlightenment, nor a husband. Her best friend is gay, and the man she loves has married someone else. This is not the scenario she envisioned, or was promised. She meets any disappointment head-on with humor. Can she have it all? Go see this Pulitzer Prize/Tony Award-winner and find out.

A Fertle Holiday
November 26–January 15, 2011
Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt
713-522-7722, www.radiomusictheatre.com
Uh-oh, I’m starting to weep. Our most favorite theater company is closing after 25 years, and this is the last time to see the show that started it all. Are there any shows on any Houston stage as consistently funny as those that the loons at Radio Music Theatre put on with such finesse? No, and you can bet a little baby owl on it. Holiday casts a magic spell because it’s the show that first introduced the wacky Fertles of Dumpster, Texas, 25 years ago. Seems like only yesterday when dim-bulb Lou first proclaimed “nails are glue,” while playing the Plumbing & Wiring
edition of Trivial Pursuit, 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 corn casserole. The list goes on, and gets funnier as it does. The sublime trio of Farrell, Farrell, and Mills plays all the characters, usually with split-second entrances and exits. Only one more show remains—A Fertle Goodbye—later in January and running through April. And then they’re gone. Quick, give me a hankie.

Jubilee of Dance
December 3
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/227-2787, www.houstonballet.org
Houston Ballet’s one-time performance gala has become the hottest ticket in town for dance lovers. It happens just when true balletomanes need their fix the most, during the long Nutcracker season. The fall rep is memory, and HB won’t reopen until the end of February, so dance lovers are itching for something without snow and battling mice. The jam-packed Jubilee fills the need in spades, showing off the entire company in tantalizing scenes from upcoming rep 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.

Salman Rushdie
December 3
Imprint
Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
www.inprinthouston.org
Anyone who has a fatwa proclaimed against him by Iran’s despotic Ayatollah Khomeini is okay in our book. That the book responsible for all Rushdie’s torments, The Satanic Verses, isn’t worthy of the defamation is maybe something he’ll talk about during his Margaret Root Brown reading series. A media darling, his writing isn’t nearly as powerful nor dramatic as his life story. In 1998 the fatwa was rescinded, but even after his knighthood in 2007 he’s still looking over his shoulder.

If it’s Christmas in Texas, it must be Tuna: Joe Sears, Jaston Williams, and their costume truck return to Galveston with their Lone Star-specific holiday stage tradition celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, and so much more.

A Tuna Christmas
December 14–19
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston
409/765-1894, www.thegrand.com
Another perennial holiday favorite from the fevered brains of Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, who play all the citizens of the third-smallest town in Texas as they prepare their lawns for Tuna’s house-decorating contest. As a sequel to their first smash hit Greater Tuna, all the town loons return to celebrate the season: gun-toting Didi Snavely; husband R.R. who keeps staring into space waiting for the aliens to save him from Didi; warm-hearted Bertha; screwy Aunt Pearl who likes to poison dogs that stray onto her property; the horny waitresses from Krispy Kreme; Vera Carp, president of Tuna’s Smut Snatchers. What distinguishes this play from others of this ilk is that the characters evolve into people, not caricatures. There’s a soft marshmallow center to their wicked humor that the two accomplished actors nail with the finesse of Olivier. It’s an acting duo that’s a marvel to watch. You’ll laugh yourself unconscious.

Handel’s Messiah in Candlelight
December 17, 18, 19
Houston Symphony, 615 Louisiana
713/224-7575, www.houstonsymphony.org
Like the strippers sing in Gypsy, “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” The Houston Symphony will give Jones Hall a soft, Georgian glow to match the ambiance that London audiences experienced when that “great Saxon’s” work burst upon the scene and startled so gloriously. The word “inspiring” should be used sparingly, but that’s the only description possible for George Frederic Handel’s sublime 1742 oratorio, a true Wonder of the World. There’s nothing quite like it in all the repertory. Although the work is about Christ’s life, Charles Jennens’ libretto is mainly Hebrew Testament passages set into three sections: Birth, Passion, and Aftermath. In his typically speedy mode, Handel composed this masterwork in three weeks. He faced problems with censors and sensitive prima donnas, and the premiere in Dublin, one year after he completed the piece and under his leadership from the harpsichord, was only a modest success. It took decades for this unique composition to work its magic. But once it took hold, Handel’s radiant music remained forever with us, as majestic and haunting as the day he finished it. Maestro Charles Hausman directs.

D.L. Groover writes the Arts & Entertainment article annually for OutSmart magazine.

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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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