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Memphis in Houston: the cast of Memphis brings its singing and dancing to the Bayou City October 25–30 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

Get up and get out!
by D. L. Groover

A leprechaun named Og. A guy who turns into a doll. Ice skating dancers. The heady whiff of ether. Rolling cigars while Tolstoy’s tale of marital infidelity, Anna Karenina, is read aloud. A vengeful redhead. A Victorian waif pleading, “Please, sir, I’d like some more.” A German wife who rescues her husband from the dankest prison by dressing in drag, all while singing the most difficult of soprano arias. Movie mogul David O. Selznick popping peanuts and pills trying to finish the most popular motion picture ever made. A teenage king wrapped in solid gold. These are just a few of the artful gems to be savored in the Bayou City this fall. Go out and enjoy them.

Goodbye Charlie
September 2–24
Theater Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest St.
In a grand gesture of heavenly revenge, when womanizer Charlie gets killed by a jealous husband, he’s reincarnated as a woman. In George Axelrod’s 1959 sex farce, Charlie learns a few valuable life lessons: how to dress and talk correctly, how to confront an old mistress, and how to evade some queasy new feelings for his oldest male friend. From the author of The Seven Year Itch and, later, The Manchurian Candidate.

Ode to Joy
September 8, 9
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, perhaps the epitome of orchestral music, was rhapsodically embraced at its premiere in 1824. Musician Carl Czerny was in the audience and wrote about it glowingly: “The Scherzo (incontestably the greatest thing of its kind in existence) so overwhelmed the entire house that it broke in with thunderous, spontaneous applause, which was repeated at the heavenly Adagio and would have reached its peak even if the Finale had merely consisted of an instrumental piece [without an added choir] . . .
the large orchestra covered itself with glory and sweat.” Maestro Hans Graf, you have your work cut out for you.

Finian’s Rainbow
September 8–11
Bayou City Concert Musicals
Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin St.
Who’d ever have thought that a musical about leprechauns, a buried pot of gold, and a bigoted southern senator turning black would be such a hit—and a classic, to boot? Well, if it’s composed by Burton Lane (discoverer of Judy Garland, and, later, composer of On a Clear Day) with lyrics by the incomparable E.Y. Harburg, and book by Harburg and Fred Saidy, you get a hit. It’s the sunniest of musicals even with its racist context, filled with delightful songs like “How Are Things in Glocca Morra,” “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” and “Old Devil Moon,” and many more. This rare work should be a real treat, thanks to BCCM’s artistic director Paul Hope who brings his considerable skill and love of all things Broadway to the production.

Return of the Masters
September 8–18
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.
The three pieces that comprise Houston Ballet’s fall mixed rep have the finest pedigree and are full of wonder. First is the comic ice skating knockoff Les Patineurs by English master Sir Frederick Ashton; then there’s Jerome Robbins’s romantic, starry night dance In the Night, with its three heartsick couples; finally, Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s sumptuously evocative Song of the Earth, set to Mahler’s wondrous song cycle. One could dance the night away.

Former Alley Theatre associate director Michael Wilson directs Ether Dome. The openly gay director also helms Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate, at the Alley in October.

Ether Dome
September 14–October 9
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.
From mesmerizingly opaque and theatric (The Swan) to the baroque and melodramatic (The Reagans), attention must be paid to playwright Elizabeth Egloff. This is a world premiere, and a coup for the Alley, about that “extraordinary medicinal fluid called aether” which was first administered by dentist William Morton as a general anesthetic before surgeries performed at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. It’s a battle royale between ex-student Morton and mentor Horace Wells, whose use of nitrous oxide the previous year yielded painful results for the not-quite-comatose patient during that surgery. Humiliated and addicted to chloroform from his self-experiments, Wells anesthetized himself before slashing an artery in his leg and bleeding to death. I guess the question is: can pain ever be fully put behind us?

Woof
September 15–October 9
Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd.
Although read last August at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Y York’s (…and L.A. Is Burning) intense drama gets its official world premiere at Main Street Theater. LJ Freeman is Man of the Hour, a beloved football icon and devoted father of two who commits a stupid crime and sees his life unravel. “Pick a truth that’ll fix it,” LJ says to his handler. It’s not that easy.

Anna in the Tropics
September 16–October 1
Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury Ln.
Nilo Cruz’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play is infused with sultry island breezes and the pungent aroma of cigar leaves. Lyricism and gritty reality mingle as the daily drudgery of rolling cigars is offset by the “lector,” who reads to the women as they toil. The words, beautiful and dangerous, arouse hidden passions as tradition crashes up against dreams.

Brahms’ Violin Concerto
September 16, 17, 18
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.
One of music’s Killer B’s, Dr. Brahms’ magnificent concerto for violin (1878) was written for his best friend at the time, Joseph Joachim, Europe’s preeminent virtuoso violinist. Later, they had a parting of the ways when Brahms took Joachim’s wife’s side in their divorce settlement. Brahms always had a thing for younger women, but during the writing of the concerto, Brahms insisted on his friend’s input. “What excuses me a little is that the concerto bears your name, and that therefore you are somewhat responsible for the violin writing.”

Pacino: One Night Only
September 19
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.
Intense. Dramatic. Over-the-top. Heat. Passion. Academy Award. The ultimate New Yorker. Brando’s successor. All that and more, when the gifted Mr. Pacino (The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Scent of a Woman) makes a one-night-only stand to chew the fat.

Daughter of the Regiment
September 22–October 2
Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd.
Gaetano Donizetti’s sparkling comedy (1840) is one of those gender-bender stories that Romantic theater was so fond of. Marie is a tomboy, hanging about with her soldiers and sighing for Tonio. It’s the singing that’s so superb, not the illusory story, and if the tenor can get through the nine high Cs in his showstopper “Pour mon âme,” all will be well.

Guys and Dolls
September 27–October 9
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.
Frank Loesser’s classic 1950 musical, adapted from the rough-and-ready Manhattan tales of Damon Runyon about tinhorn gamblers and 42nd Street Salvation Army reformers, is one of the great ones, rich with atmosphere and plenty of laughs. It never stops. Loesser made his name as a composer of film musicals, mostly at Paramount with Betty Hutton, but when he tried his hand at Broadway, he was equally at home and no less successful (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Where’s Charley?).

Lotto
September 29–October 23
Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main St.
Cliff and Bryan Roquemore’s family comedy revolves around that wonderful dream we all aspire to: winning the big one. Naturally, it’s not all that easy to put $10 million in your pocket when relatives, friends, and complete strangers toady up to you and tell you you’re the best, most handsome, most generous man in the world.

Galveston! The Musical
September 30–October 9
Masquerade Theatre
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.
Mark York’s musical about the Prohibition years on Galveston Island, written with Andreé Newport and Robert Wilkins, receives a re-thought-out production by our own pre-eminent musical company. The Sicilian brother duo, Rosario and Sam Maceo, started bootlegging on Galveston and gradually turned their “wine importing” into the underground empire of prostitution and gambling, establishing the Hollywood Dinner Club and, later, the Balinese Room as ne plus ultra in nightclub chic. When the heat was finally applied, they sold out to the Fertittas (their families had already intermarried), hightailed it to Las Vegas, and built the Desert Inn. Rosario was nicknamed Papa Rose. There’s already a Mama Rose cemented in Broadway history, so let’s see if there’s room for a Papa.

The Blond, The Brunette,
and the Vengeful Redhead

October 5–30
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
Rhonda (the redhead) is a complacent housewife with a son and loving husband. Suddenly, husband Graham informs her that he’s moving out. Next-door neighbor, trashy Lynette (the brunette) knows all about it, too. Therapist Dr. Doucette becomes involved, as does another neighbor, while Tanya, Graham’s mistress (the blond), finds herself on the receiving end of Rhonda’s gun. Seven characters, eight monologues, and one actress delineate Robert Hewitt’s monodrama of a woman’s controlled world spinning out of control. Houston’s theatrical treasure Susan O. Koozin licks her chops and dives in.

Wait Until Dark
October 6–30
Texas Repertory Theatre
14243 Stuebner Airline Road
Who can forget frail and blind Audrey Hepburn battling those mean old thugs in her swanky NY apartment, as they trick her mercilessly and make for the heroin in the doll. Hah, she’s too smart for that! She’s got a final trick up her Givency sleeve. She’s blind, so she’ll make them blind, too, by turning out all the lights. Frederick Knott’s hit suspenser (1966) was preceded by Dial M for Murder (1952), in which another lonely woman is menaced by an intruder. Murder was filmed in 3D two years later by Alfred Hitchcock.

Family feud: James DeMarse (l–r), Hallie Foote (playwright Horton Foote’s daughter), Maggie Lacey, and Devon Abner starred in the playwright’s Dividing the Estate.

Dividing the Estate
October 12–30
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.
Horton Foote’s delicate realism evokes porch swings, church fans printed with undertaker names on the back, starched linen trousers, sundresses, and iced tea—lots of iced tea. His work has won prizes: Pulitzer, Oscars, and a Medal of Freedom. What sets him apart from the other talented writers is his overweening humanity. He loves all his characters, even the scoundrels and wastrels, and his Chekhovian plays have an old-fashioned, rugged quality that suits his gentle folks who teeter on the brink of modern chaos. Nominated for a 2009 Tony Award for Best Play.

The Retreat from Moscow

October 14–29
Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury Ln.
Anyone who can write such different pieces as the tone poem Shadowlands (the autumn relationship between Christian author C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham) and the blood-and-guts Gladiator (the homoerotic relationship between Russell Crowe and Russell Crowe), can write equally well about family dysfunction. William Nicholson’s drama, nominated for a Tony Award in 2004 for Best Play, is bleak with a patina of intellectualism as mom and dad lurch through divorce while their son mournfully watches.

 

Organs not included: Houston Museum of Fine Arts scores yet another coup, exhibiting artifacts from the 14th-century B.C. reign of young King Tutankhamun, including this sarcophagus-like container that preserved the boy monarch’s own internal organs. Photo by Sandro Vannini

Tutankhamun: The Golden King
and the Great Pharaohs

October 16–April 15, 2012
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet St.
He’s back! Perhaps the most famous guy in the world, thanks to the uniqueness of the discovery of his intact tomb, King Tut (circa 1350 B.C.) certainly possesses the highest Q factor of any ancient person, and is the most stunningly bejeweled teenager ever. We can’t get enough of him, with or without that curse that follows him around like a bad smell. He was 18 when he died, and though his tomb had been broken into soon after the burial, the thieves were caught or escaped and everything was put back in hasty order—resealed until 1922 when Howard Carter, the great Egyptologist, guessed that the one tomb still undiscovered in the Valley of the Kings lay underneath the rubble of another pharaoh. The rest is history—and the greatest discovery in archeology.

The Barber of Seville
October 21–November 6
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.
Nearly 200 years old, Gioachino Rossini’s scintillating bauble of an opera hasn’t lost any of its sparkle. It’s the mother of all opera buffa stories. Rossini constantly recycled his own music, but it’s still amazing that he dashed off this masterpiece in record time—apparently in under three weeks. Pretty good for an opera that’s never gone out of style. Even for those who couldn’t care a fig about opera, this is the one to see. You’ll be thoroughly enchanted and amused as Barber Figaro helps his former master Count Almaviva win the heart of beautiful Rosina. It’s the best of fairy tales.

Oliver Twist
October 21–November 12
Theater Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest St.
A new adaptation by Neil Bartlett puts a “music hall” spin on Dickens’s chillingly melodramatic tale of orphan Oliver sliding into Victorian London’s underworld—a production far from the famous musical’s Broadway gloss. In the original London production (2004), designed like a “penny dreadful” theater of the macabre, a cast of 13 played over 50 parts, making this an epic, while master criminal Fagin was, as more than hinted at in the novel, a little too close to “his boys.” Barlett comments on Dickens while he reimagines him. It’s a bold theatrical take, and we look forward to this production being one of the most memorable this season.

Memphis
October 25–30
Gexa Energy Broadway
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.
The 2010 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical is an exuberant ode to rhythm and blues, something like a more serious and modest Hairspray with whites appropriating the black sound but without the gay antics of Edna Turnblad. It samples the lives of legendary manic Memphis DJ, Dewey Phillips, and Cleveland’s father of rock and roll, Moondog Alan Freed, that’s part Dreamgirls and a little bit Porgy and Bess, too. Whatever the mixture, it’s ultimately pure Broadway with a great deal of fun and energy.

Huey Lewis and The News
October 27
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.
Truth to tell, I didn’t know they were still around. But that ’80s sexy icon with the gravelly voice has just recorded a new tribute album, Soulsville, with his group The News, and they want a little promotion. Is that so wrong? Come hear standards “Heart and Soul” and “Power of Love,” as well as classic soul from those way-back years of 1965 and 1974. Remember those years?

Last 5 Years
October 27–November 5
Masquerade Theatre
Ovations, 2536 Times Blvd.
Opening off-Broadway in 2002, Jason Robert Brown’s two-character musical about a failed marriage has the distinct disadvantage of being the only show in which time runs backward for Kathy (her story begins at the end of their relationship) and forward for Jamie (his story proceeds in normal chronological order). They met in the middle, at the wedding scene, but never appear together again. It hinders the story’s progression, to say the least, but Brown’s rhapsodic music, especially the plaintive “If I Didn’t Believe in You” and “When You Come Home to Me,” keeps the interest strong as time gets all bent out of shape.

Fidelio
October 28–November 13
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.
When Beethoven’s mighty opera about freedom and matrimonial bliss premiered in Vienna in 1805, the audience consisted mostly of unruly French troops who had just invaded the city—and lots of harlots who were there to service them. Beethoven considered the whole affair a disaster and constantly tinkered with the work until he was happiest with a version from 1814. He told his librettist Georg Treitschke, “I assure you that this opera will win me a martyr’s crown. You have, by your cooperation, saved what is best from the shipwreck.” This shipwreck is now considered one of man’s greatest glories.

Speed-the-Plow
November 4–November 19
Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury Ln.
David Mamet’s 1988 dissection of Hollywood’s ice-cold contempt for artistry over money thrives on words. They’re used as shields to protect or hurl against enemies, to guard against getting too close to anybody. It’s the art of the deal for Bobbie and Charlie, and the big one is just at their doorstep. If only secretary Karen hadn’t entered the room.

A doo-wop Christmas: Stages Repertory Theatre seized on a good thing with the nostalgic musical, The Winter Wonderettes. The show gets even jollier with a holiday makeover, scheduled November 9–December 24. Photo by Bruce Bennett .

The Winter Wonderettes
November 9–December 24
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
These gals never go away. They’ve been such a smash that Stages might as well build another stage just for their continuing shows. Here’s the holiday version using the girl group, those Marvelous Wonderettes, crafted by Roger Bean, king of jukebox musicals. Wait for the 4th of July show!

 

Così fan Tutti
November 10–20
Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd.
Perhaps Mozart’s most comic opera, this gem from 1790, ever fresh from the rapier pen of master librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, details the fickleness of women. Off to war, Ferrando and Guglielmo wager Don Alfonso that their sweethearts will be faithful. The women swear their fidelity, but almost as soon as the men depart (and secretly come back disguised as “Albanians”), the two sisters fall into the arms of the complete strangers. This opera, which was practically forgotten after its premiere, is now one of Mozart’s crown jewels.

Lion in Winter
November 11–December 17
Company Onstage, 536 Westbury Square
“Don’t interrupt, dear, mother’s fighting.” This lovely bit of anachronistic dialogue from Eleanor of Aquitaine sets the mood for James Goldman’s biting and witty up-close-and-personal look at English royals from the 12th century (yes, nothing ever changes). It’s all a grand chess match as the aging Henry II battles his dysfunctional family for control of his throne. Wickedly good fun.

It’s a Wonderful Life
November 17–December 30
Texas Repertory Theatre
14243 Steubner Airline Rd.
Frank Capra’s seemingly immortal 1946 fantasy movie became a mainstay of popular holiday entertainment only when its original copyright ran out in the ’60s and it was broadcast nonstop on TV. Even overexposed, it’s a lovely movie, and the theatrical adaptation has just enough wistfulness and real feeling not to cloy. Any plot involving angels getting their wings has to tread carefully.

Cinderella
November 17–December 30
Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main St.
The African-American Shakespeare Company’s musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale returns for another holiday run. Carlton Leake wrote the jazzy tunes and lyrics, while wizard director/choreographer Patdro Harris spins the stage into gold—oh, wait, that’s another story.

Fruitcakes! A Very Special Holiday Special
November 18–January 15
Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt St.
Houston’s very own, and first, cabaret troupe—all veterans from Masquerade Theatre—regales us with its holiday show. It’s an original evening of song and comedy, and if it’s anything like their last show, Damaged Divas (which is still playing until November 13), then this one should be most entertaining. Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel, and Colton Berry are the ultra-talented quintet.

My Fair Lady
November 18–27
Masquerade Theatre
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.
Could this 1956 Alan J. Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) adaptation of G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion be the best musical ever? Let’s see: it’s got class, charm, wit, personality, delicious Edwardian period flavor, two indelible lead roles, a host of vivid characters, social satire, and those hats! Masquerade should do just fine with this one.

A Christmas Carol
November 19–December 27
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.
Alley’s cash cow has enough Dickens flavor to set just the correct mood for the holiday season, if you can put those curtain-opener dancing Halloween wraiths out of your mind. But ultimately, triumphantly, Dickens’s heartfelt story sings through loud and clear as three wondrous Christmas ghosts bedevil Scrooge and lead him—and us—into a better life.

The Nutcracker
November 25–December 27
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.
Another cash cow, and another glorious one, too. Ben Stevenson’s Victorian adaptation of Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s grand ballet classic is a wondrous tribute to stage magic and the magic of dance. Living rooms explode, snowflakes race over the hills, giant rats battle nutcracker soldiers, a candied sugarplum finds romance in the arms of her cavalier prince. Who doesn’t like Christmas?

Santaland Diaries
December 2–31
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.
I’ll tell you who doesn’t like Christmas: Crumpet the Elf, that’s who—and he’ll be the first one to whine about it. Storyteller deluxe David Sedaris once had a job at Macy’s being an elf in the toy department during the holidays. His experiences were so horrendous that he turned them into the funniest play of the season. There’s nothing like a gay man in striped leggings and curled Aladdin shoes, battling little screaming tots and their big screaming mothers, to make one forget Christian charity.

White Christmas
December 6–18
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.
Something was missing when this lumpy adaptation of the 1954 VistaVision movie first came to town—oh, yeah, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. The show’s been reworked a little to iron out the rough spots, and there’s always plenty of feeling even when Irving Berlin dusts off some second-rate tunes, the exception being the hittest hit tune of all: “White Christmas.” When this opens, Houston’s temperature may still be 101 degrees, so the final scene should drive us batty.

The Irish Tenors
December 7
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.
Even standing outside in Jones Plaza, you’ll be able to hear these three. This is their touring holiday show, and singers Anthony Kearns, Finbar Wright, and Ronan Tynan, accompanied by full orchestra, will radiate enough Irish charm to make us believe in leprechauns.

Forbidden Broadway
December 13–17
Masquerade Theatre
Ovations, 2536 Times Blvd.
All Broadway queens will salivate with this revue from the sharpest queen in the room: Gerald Alessandrini, who won a special 2006 Tony Award for his biting satires. All the showbiz greats, near-greats, and has-beens get skewered—lovingly, of course—in this musical parody to end all musical parodies. In the more intimate setting of Ovations nightclub, the pros at Masquerade will get appropriately bitchy and catty. This is catnip for them, and for us.

Moonlight and Magnolias
December 31–January 21
Theater Southwest, 8944 Clarkcrest St.
What better way to end the year and begin anew than with the backstage story of the making of Gone with the Wind. Filming has begun, but legendary producer, busybody, all-round pest, and pill-popper David O. Selznick doesn’t have a complete script for his epic of the Ol’ South. He locks himself, along with newly hired screenwriter Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming, in his office for the weekend and won’t let anyone leave until they hammer out a movie. They can have all the peanuts and bananas (and bennies) they want. In this somewhat true comic retelling, the South will rise again, but it might be over their three dead bodies.

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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