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Great wall of dancers: the Deborah Colker Dance Company visits Houston in October.

Things to do before the end of the world
by D. L. Groover

Only two months of incessant, annoying political ads remain, and then the world will end or everyone will breathe easier. Oh, wait, the world’s supposed to end December 21? Can’t keep track of doomsday or the rapture? The 2012 fall arts season has plenty to keep us occupied, distracted, or thinking deep thoughts until the end draws nigh. As usual, there’s something for everybody: men in bad drag, the smell of heliotropes in the moonlight, hypocritical Parisians, cool jazz for an autumn night, a living statue, a girl who travels by pumpkin, a flying fairy, and other wonders too numerous to mention. Who cares about the end of the world? We’ve got a show to see…

Our Town
Through September 9
Houston Family Arts Center
10760 Grant Rd.
281/685-6374
Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece, a giant of a play deserving its 1928 Pulitzer Prize, is all small-town Americana writ large. Large as in cosmos-large. Shelling beans, the stars overhead, and the corner drugstore with its strawberry phosphates are equally important—but not as important as loving life, every second of it, as heroine Emily breathlessly declares. Closeted Wilder, who at one time had a torrid affair with one Samuel Morris Steward (who would later morph into gay erotica icon Phil Andros) knew the value of quiet passion and deep reserve. Why he hooked up with hot-to-trot Andros is one of literature’s abiding mysteries.

Leading Ladies
Through September 16
Texas Repertory Theatre
14243 Steubner Airline
Ken Ludwig’s cross-dressing romp is farce, pure and simple: Jack and Leo, two unemployed actors, attempt to bilk a wealthy old lady out of her fortune by passing themselves off as her long-lost nieces “Maxine” and “Stephanie.” It’s no spoiler to report that the “girls” meet some country pretties and fall head-over-5 o’clock shadow in love. It’s all harmless yuks, split-second timing, and sexual innuendo from Ludwig who has given us I Hate Hamlet and Lend Me a Tenor.

November
Through September 23
Alley Theatre
615 Texas
713/228-8421
Sandpaper playwright David Mamet (Glengarry Glenn Ross and American Buffalo) and scriptwriter David Mamet (Malcolm X and Wag the Dog), who’s usually never met an Anglo-Saxon expression he didn’t like, meets comedy gag-writer David Mamet in this political put-down that’s as filled with one-liners as any late-night satire. Politics goes all silly and surreal, which these days doesn’t seem so far off the mark.

One for all, all for one: Stages Repertory Theatre has extended Roger Bean’s do-wop musical, Life Could Be a Dream, due to popular demand, through October 14.

Life Could Be a Dream
Through October 14
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
713/527-0123
Roger Bean’s sweeter-than-teen-angst jukebox musical has been extended at Stages, which makes that company very happy indeed. Another smash hit for the prolific Bean, who gives us the Crooning Crabcakes as the male flip-side to his Wondrous Wonderettes. Never fear, the boys are just as cute, perky, and indomitable. Doo-wop goes viral. Cameron Bautsch, Dylan Godwin, Adam Gibbs, and Mark Ivy are the teen crooners, and a more adorable quartet would be hard to find.

Children of Paradise
September 1, 2
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
1001 Bissonnet
713-639-7300
Marcel Carné’s poetic, evocative, and very French costumer, set in the backstage theater world of 19th-century Paris, is a cinematic treasure trove depicting theater as life, and life as theater. Filled to the frame with timeless passion, jealousy, and obsession, the teeming awful real world is set against the equally teeming, yet sometimes pure, make-believe. No one escapes life’s bitter lessons, but the movie’s visual lavishness (incongruously shot on a shoestring budget, and off the radar of the occupying Nazis) is stunning and unforgettable, as are Jean-Louis Barrault’s exquisite performance as famous mime Baptiste and the sculptural planes of Arletty’s face.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure
September 5–October 7
A.D. Players
2710 Alabama
713/526-2721
At the turn of last century, actor William Gillette was famous for two things: his manly handsomeness and his portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. It was Gillette who gave Holmes his deerstalker hat and Meerschaum pipe, as well as the line said to sidekick Watson: “Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow.” Like Eugene O’Neill’s famous father who made his name and cushy fortune in one role—The Count of Monte Cristo—Gillette played Holmes, in New York, London, and on the road, from 1899 through 1932. He played Holmes on screen in 1916 in a silent adaptation of his own play, and on radio. Our conception of the character is all from Gillette’s portrait. He was so good in the role that whenever he performed in other plays during his long career, he always had to schedule the Holmes play, which he had adapted with Doyle’s permission. He built a castle in Connecticut with his profits and died happily in 1937, while mocking his many farewell tours.

2 Pianos 4 Hands
September 5–October 28
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
713/527-0123
Canadian actor/musician-turned-playwright hit pay dirt when he combined all three of his passions in 1996, putting his piano training and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art degree to very good use. His play, co-written with Ted Dykstra, is all about concert music stardom, making it big, and lots of practice, practice, practice. With virtuosic playing and a very entertaining play in which to show off, the profession of music-making is not exactly soft-pedaled.

One Touch of Venus
September 6–9
Bayou City Concert Musicals
3517 Austin
713/465-6484
Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash, and J.S. Perelman’s rarely performed sophisticated satire, a sassy Pygmalion, gets the usual glossy treatment from Paul Hope’s magnificently energetic Bayou City Concert Musicals. Staging a show without fully staging it requires a lot of wizardry and theatrical know-how, and Hope never disappoints. This musical from 1943, wherein a statue of Venus (the eternally lovely Danica Dawn) comes to life and falls for a barber (the eternally entertaining Rob Flebbe), is a Houston premiere. Once a goddess, always a goddess, though, and when she imagines what life with a barber will be like, she turns back into marble—sort of. In one of her few career mistakes, the incomparable Marlene Dietrich turned down the role, which then passed to a rising Mary Martin, who became a certifiable Broadway goddess.

Madame Butterfly
September 6–16
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/227-2787
Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch created this dance adaptation of Puccini’s immortal opera for the Australian Ballet in 1995. It’s been an international hit since then, but we have to admit that no company overlays the sex and raw emotion like Houston’s. Influenced by the minimal Noh and expressionist Kabuki theaters of Japan, the ballet is gloriously alive with detail and thrillingly erotic—in the opera, bashful Cio-Cio-San is supposed to be fourteen when married to cad Pinkerton—and the sets and lavish costumes by Peter Farmer are as breathtaking as an embroidered kimono. This Butterfly flies high.

Superior Donuts
September 7–29
Theatre Southwest
8944-A Clarkcrest
713/661-9505
This is the latest play from Tracy Letts, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his blistering family drama August: Osage County. His revenge, cop-for-hire movie Killer Joe, starring Matthew McConaughey and based on his own 1993 play, just opened last month, while his psycho Bug was a study in scarlet, as in blood. Donuts is softer than his usual fare––old leftie Arthur, who runs a coffee shop in Chicago, gets an emotional makeover from his new black employee Franco. The New York Times called it “a gentle comedy that unfolds like an extended episode of a 1970s sitcom . . . a warm bath of a play that will leave audiences with satisfied smiles rather than rattled nerves.” How unlike Mr. Letts.

Best of Brahms
September 14, 15, 16; 20, 22, 23; 28, 29, 30
Houston Symphony
615 Louisiana
713/224-7575
In honor of Houston Symphony maestro Hans Graf’s imminent retirement at the end of the season, he has programmed some of his favorite hits, and this three-weekend run of Brahms, one of Graf’s young inspirations, is particularly exciting. Not only are the works some of the best music ever written, but the solo performers are some of the world’s greatest interpreters: Garrick Ohlsson, piano, for the Piano Concerto No. 1; Frank Huang, violin, and Brinton Averil Smith, cello, for the Double Concerto (first weekend); baritone Joshua Hopkins in the Requiem (second weekend); and Jonathan Biss, piano, in the titanic Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by John Storgårds (third weekend). German romanticism doesn’t get any better.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
September 14—October 6
Island E.T.C.
2317 Mechanic St., Galveston
409/762-3556
Slinky Maggie the cat and closeted hunk husband Brick throw off sparks and insinuations in Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize winner. Former football star Brick just can’t get over his “friend” Skipper’s suicide, and if he doesn’t soon sleep with Maggie there’ll be no heir, so Big Daddy’s Mississippi plantation will fall to worthless Gooper, his busybody wife Mae, and their “no-neck children.” Passions run deep as ol’ man river and dank as Spanish moss in Williams’ personal favorite among all his amazing plays. Big Daddy’s confession to favorite son Brick of his own youthful indiscretion is about as far as one can get from “mendacity” as Williams would dare. The play is wonderfully shocking and tremendously erotic.

Getting Sara Married
September 14—October 13
Theater Suburbia
1410 W. 43rd Street
713/682-3525
Veteran TV pro Sam Bobrick (Captain Kangaroo, The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, Get Smart, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour) can write a comedy in his sleep; this one is plotted with assurance and has the gentleness of the family-friendly fare for which he is so renowned. To help her defiantly modern niece get married, yenta Aunt Martha kidnaps her accountant and brings him to her like a cat with a mouse. Meeting cute comes with a concussion. That Sara already has a fiancée only complicates matters, which is exactly what a good plot device should accomplish.

[email protected]
September 20–30
Houston Ballet
501 Texas
713/227-2787
Three diverse female choreographers strut their stuff at Houston Ballet. Each artist is different, but the one thing they all share in common is talent, pure and simple. Quality knows no gender. Julia Adams with her ethnic Ketubah shows off her storytelling-through-dance skills; spikey Aszure Barton wows with the dance vocabulary pizzazz of . . . (well, she’s so edgy there’s no title at press time, but the piece uses as its score Mason Bates’ The B-Sides: Five Pieces for Orchestra & Electronica; while old pro Twyla Tharp dazzles with her neo-classical The Brahms-Haydn Variations. These women know what they’re doing; and they do it with class.

Life Is a Dream
September 20–October 21
Main Street Theater
2540 Times Blvd.
713/524-6706
Pedro Calderón de la Barca (or plain old Calderón, for the theater wonks) is Spain’s preeminent playwright, and this is his preeminent work. He lived during the Spanish Baroque, a few decades after Shakespeare, and multitasked like many of those intrepid forebears: law student, poet, decorated soldier, playwright, priest. He had friends in high places, King Philip IV especially, and his medieval religious views are transformed into great art by his enlightened poetry and dramatic imagination. Heir to the throne Segismundo has been kept in confinement all his life for fear he will fulfill the prophesy that he will kill his father. Let out, the prophesy proves true, but so does the prince’s natural kindness. The wild child turns prince of peace in the play’s most famous lines: “What is life? A frenzy, an illusion, a shadow, a fiction…for all of life is a dream, and dreams are nothing but dreams.”

Last Tango in Paris
September 21
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
1001 Bissonnet
713/639-7309
The politics of anonymous sex will hit you like a ton of bricks in Bernardo Bertolucci’s cinematic succès de scandale. Both director and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro were catapulted into the international pantheon after the 1972 premiere. Marlon Brando didn’t do badly by this movie, either—romping through the picturesque empty rooms of his Parisian apartment and smearing butter on nubile Maria Schneider, who’s awfully pretty but somewhat out of her league. Demeaning, brutal sex is elevated by Bertolucci into evocative psychic need. Gato Barbieri’s sax-filled waltzes help immensely to set the scene.

Beauty and the Beast
September 25–30
Gexa Energy Broadway
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
713/622-7469
Disney’s animated classic—I know, it’s hard to be a classic when the release date is only twenty-one years ago (1991)—was the studio’s first cartoon to be nominated for Best Picture. Its phenomenal worldwide success prompted the Disney juggernaut to consider turning it into a Broadway musical, which had been the project’s impetus from the beginning. Alan Menken’s delightfully rhapsodic music, coupled with Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s sophisticated, witty lyrics (Ashman died during filming) is the perfect fit for the Great White Way. Like the cartoon, the show is much simplified from Jean Cocteau’s ravishing beauty of a live-action movie (1944), but it’s a giant crowd-pleaser, and even the cinematic “Be Our Guest” sequence can astonish on stage when properly handled.

Miss Julie
September 26–October 14
Classical Theatre Company
Studio 101, 1824 Spring Street
713/963-9665
Prolific Swedish playwright August Strindberg was happiest when his work shocked the bourgeoisie, and this one-acter from 1888 was as shocking as a taser. Its frank depiction of class warfare S&M guaranteed an outrageous response. Miss Julie, a count’s daughter, goes slumming among the servants and makes an overt play for her father’s majordomo. She plays with matches and gets terribly burned. Highly stylized with dream imagery, the play turns naturalistic in the sexy tug of war between male and female. How often do you get to see Strindberg these days and realize that Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams followed some very deep Swedish footprints.

Otello
September 27, 28, 29; October 4, 5, 6, 7
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Blvd.
713/861-5303
Gioacchino Rossini’s successor to his international smash The Barber of Seville was this adaptation of Shakespeare’s mighty tragedy. It’s such a bel canto rarity that it’s not even mentioned in Kobbe’s definitive Opera Book, and the work disappeared from the rep after Verdi composed his masterpiece in 1887. Although it owes little to Shakespeare, Rossini’s opera seria has much to recommend: three (count them—three) tenors (Otello, Iago, and Rodrigo), who compete for the high C’s, and the juicy part of Desdemona, whose character comes alive in the third act with the most dramatically vivid music in the score. In chilling counterpoint, an offstage gondolier interrupts her “Willow Song” singing fateful snatches from Dante’s Inferno moments before her jealous husband kills her. Critics at the time were so upset at the brutal ending that Rossini rewrote the finale for later performances in Rome, and the couple lived happily ever after. Shakespeare was not happy.

The Nacirema Society
September 27–October 21
Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main
713/520-0055
It’s 1964 in Montgomery, Alabama, and a half-dozen beautiful belles are about to make their debut. Love is in the air, and so is family strife as grandmothers Grace and Catherine plot the destinies of their grandchildren. The children have other ideas. In Pearl Cleage’s warm and lovely comedy, we see the upper crust of African-American society: successful, bright, privileged. It’s not really all that different from the other, paler section of society. Known for her more searing portraits of American black experience (Blues for an Alabama Sky, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day), Cleage’s comedy is all the richer because it’s not what we’re used to seeing. She happily turns expectations upside down.

Serious Money
September 28, 29, 30; October 4, 5, 6, 7
University of Houston
Wortham Theatre, Entrance 16 off Cullen Blvd
713/743-2929
Caryl Churchill’s brutal 1987 satire about Britain’s financial meltdown is so edgy, it can cut. Fast and furious, spoken in rhymed couplets, the play’s dissection of corporate raiders, money managers gone wild, and the bloody bear-baiting that happens in the stock exchange is probably timelier than ever. These guys and gals with the sharp teeth and knives poised at your back might as well be shouting, “Show me the money.” When a trader turns up dead, the others aren’t really interested in finding out why—they’re in a mad rush to get his clients’ insider information. When Churchill (Cloud 9, Top Girls) dissects rampant, bloodlust capitalism, greed is very good indeed.

The Glass Menagerie
September 28–October 14
Houston Family Arts Center
10760 Grant Road
281/685-6374
Tennessee Williams’ first hit (1945) is as delicate as daughter Laura’s collection of glass animals and as spikey as mother Amanda’s steely determination to get her wed. Son Tom, who narrates the play with the moon as backdrop, only breathes free when having anonymous sex in the balcony of the neighboring movie house. The genteel shabbiness of the family constricts them; they dream but can’t move. This is Williams at his most poetic and heartbreaking. Reality cracks them all; Tom leaves but can’t escape.

CraftTexas 2012
September 29–December 30
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
4848 Main St.
713/529-4848
Here’s the mother of all craft shows, the best Texas can offer. Forty-nine works, everything from polished aluminum stools made to look like wood stumps, a bracelet made from found driftwood and Pyrex, ceramic luggage in necco wafer stripes, a Jetsons sculpture made from paperback books. Believe me, these are not your Aunt Mary’s Popsicle-stick lamps. They are objets d’art of the finest quality and highest imagination. Five hundred applicants were painstakingly whittled down to the best of the best. Eat your heart out, Martha Stewart.

Death of a Salesman
October 3–28
Alley Theatre
615 Texas
713/228-8421
Arthur Miller’s traveling salesman, Willy Loman, with his failed attempts at success of any kind, has become the archetype of the American dream gone horribly wrong. His marriage is a shambles, his sons are tied into knots trying to live up to his expectations, which themselves are shams, his business is outdated and going downhill fast, and Willy is haunted by a past he cannot change and a near future filled with regret. He just wants to be liked—is that so bad? In his epic quest to be loved for who he is, he makes a complete mess of his life. “Attention must be paid,” pleads wife Linda at the end. No great villain and not much of a hero, just your average guy doing the best he can, Willy, to Miller, deserves our respect. The play (1949) won a Tony for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize.

Jekyll & Hyde
October 9–21
Theatre Under The Stars
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
713/558-8887
Robert Lewis Stevenson’s two-faced scientist returns to Houston in a new production of Frank Wildhorn’s most successful musical. Dr. Jekyll experiments on himself and brings out his wild side. Fresh from Broadway as the lead in Rock of Ages and its national tour, Constantine Maroulis, a Houston favorite and Tony nominee, plays the Victorian and his inner id, wailing through Wildhorn’s soaring ballads, like “This Is the Moment,” and then making goo-goo eyes at Deborah Cox, as prostitute Lucy, who gets to soar in her own ballad, “A New Life.” The musical is lush and overheated, but catches you up in its elemental story of good vs. evil. There are so many Jekyll-heads around, and fresh ones waiting in the wings, that this new incarnation should live long and prosper.

Frankenstein/Evil Dead: The Musical
October 12–27
Country Playhouse
12802 Queensbury
713/467-4497
Here’s a spooky double feature just in time for Halloween. First, on the main stage, see Dr. Frankenstein create life from a bolt of lightning—and multiple body parts from stolen cadavers—in this retelling from Victor Gialanella (daytime Emmy-winner for Days of Our Lives and Guiding Light), who retains much of the Gothic chill and Victorian melodrama from Mary Shelley’s original 1818 shocking “romance.” Evil hunchback Igor, created for the 1931 James Whale horror classic starring Karloff, is gone, as is the Arctic ice floe ending, but the pathos and overarching consequences of man-playing-God are front and center. When the big guy has finished wreaking havoc, head into Country Playhouse’s Black Box where you can boogie boogie boogie to the zombie musical Evil Dead, an adaptation of the highly successful slasher/abandoned-cabin B-movie franchise. Will you survive the Splatter Zone?

La Boheme
October  19 –November 10
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Center, 501 Texas
713/228-6737
The eternally youthful bohemians living in their unheated walk-ups in Paris, who find and then lose love, have been forever immortalized in Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen opera, whose music soars, flies, then soars some more. It’s the world’s most beloved opera, full of hearty camaraderie and high jinx, then sudden pathos and searing emotion. The old chestnut deserves all its accolades. If you’re going to die, from love or anything else, you might as well go out with Puccini.

Cassandra Wilson
October 20
Da Camera of Houston
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/524-5050
Jazz vocalist extraordinaire Wilson graces our town after a fifteen-year hiatus, during which she has garnered two Grammy awards. A somewhat protégé of the late, great Miles Davis, Ms. Wilson’s impressive musical range includes improv, skat, blues, folk, and now country. She heats up whatever song she sings, embellishing the melody with her velvety virtuosity that only improves with age.

Body Awareness
October 25–November 10
Stark Naked Theatre Company
1824 Spring Street
832/866-6514
Same-sex couples, granola, Asperger’s syndrome, self-image, and a photographer unduly obsessed with women’s bodies are just some of the subjects treated with humorous empathy by young playwright Annie Baker in this 2008 off-Broadway play. She doesn’t mock, she laughs softly with these tree-hugger types who roam a small-town college in upstate Vermont arguing about sexual politics, the male gaze, and people too smart for their own good. She gives everyone their due, whether they deserve it or not.

Mother Courage and Her Children
October 26, 27, 28; November 1, 2, 3, 4
University of Houston
Wortham Theatre, Entrance 16 off Cullen Blvd.
713/743-2929
Here is the mother of all existential survivor dramas: Bertolt Brecht’s 1941 classic downer where Mom, forever pulling her mobile canteen during the Thirty Years’ War, profits from the continual slaughter, but loses her family. One by one, the family is decimated, like the countryside, but Mom keeps going. Unstinting in its gloom and doom, Brecht’s caustic sermon on what “modern” life does to the human spirit is a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience. Heroism, goodness, and virtue get trampled, but Courage’s ironic survival instinct is indomitable.

The Italian Girl in Algiers
October 26–November 11
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/228-6737
Rossini’s opera buffa sparkles with the maestro’s patented wit and charm, helped along by the agile libretto by Angelo Anelli. The Muslim bey of Algiers is hot for an Italian girl but must figure out a way to have his wife fall for an Italian boy. When the Italian boy’s fiancée is shipwrecked and brought to the court, daffy complications ensue, which Rossini sets to some of his most bubbly manic music. The opera was a smash hit from the first performance in 1813, and continues to beguile to this day, growing ever younger and fresher each century. Spanish team of Joan Font, director, and Joan Guillén, set and costume designer, bring their troupe Els Comediants’ visual styling into the heady mix already supplied by Rossini.

The Oldest Profession
October 26–November 17
Theatre Southwest
8944-A Clarkcrest
713/661-9505
Five over-the-hill prostitutes ply their wares during the Reagan years just as New York City begins its crusade to clean up Times Square, which was scaring away tourists. In this early “social problem” play (1981) from Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive), the five old whores bicker, out-slut, and compete for dwindling johns, as one by one they eventually move on to a more celestial plane, bestowing the “skin on skin” job to the next in line. Survival doesn’t always mean success in this wistful, music-filled tribute to feisty, resourceful, and down-on-their-luck gals.

Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony
November 1, 3, 4
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall, 615 Texas
713/224-7575
Always a patsy for rough trade, Tchaikovsky, when not trolling the banks of the Neva for coachmen or sailors, put all his emotions into his music. He was most happy when composing, and when inner demons came to visit, he didn’t let them interfere with whatever he was working on. The integrity of the piece remains unshakeable as the unrequited passion seems to get a sublime workout in his Symphony No. 6, dedicated to the love of his life, nephew “Bob” Davydov. If you want to read things into the symphony’s program, be our guest, but Tchaikovsky was rich, feted, and very happy with life, and being unbearably sad over love affairs—or not having them—was not his thing. This is just an ineffably beautiful work for symphonic forces, full of melody that may be autobiographical, but maybe not. Whatever it means—“emotional, passionate, full of pathos” is what the composer’s brother said Peter wanted it titled, and the Pathétique is one of the great works of musical art.

Fleaven
November 2–17
Miki Johnson
Catastrophic
Frenetic Theatre, 5102 Navigation
713/522-2723
Following on the heels of her successful world premiere, American Falls, Catastrophic veteran actress (and now playwright) Miki Johnson debuts her latest. All we know about it is what the short press release says: “The mall is the town. The town is the mall. The mall is a disco mall.” Sounds just like Catastrophic. Not to be missed.

Murdering Marlowe
November 2–17
Country Playhouse
12802 Queensbury
713/467-4497
Shakespeare as murderer? That’s the tasty premise of Charles Marowitz’s blank-verse thriller, as up-and-coming theater scribe William, on the cusp of fame and fortune, finds himself beset by nagging wife Anne, cash-strapped producer Henslow, philandering mistress Emilia, and rival playwright Christopher Marlowe, who in fact did die under mysterious circumstances when he was only 28. Marowitz takes the scant evidence from these Elizabethan times and runs wild, spinning a tall tale that might have seen life at the Globe. He gives master Shakespeare ample will to go green with envy and commit murder most foul.

Crazy for You
November 2–25
Houston Family Arts Center
10760 Grant Road
281/685-6374
Here’s a jukebox musical worth celebrating, primarily because it’s chock-a-block with Gershwin tunes. Playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor) borrows songs from the Gershwin brothers’ old musical Girl Crazy, interpolates two undiscovered rarities found in a warehouse in New Jersey, and weaves a complicated farce through them all, winding up with a Tony Award for Best Musical. Nice work if you can get it.

Les Misérables
November 6–11
Gexa on Broadway
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
713/622-7469
Certainly one of the finest musicals of its decade (1987), this epic show adapted from Victor Hugo’s gargantuan tome by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil has never stopped. Somewhere on earth, there is another production of Les Mis. Unlike its mega-hit sisters Lion King and Wicked, this Tony Award-winner for Best Musical has real brains, as well as beauty. This is old-fashioned Rodgers and Hammerstein showbiz know-how, allied to Sondheim-brittle, and festooned with ripe melody and stirring passion. It’s a tearjerker and ironic social commentary. Producer Cameron Macintosh, who could have comfortably retired by now from the profits reaped from this show alone, has mounted a new production for the 25th anniversary, and we hope the glorious “barricade” turntable set will still turn and chug into position, as it has faithfully done for over . . . what . . . 50,000 shows?

Winter Wonderettes
November 7–December 30
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
713/527-0123
“It’s not a comeback,” snaps silent-screen has-been Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, “it’s a return!” Well, these irrepressible singing sweethearts are back. The question is, did they ever really leave or just morph into the boy group The Crabcakes from Life Could Be a Dream (another invention from jukebox king Roger Bean), which is still packing them in at Stages. We can’t fight the girls’ immense popularity, as they doo-wop through every Christmas song imaginable with their patented charm and cuteness. Better to sit back and enjoy, and dream about next year’s reappearance.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi
November 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Blvd.
713/861-5303
Bel canto master Vincenzo Bellini would have made this opera a lot more popular if he had just called it Romeo and Juliet, but he had to go all formal and snooty. Of course, it didn’t help that his libretto barely touches Shakespeare; but the Bard wasn’t as sacred in 1830 Italy as he would inevitably become, and Romeo, a trouser role, is sung by a mezzo, which puts a real damper on the duo’s fiery Renaissance passion. This is minor Bellini (Norma; I Puritani), a true rarity now, having once been staged all over Europe to great acclaim. The orchestra interludes are first rate, though, and Juliet’s “romanza” from Act I is a stunner. Only thirty-seven years later, Frenchman Charles Gounod penned his R&J, and poor Bellini’s version was all but forgotten.

Squared Dancer

November 9 and 10
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Preston
713-526-1907
Two of Houston’s preeminent modern-dance companies, Jane Wiener’s Hope Stone and Marlana Doyle’s Houston Metropolitan Dance, combine forces for this exuberant paean to energy and inventiveness. Set to the pulsating electronic violin music of Marc Hennessey, the pulsating rhythms and free-form dancing should set our toes tapping. Also on the program will be Hope Stone’s revival of Change Is Inevitable (2005), which intersperses yodeling with Philip Glass, and various works from HMD’s repertory.

Tartuffe
November 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17
Rice Players
Hamman Hall, Entrance 21 off Rice Blvd.
713/348-PLAY
Hats off to Sun King Louis XIV. Without his patronage and protection, rapier wit Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (aka Molière) would probably have languished in the dank Bastille and never flourished as the greatest of France’s playwrights. His satires, seeming more brilliant now than when they were written in the 1660s, gave the idle rich and struggling bourgeoisie the middle finger when not sticking it in their eyes. Even with the royal nod, this masterpiece was banned for six years because the queen found it offensive. Full of life, his plays are the wonders of theater, so modern in outlook, so wise in character, so vital in performance. He completely turned French theater inside out, upending all western theater at the same time, when he made comedy respectable (and able to do harm through laughter). Not for nothing did his troupe become the national theater of France, the Comédie-Française.

Sylvia
November 9–December 15
Company OnStage
536 Westbury Square
713/726-1219
A.R. Gurney’s shaggy-dog story of midlife crisis is as cuddly as a puppy, since one of the three main characters is a stray dog brought into the household by henpecked Greg. When he shows more devotion and loyalty to “Sylvia” than wife Kate, fangs are bared and one of the bitches has got to go. Rarely have Man and Best Friend been as irresistibly portrayed as they are in this delightful ultra-smart comedy.

Cinderella
November 15–December 23
Ensemble Theatre
35435 Main
713/520-0055
This sassy, uptown adaptation of the classic story should be a lot better than it is, considering the pedigrees of its creators: whiplash director/choreographer Patdro Harris has brought visually alluring staging and snappy dance steps to Ensemble’s other musicals (the recent Sanctified was blessed by his sure touch), and composer/music director Carlton Leake has always supplied Ensemble’s musicals with quicksilver tempos and classy arrangements. Cinderella falls short because the inspiration seems a bit dry and paint-by-number. The usual Ensemble high-gloss production values are missing—there’s plenty of attitude but not much thought; yet the show’s been a big winner during the holidays, and these days the bottom line is awfully important.

A family affair: Mercury, the Orchestra Redefined (formerly known as Mercury Baroque), presents Bach and Sons, representing the works of just a handful of the classic master’s offspring.

Bach & Sons
November 17
Mercury, the Orchestra Redefined
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/533-0080
Houston’s tiptop Baroque ensemble, with its emphasis on period instruments, has undergone new branding. No longer Mercury Baroque, it’s now called Mercury, the Orchestra Redefined. That’s because they’re branching out—as in Schubert and Beethoven—and no longer confined to the music of the 17th through mid-18th century—as in Bach and Telemann. Its fall rep, though, harkens to their origins, and although we don’t know the exact program, the title says it all: music by the Great One himself and his four precocious progeny. Bach’s musical sons Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christoph, and Johann Christian carried on pappa Johann Sebastian’s work, though perhaps not to everlasting glory. With two marriages, Bach had twenty-one children. How he ever found time to write more than a sonatina is beyond comprehension.

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas
November 18–December 24
Alley Theatre
615 Texas
713/228-8421
If you crave tradition, the Alley Theatre’s lavish production will dazzle and confound. Adapted and directed by Michael Wilson for the company in 1990, Dickens would appreciate the literate script, especially since his Victorian pearls are abundantly sprinkled throughout, but he’d despise those horrid dancing spirits that torment Scrooge even before the tale begins, or the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (who pedals on stage with a Victorian bicycle), or the housekeeper in drag. These touches wear down the charm. Fortunately, enough of the original is still apparent to spread snowflakes of cheer.

Panto Mother Goose
November 20, 2012–January 6, 2013
Stages Repertory
3201 Allen Parkway
713/527-0123
As its holiday attraction for the kiddies, Stages has grabbed onto the idea of English “panto” with the tenacity of Scrooge holding onto his moneybox. Each one has been rather dreary (last year’s edition, Red Riding Hood, was redeemed only by Justin Doran’s delightfully sleazy Woof). So we’re praying to the holiday gods that this Goose will be golden. Book and lyrics are by artistic director Kenn McLaughlin, and original music is by David Nehls.

Love Goes to Press
November 23–December 23
Main Street Theater
2540 Times Blvd.
713/524-6706
Think of the classic screwball movie comedy His Girl Friday (you know, the mile-a-minute reporter exposé with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell). Now set that on an Italian World War II battlefield and replace Grant with another woman, and you’d have something like this 1946 valentine to the press corps. Written by Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles, two renowned war correspondents who covered the Spanish Civil War and WWII, and were friends to boot, this rarely performed little gem is grounded with a touch of real history behind the love antics. Here are two independent gals, crackin’ gum and wise, getting the scoop, and falling in love with guys they’d never give the time of day to in any other place. Ain’t war grand?

The Nutcracker
November 23–December 30
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
713/227-2787
As glittering as a snow-flocked pine on a crisp winter day, yet warm and toasty as a hot toddy, Houston Ballet dazzles with its annual holiday spectacle, set to one of Tchaikovsky’s most atmospheric scores. The opulent Desmond Heeley sets and costumes—all out of a Victorian bandbox—delight and tickle the eyes, as does the sure-fire theatrical rightness of Ben Stevenson’s choreography and the technical brilliance of the company’s dancers. Many casts rotate during the run, and any of them could light up the holidays brighter than a Power of Houston display.

Bill O’Reilly & Dennis Miller: Bolder and Fresher
November 24
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
Ticketmaster.com
Two of the most successful conservative political commentators butt personal ideologies and idiosyncrasies on this nationwide tour. They appear after the presidential election, so the opinionated “libertarians” will either be very quiet and depressed or very agitated and giddy. Either way, their personalities clash no matter how much they agree. If you think both of them are spawns of the devil, there’s probably no chance in hell that you’d go—but you might be pleasantly surprised (just don’t tell your friends).

Kimberly Akimbo
November 29–December 15
Mildred’s Umbrella
Studio 101, 1824 Spring Street
832/463-0409
Coming of age takes on real edge—and many comic sides, too—in Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s skewed look at teenager Kimberly, who is afflicted with one of nature’s rarest genetic malfunctions—progeria, rapid premature aging. When we meet her, she looks like a granny, but inside she’s still a kid. Her family is dysfunction in extremis: mom’s a wacko pregnant hypochondriac, dad’s an alcoholic, and aunt Debra, who drops in unannounced, is a bag lady with a screwy con scheme that makes the family look positively normal. Growing up is highly overrated.

The Santaland Diaries
November 29–December 30
Alley Theatre
615 Texas
713/228-8421
If you’ve had enough Nutcrackers, Christmas Carols, and Messiahs to last a lifetime, David Sedaris’s bitingly funny look at holiday mass-market madness is just your sugar plum. Unemployed, and gay as Rudolph’s rosy nose, our hero gets a job at New York’s Macy’s manic Santaland as Crumpet the Elf. His hilarious escapades with harried mothers, drunk Santas, and vomiting children will either put you in the giddiest holiday mood or send you looking for sanctuary in the nearest synagogue. Whatever happens, you’ll laugh yourself silly getting there.

Peter Pan
December 11–23
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
713/558-8887
She’s back! Like Maud Adams, who parlayed the title role in the Barrie play for years and seemed to get younger each season, former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby has found her signature success in the Broadway musical version (1954). She’s a spritely pixie, perfectly matched to the lively Americanized Barrie, by way of showbiz pros Jerome Robbins, Jule Styne, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Mark Charlap, and Carolyn Leigh. The show’s a delight, newly refurbished for the recent tour, and if you happen to get sprinkled by Tinkerbell, you, too, will believe in fairies. Like you need a reason.

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

Dripping with art: Houston Fine Art Fair, including Daniel MacFarlane’s Falls, returns to the Bayou City for a second go-’round.

SIDEBAR
It’s Not about Your Couch
Houston Fine Art Fair is another reason our town is cool

Forbes magazine recently declared that Houston heads its annual list of “America’s Coolest Cities.” One of the reasons for that exemplary kudo, though certainly underplayed in the financial publication, may be the fact that Houston is the nation’s third-largest art market.

That right-brain-oriented statistic is not lost on the producers of the Houston Fine Art Fair. Now in its second year, more than 66 galleries from throughout the U.S. and Latin America converge this month at Reliant Center displaying a diverse array of paintings, drawings, print editions, installations, sculpture, and photography.

But this is no “Ramada Inn Starving Artists” art sale, where patrons first measure the length of their couch to help determine the piece of art that most specifically speaks to their inner muse.

“HFAF will reflect the vitality and diversity of our city, state, and region,” said Melissa Grobmyer, president of MKG Art Management and HFAF show advisor. “This year, we focus on Texas, both its artists and collectors, as the generator for our amazing arts culture. The panels, events, and programming highlight Houston’s unique, sophisticated perspective in the international art market.”

Local galleries participating in the fair (as of press time) include Anya Tish Gallery, Barbara Davis Gallery, Darke Gallery, Devin Borden Gallery, Gallery Sonja Roesch, Hiram Butler Gallery, Hook Epstein Galleries, John Cleary Gallery, Koelsch Gallery, McClain Gallery, McMurtrey Gallery, Peel, Sicardi Gallery, and Wade Wilson Art. Additionally, a new inclusion to the fair, HFAF Fahrenheit, spotlights galleries on the roster considered “trendy, new, and hot,” like Pristine Gallery and Tosca Galeria.

Organizers say the fair drew more than 10,000 visitors in its first endeavor; the 2012 event is expected to host as many as 15,000 art buffs, each intent on experiencing Houston’s vital art-gallery scene in one convenient location. Just like its host city, that’s pretty cool.

Houston Fine Art Fair. September 14–16.
Reliant Center, One Reliant Park • houstonfineartfair.com. —Nancy Ford

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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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