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Fall Arts Preview 2013

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AESliderThe heat is on.
by D.L. Groover

Each Houston theater season just gets better and better, unlike our Bayou City’s usual season, which only gets more humid and stays around longer. But if you want real heat, look no further than our Houston stages. What our exemplary, numerous, and diverse theaters have in store this fall is positively designed to make you sweat. It’s global warming in the best sense, as every continent except Antarctica is represented. Asia roars in with tumultuous percussion (Yamato Drummers of Japan); Australia purrs along with three drag queens (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert); Europe offers us champagne (Merry Widow), Shakespeare (Hamlet), Italian amoré (An Evening in Italy), and Greek goddesses with a penchant for rollerblading (Xanadu!); Africa arrives in time for the holidays (Djembe and the Forest of Christmas) or wows us with the wonders of ancient Egypt (Aida); and the Americas revel in Harry Connick, Patti Page, and whoever wears the pants in the family (The Pajama Game). Even the North Pole isn’t forgotten (Elf). And if you really want some hotness, there’s always the physical beauty of bodies in motion on display from Paul Taylor and Houston Ballet. Houston’s theaters are turning up the thermostat. Go, catch the heat!

The Book of Mormon
September 3–15
Broadway in Houston
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
800.982.2787
Those smart-ass South Park guys take on the Mormons in their patented politically incorrect way, and the Latter-day Saints will never be the same. Neither will the Broadway musical. The skewering is deliciously silly, off-color, definitely offensive, and wonderfully imaginative. Every sacred cow gets barbequed in this extravaganza of bad taste as two naive LDS missionaries travel to Uganda to spread the Word. Co-written with Robert Lopez from Avenue Q, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s musical (2011) won a slew of Tony awards, including Best Musical, Book, Score, Direction, Scenic Design, and Lighting Design. Don’t bring the kiddies, unless you want them to hear the translation of the villagers’ anthem, “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” The rules of good taste prevent me from translating, but you’ve been warned.

Four Premieres
September 5–15
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.227.2787
Houston Ballet launches its forty-fourth season with a mixed rep of four premieres. Two are by international dance masters James Kudelka and Christopher Bruce; the other two are by Garrett Smith and Melissa Hough, young former HB dancers just starting out on their choreographic careers. Kudelka, former artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, uses the rarely heard piano arrangement Beethoven created from his rhapsodic Violin Concerto. Bruce’s Intimate Pages, set to Leoš Janáček’s haunting String Quartet No. 2, has its American unveiling, having premiered in England in 1983. Smith and Hough now dance with the Norwegian National Ballet, and both have been awarded grants and fellowships to continue their prestigious dancemaking.

The Real Thing
September 5–29
Main Street Theater
2540 Times Blvd.
713.524.6706
“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little.” Playwright/screenwriter Tom Stoppard, perhaps contemporary theater’s most-admired author (Coast of Utopia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Arcadia, Shakespeare in Love), knows everything about words. Main character Henry, a playwright in this work from 1982, knows all about them, too, but finds them stumbling blocks in his current affair with an actress. Art versus artifice is a constant Stoppard theme, and here there’s a play-within-a-play to confuse and stimulate. There’s nothing better than Stoppard at his intellectual best, and this award-winning play is the real thing.

An Evening in Italy
Dominic Walsh Dance Theater
September 6
Miller Outdoor Theatre
6000 Hermann Park Drive
Free admission
Choreographer Dominic Walsh knows Italy, creating works for the renown Teatro di San Carlo and having as a partner Italian dancer Domenico Luciano, for whom he has created many leading roles that showcase Luciano’s bold masculinity and feline grace. To celebrate the Year of Italian Culture, the Consul General of Italy in Houston picked Walsh to put on a show. With dancers from Sarasota Ballet augmenting his own company, Walsh & Co. will perform Walsh’s I Napoletani (2007) and Bello (2005). Five Italian arias by Handel, a bit of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Neapolitan songs from the turn of the nineteenth century, and Walsh’s distinctive blend of visual drama and contemporary movement will put us in a pasta-eating mood.

Collide: An Evening of Collaborations
September 6–7
NobleMotion Dance
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
713.315.2525
To honor the passing of lighting designer extraordinaire Jeremy Choate, contemporary dance company NobleMotion revives Photo Box D, the group’s first collaboration with one of Houston’s preeminent designers. The work blazes with mystery, shadows, and blasts of searing light. Artistic directors Andy and Dionne Noble have also programmed With Both Hands, featuring a live performance of an original score by My Education. The black-box recording of a plane crash is used to create a unique soundscape that mirrors the distinct structure of the piece, which travels forward and back in time. Maelstrom is described by the company as pure testosterone, with fifteen male dancers doing what young male dancers would do when faced with formidable talent and chutzpah. The Grid, with its impressive video projections by artist David J. Deveau, has shrinking walls, cliff sides, and mazes in which the dancers find themselves.

Saloon Songs
September 6–October 26
Music Box Theatre
2623 Colquitt
713.522.7722
Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel, and Kristina Sullivan apply their idiosyncratic take on bluegrass and folk music in our favorite cabaret quintet’s latest original show. Comedy and stirring vocal styling are always highlights in their revues, and the multi-talented five will twang and heartbreak with the best, turning the intimate venue into the best little honky-tonk on the Bayou.

Dr. John in Concert
September 7
Miller Outdoor Theatre
6000 Hermann Park Drive
Free admission
Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr., aka Dr. John, is legendary as the “Night Tripper,” recent Grammy winner for Locked Down, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and for that growl of a voice that must be heard to be believed. No one combines zydeco with the bounce of boogie-woogie quite like he does. He’s a New Orleans institution, and has recently received an honorary doctorate from The Big Easy’s Tulane University. So now he’s known as Dr. Dr. He’s one of a kind, for sure, and is only here one night. Go, be at the right place at the right time. Desitively!

Hamlet
September 11–29
Classical Theatre Company
Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex
2201 Preston
713.963.9665
The most famous play in the world, with its most famous leading role, opens Classical Theatre’s season to challenge resident actor Matthew Keenan and director John Johnston. A murder mystery that reveals its secret in the very first scene, Shakespeare’s immortal play keeps us on the edge of our seats no matter how many times we’ve seen it. Embroidered with revenge, shocking sexual overtones, raw comedy, buckets of blood and vengeance, along with heavenly poetry filled with astonishing psychological insight, this masterwork weaves a spell unlike any other play in the rep. It’s not a classic for nothing.

The Pajama Game
September 12–15
Bayou City Concert Musicals
Heinen Theatre
3517 Austin
713.465.6484
The workers at Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory rousingly sing, “Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a hell of a lot; seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a thing! But give it to me every hour, forty hours every week, and that’s enough for me to be living like a king!” Battling for a wage increase under a dime means we’re definitely in ancient history—the fifties. This sparkling musical comedy, with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, is timeless. Management and workers spar and then fall in love, spar and then dance to Bob Fosse’s gymnastic “Steam Heat,” spar and then croon “Hey, There,” spar and then tango to “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Under Paul Hope’s inspired direction, BBCM—always the perfect way to start off the musical season—will spar and dance and sing to perfection.

Xanadu!
September 13–14
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
713.558.8887
This 2007 musical from Douglas Carter Beane (book, Jeff Lynne, music and lyrics, John Farrar) takes place in some weird parallel musical fantasyland. It is loosely—very loosely—based on the 1980 Olivia Newton-John musical film train wreck (which, to the chagrin of all cineastes, has become a cult classic) which, in turn, was loosely adapted from at least one very real Hollywood film classic (Here Comes Mr. Jordan). We might as well be in the eighties for all the roller skates, frosted-pink lipstick, disco balls, and the glittering spandex. Hey, wait a minute, we are! Goddess Clio descends on Venice Beach, California, to assist Sonny in achieving his dream: a roller disco! She falls hard for this mortal hunk. Poppa isn’t pleased, nor are her sisters. But don’t you worry and end up with those awful lines on your brow, because everything ends happily. Sweet Zeus.

The Merry Widow
September 19–29
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.227.2787
Whipped cream, Lehar waltzes, champagne, and cancan girls. Shake vigorously in a chilled decanter, and, voilà, you get Ronald Hynd’s comic ballet adaptation of Franz Lehar’s most tuneful Viennese operetta, last seen here in 2007. Placed inside designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno’s fin de siècle settings that reek of class and days gone by (way, way gone!), this enduring dance classic from 1975 is an audience favorite, an extravagant eyeful, and extremely easy on the ears. Hynd’s best work, the ballet has been performed by practically every ballet company in the world. With its large cast, every dancer gets to act up a storm, as well as dance with charm and vivacity. Beguiling and intoxicating, the ballet makes you drunk—but a good drunk.

Edvin Marton
September 20
Brilliant Lecture Series
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.974.1335
Is that a violin in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? Do we want to see Hungarian/Ukrainian violinist/composer Mr. Marton, or his priceless Stradivarius? Well, both, of course. His music (Tosca Fantasy and Romeo and Juliet) has been skated to by gold medal Olympic skaters (Evgeni Plushenko, Tatiana Totmianina, and Maxim Marinian), and he’s even won an Emmy for these pieces. Not too shabby. For the musicologists, though, it’s his instrument that draws raves—Paganini’s own Strad from 1697, on loan to him for life after winning a Canadian competition. Not shabby at all.

A Little Texas Teaser
September 20
Miller Outdoor Theater
6000 Hermann Park Drive
713.521.7464
Hey, when your organization wins the Judy Garland “Best Performance” award at Houston’s Gay Pride Parade, you’ve made it—and cannot be faulted. An expansive family of choruses (The Bayou City Chorale, Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston, and Bayou City Women’s Chorus) make up Bayou City Performing Arts, and their shining faces and glorious throats have been entertaining audiences for a whopping thirty-five years. New artistic director Kenneth Clayborne leads the guys and dolls in a diverse program of familiar tunes from concerts past.

The Rocky Horror Show
September 20–October 12
Stage Door Inc.
284 Pasadena Town Square Mall
Pasadena
832.582.7606
Don’t forget to wear your bustier and fishnets for this campiest of camp musicals. If I have to explain Dr. Frankenfurter and his love for Rocky to you, you’re not worthy to do the “The Time Warp” again. Pasadena will never be the same.

You Can’t Take It with You
September 20–October 20
Alley Theatre
615 Texas Avenue
713.228.8421
George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s deliciously screwball 1936 comedy, a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize winner, pits convention (the uptight, snobby Kirbys) against anarchy (the reprobate, low-rent Sycamores). Guess who wins?

Queen’s “A Night at the Opera”
September 21
Miller Outdoor Theater
6000 Hermann Park Drive
713.521.7464
Classic Albums Live is a gimmick we could get used to. This Toronto-based juggernaut from 2003 had the bright idea to perform famous albums live in concert in their entirety, meaning Sides A and B. Every electronic whoosh, sitar, or orchestral vamp is meticulously recreated, as are the vocal stylings of the famous singers. Here, it’s Freddie Mercury’s falsetto wailings and those incandescent guitar licks from Brian May. CAL doesn’t stop when the album’s catalog is complete, but offers additional signature numbers from the group’s repertoire. So be prepared to rock out to “I’m In Love with My Car,” “Seaside Rendezvous,” “God Save the Queen,” and then really wail to “We Are the Champions” and “Somebody to Love.” Freddie lives!

 Small pleasures: tenor Eduardo Tercero (sitting in chair) and violinist Maria Lin (standing)  will perform in Ars Lyrica’s Menus Plaisirs on September 22. Meghan Lindsay (sitting) will not perform in Menus Plaisirs, but she will perform in La Sposa Dei Cantici and A Wedding Feast.
Small pleasures: tenor Eduardo Tercero (sitting in chair) and violinist Maria Lin (standing) will perform in Ars Lyrica’s Menus Plaisirs on September 22. Meghan Lindsay (sitting) will not perform in Menus Plaisirs, but she will perform in La Sposa Dei Cantici and A Wedding Feast.

Menus Plaisirs
September 22
Ars Lyrica
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
713.315.2525
Marc-Antoine Charpentier had the misfortune of being a contemporary of Jean-Baptiste Lully, France’s greatest composer during the Ancien Régime. Although he wrote incidental scores for Molière, seventeen operas, and sacred pieces that were held in high esteem (and are considered his best work), he was never able to peep around the shadow of le grande Lully. He had friends in very high places, like the Duc d’Orléans and the Princesse de Guise, but his big break never came. Under the sublime direction of Matthew Dirst, Baroque music’s most ardent Houston admirer, Ars Lyrica’s “Season of Discoveries” uncovers a few of the forgotten gems of Charpentier, C.P.E. Bach, Handel, and that killjoy Lully.

Immediate Family
September 26–October 20
The Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main
713.520.0055
Prodigal son Jesse Bryant has a secret. When he comes home to Chicago for his brother’s wedding, he brings his Swedish “friend.” Does Jesse have an unnatural attraction for IKEA furniture? Herring on pumpernickel? Expensive socialized medicine? Or could he be . . . gay?! Surprise—this reunion in Chicago’s tony south-side black suburb is gonna be fun—or fireworks—as family laundry gets a good, old-fashioned airing. Playwright/actor Paul Oakley Stovall, artistic associate of the Dog and Pony Theater Company, presents a lovingly detailed treatment of a theme not usually dealt with in African-American theater. The world premiere, directed by Phylicia Rashad, opened last year at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

i scream
September 27 & 28
Photobooth on Montrose
2710 Montrose
713.526.1907
One of Houston’s most beloved dance companies, Hope Stone pirouettes into its fall season with its fourth annual “Lemonade Stand,” a metaphoric drive-in where we plunk down our five cents (!), get some refreshing culture, and drink it down. This piece by artistic director Jane Weiner comprises Edvard Munch’s Scream, Macaulay Culkin (remember the adorable blond kid from Home Alone whose career went nowhere?), and the love of ice cream. Binding these disparate ideas together is second nature to Weiner—she’s been doing it all her life.

The Pine
September 27–October 19
Catastrophic Theatre
1119 East Freeway
713.522.2723
If the wild and wooly Catastrophic Theatre has a spiritual guru, it must be experimental playwright Mickle Maher, whose redolent, psychotic, poetic works have been produced by this company with a junkie’s singular attention to physical detail and raw, naked emotion. If you’ve been blessed to see Catastrophic’s sterling, stirring productions of Maher’s The Strangerer, Spirits to Enforce, or There Is a Happiness that Morning Is, you know that this is main-line theater, straight into the bloodstream. In a superlative coup for the company, with a grant from the MAP Fund, Maher has been commissioned to write a world premiere for Catastrophic. The plot includes an old hotel, a green bellhop with a removable head, a pet fly, and Satan as one of the guests. Perfect for Catastrophic. If you have any respect for the power of theater, this play should not to be missed.

The Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medal Winner
September 28
Society for the Performing Arts
Wortham Center
501 Texas
713.227.4772
On June 9, it became official: Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko, a student and assistant teacher at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory, tickled the ivories better than the thirty other young hopefuls and won the ultra-prestigious Van Cliburn Competition, held in Fort Worth every four years. He wins $50,000, a record contract, and performance attire. Kholodenko apparently sparkled through Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto and breezed lightly around Mozart’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 21, while also taking the top prize in new work and chamber music. Apparently he’s also a pro at Schubert, having won that eponymous competition last year in Dortmund, Germany, as well as another international award in Japan. That’s a lot of practice. “It’s kind of fun for audience, for press,” he said backstage after the win. “It’s interesting to put first, second, tenth, and so on. But in life, not so important.”

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew
September 28
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet
713.639.7300
Nominated for Academy Awards in set design, costumes, and score, having previously won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s neo-realist biblical movie (1964) is the least controversial of anything this controversial artist ever did. An avowed Marxist, atheist, and openly gay since his youth, Pasolini stirred up passion and the tabloid press wherever he went. A poet, journalist, novelist, then filmmaker, Pasolini railed against the bourgeois (he called them “glow worms”), consumerism, conventional morality, and sexual hypocrisy. Using the lived-in faces of non-professional actors (his mom plays the adult Mary), he gives the movie a rugged, flinty surface like a medieval painting, but overlays the stark black-and-white with musical swathes of Bach, Prokofiev, and Odetta singing the blues. Dedicated to Pope John XXIII, the movie is revolutionary and deeply reverent.

Queens of the desert: see the flashy musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Houston September 29–October 12. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Queens of the desert: see the flashy musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Houston September 29–October 12. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical
September 29–October 12
Theatre Under the Stars
The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
713.558.8887
Bring out those platform shoes, glitter wigs, and work it, girl. Those three bitchy companions (two drag queens and a transsexual) drive that beloved but unreliable lavender camper into the wilds of the Australian outback to perform their cabaret act. Can you guess what adventures await? If you’ve seen the 1994 movie from Oz starring Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp, you know the camping that ensues, as well as the theme of acceptance that spins overhead like the biggest of disco balls. The musical version (2006, American premiere in 2011) uses a slew of pop tunes (“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” “Say a Little Prayer,” “Material Girl,” “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy”) and a boatload of glitzy, high-rent costumes to carry the boys through the uplifting message. Wade McCollum, Scott Willis, and Bryan West play the muscular gals. Oscar winners for Best Costume Design, Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner turned a neat trick and picked up a Tony in the same category for the Broadway version.

La Traviata
October 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.228.OPERA
One of the great ones from the opera stage, Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece (1853)—one of so many—is that rare achievement: an adaptation of a classic novel that is just as good as the source. Verdi and librettist Piave fashioned the ornate tale into a classic triangle with Violetta at the apex and Alfredo and his father Germont sharing the base. It’s Germont who, as the bastion of middle-class morality, sets the plot in motion by convincing Violetta, a high-class prostitute, to give up Alfredo. Out of love she does so, dying of consumption as the father relents and her lover returns. Full of tunes you’ve heard all your life (Violetta’s drinking song “Libiamo,” the lovers’ duet “Un di felice,” Violetta’s goodbye “Addio del passato,” and the lovers’ farewell “Parigi o cara,”), the opera is a special intro to the world of opera. If you’ve ever been curious about this wacky art form, Traviata just might convince you to return for more.

Sprawl
October 4, 2013–January 19, 2014
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
4848 Main Street
Are you exasperated by Houston’s strip malls everywhere, the McMansions sprouting among the Montrose bungalows, the Tower of Traffic on Bissonnet, the Walmart in the Heights, or the never-ending expansion of I-10? Sixteen artists take on urban sprawl as only artists can—which means a sort-of-intellectual, supposedly non-polemical view—as they peer into the “infrastructure, survey and plan, and aftereffects.” The curators say, “We want to harness that complexity to create an exhibition that looks at the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Just look around, we say. A good Bic lighter would help.

The Beach Boys
October 5 & 6
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice Street
Galveston
800.821.1894
Sweet California girls, are these guys still alive? Apparently so—although their grueling 2013 bus-and-truck touring schedule may kill off what’s left of the graying blonds. Supported by five non-surfer dudes, original members Mike Love and Bruce Johnston will hang ten and flashback to the sixties with feelin’-good classic vibrations like “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Help Me Rhonda,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Surf’s up!

Veronica’s Room
October 9–November 3
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
713.527.0123
At one point in his career, writer Ira Levin threatened to knock Stephen King off his pedestal. His hick comedy No Time for Sergeants started the wrecking ball rolling, but Levin soon turned to the macabre and creepy that even scared King. A Kiss before Dying, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Stepford Wives were phenomenally successful as books and later films, and he followed their success with this horror play from 1974. There’s an isolated mansion, naturally, looked after by a rather batty but seemingly sincere old couple who convince a young couple they meet at a restaurant to visit their house. Don’t go, we scream out—but do they listen? What they find in the locked room is a picture of the owner’s daughter who looks exactly like the young female visitor. This is not going to end well, you may think, but you’ll have to go and see what happens. My advice: never dress up in a dead girl’s dress.

Lizzie
October 10–20
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
713.558.2600
In hopes of cultivating a hipper, younger crowd, Theatre Under the Stars initiates Underground, an intriguing and edgy new musical series that boasts “no revivals, no dead authors, no boundaries.” The program, which plays in the Hobby Center’s smaller Zilkha Hall, starts off with the rock opera Lizzie (2010), written by out composer Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt, all about Elizabeth Andrew Borden, the Gilded Age’s most notorious accused murderer. During her trial, Lizzie Borden asserted her innocence, played coy, and blamed the maid. The jury of staid Fall River burghers couldn’t conceive that a respectable middle-class unmarried daughter of a stingy, unloving father and a harsh, unloving stepmother would possibly dream of whacking them with an axe as they slept off the effects of spoiled fish chowder. Borden got away with murder, moved with her sister to an expensive house in the best part of town, acquired servants and a coachman, and lived another thirty years—rich, infamous, and shunned—until she died of pneumonia following gall bladder surgery in 1927. Ripe material for a musical.

All Girls
October 10–26
Stark Naked Theatre Company
Spring Street Studios
101 Spring Street
832.866.6514
Teenage girls. If you think you know all about them, or remember what it was like on the cusp of adulthood (well, the high school years), then Anna Greenfield’s emotionally faithful rendition—called “alarmingly cathartic” by fellow playwright Christine Schmidt—will either be a splash of ice water or a bracing slap in the face. The play just recently premiered off-Broadway last February, so Stark Naked has scored a coup in getting this “comedy” so soon. Kim Tobin plays the therapist mother of one of the girls, and there’s plenty of role-playing for the three teenagers to act out. Playwright Greenfield has said that her play “is a hyper-real, sometimes surreal play about three teenage girls and one colossally scary mother. It’s also funny.”

Paul Taylor Dance Company
October 12
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
713.227.4SPA
“One Performance Only” is all we get to experience one of the most inspiring contemporary dance companies in the world. Taylor, a giant in modern dance, choreographs as if it’s as easy as breathing—or maybe heavy breathing. His work, all fifty years of it, is always scrumptiously physical, neo-romantic, exquisitely produced, comically ironic, and usually carries a hint of a message. Three of his masterworks are on the program: Airs (1978), an autumnal ode set to Handel; Esplanade (1975), exuberant and folksy, using everyday movement set to Bach; and Sunset (1983), his war poem using aching Elgar and loon songs. A great plus is the company’s use of live music—here, our own Mercury-The Orchestra Redefined. Look for the masculine grace of the great Michael Trusnovec, one of dance’s preeminent artists, among his astonishing dancers who are renowned for their vigor and vivacity. Be prepared to be moved.

Peter and the Starcatcher
October 15–20
Broadway in Houston
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
800.952.6560
If there’s a wild youth inside your soul, or just an unrepentant show queen straining to escape, don’t miss this sparkling, imaginative, wickedly funny show. A prequel about how J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan “grew up” into the boy who wouldn’t grow up, this magical piece of theater is really about the magic of theater and the power of our imagination. Based on the best-seller by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, twelve shamelessly hammy actors play all the characters—pirates, fathers, Lost Boys, whatever. The set is minimal, anything at hand will do for props, and we’re immediately off on the most fabulously theatrical journey. A winner of five Tony awards, this brilliant vaudeville is exhilarating in the best sense. The play flies—no, it soars, zooms, and zips, lighter than air—straight into your heart.

Aida
Oct 18, 20, 26, 29. Nov 1, 3, 9
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
510 Preston
713.228.OPERA
Another Verdi masterpiece (see La Traviata, above), this grandest of grand operas (1871) had been commissioned by the Khedive of Egypt to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. Verdi said no, so the canal (along with Cairo’s lavish new Italian Theatre) opened with Rigoletto instead. Not a bad consolation prize. But the profligate Khedive still wanted a world premiere from the world’s preeminent opera composer. Acceding to Verdi’s outlandish terms, the Khedive got his opera. Aida finally opened on Christmas Eve, after multiple delays caused by the Franco-Prussian War. The wait was worth it. The opera—all about love versus duty and fathers versus daughters—is colossal, with four gangbuster roles, a gargantuan set depicting the splendors of ancient Egypt (it’s not unusual to see anachronistic elephants in the Triumphal Scene), and a thunderous score full of intimate, shimmering orchestral color. Overall, a damn good show. If you want your opera big and tuneful, this is the one!

Venus in Fur
October 18–November 17
Alley Theatre
615 Texas
713.228.8421
Not since classic Albee has there been such psychosexual fun and games on stage as the role-playing that occurs in David Ives’s darkly funny 2010 off-Broadway sex comedy. At wit’s end over finding the right actress to portray the iconoclastic ball-buster and whipmeister Wanda for an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 scandalous novel Venus in Fur, director Thomas is suddenly—with a thunderclap, no less—confronted by struggling actress Vanda, who’s almost too perfect for the role once she wheedles an audition from him. He reads the part of Kusiemski, the novel’s masochist, and before you can scream Hurt me!, the role reversals knock you senseless. Seduction, seductive power, or just plain love-versus-sex gets a sweaty, hilarious, smart-as-a-whip workout. For adults only, please. Do not try this at home. If you do, please don’t try sexting photos to friends.

Awesome Audra: on a recent Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Fallon read a request from his Suggestion Box in which a viewer wanted to hear Yahoo! Answers sung by a professional singer. Five-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald obliged. You can hear that fabulous voice in person in Houston on October 19. Photo by Lloyd Bishop/NBC.
Awesome Audra: on a recent Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Fallon read a request from his Suggestion Box in which a viewer wanted to hear Yahoo! Answers sung by a professional singer. Five-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald obliged. You can hear that fabulous voice in person in Houston on October 19. Photo by Lloyd Bishop/NBC.

Audra McDonald
October 19
Society for the Performing Arts
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.227.4772
Broadway diva Audra McDonald, winner of five Tony awards for roles in Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, Raisin in the Sun, and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, is beautiful enough to be a movie star, although her luck on the silver screen isn’t as good as it is on Broadway. Throughout her impressive career, she has branched out into concert work, recently with the New York Philharmonic and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Her recordings showcase her love of the classical composers of the American songbook, and a heartfelt tribute to the younger generation, of whom John Lachiusa and Adam Guettel are particular favorites. In 2006, she made her opera debut here at HGO in two one-act monodramas, Poulenc’s La voix humaine and LaChiusa’s Send. With her startling stage presence, McDonald is one for the ages. This intimate concert—well, as intimate as you can be on the vast Wortham stage—will be catnip for her ardent stage-door Johnnies.

Yamato—The Drummers of Japan
October 25
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
713.227.4SPA
What? I can’t hear you! Somebody’s pounding on a drum. Wait, that’s forty drums. In celebration of their twentieth year of making a racket, the men and women of this phenomenal percussion group—their deltoids must be like granite, and they’ve got to be deaf by now—haul out the patented taikos and beat away like Buddy Rich on uppers. The mother of all drums is six feet in diameter. The experience is visceral, to say the least. The thumping is so elemental and primal it travels right through you until your heart starts pounding in rhythm. This is what an earthquake must sound like if you’re inside the center of the earth. This colorful, exciting show will definitely be heard outside on Fish Plaza.

Die Fledermaus
Oct 25, 27, Nov 2, 8, 10
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.228.OPERA
The epitome of the Viennese operetta, which would morph easily into our own American Broadway musical, Johann Strauss II’s waltz-laden sex comedy possesses an effervescent charm and enough melody to keep this dowager looking like the youngest ingenue in the room. An instant hit at its 1874 Vienna premiere, this breezy boulevard lyric opera waited for twenty years—and the imprimatur of the august composer/conductor Gustav Mahler—before it debuted in the staid opera houses all over Europe. Instead of a farce’s slamming doors, writers Karl Haffner and Richard Genee, basing their libretto upon French sources, add magnums of champagne, a New Year’s Eve ball, a saucy maid (Laura Claycomb), a cuckolded husband (Liam Bonner), an unfaithful wife (Wendy Bryn Harmer), her lover (Anthony Dean Griffey), a drunk jailer (Jason Graae), and a drag role, Prince Orlofsky (Susan Grahman). They slam into each other.

AEAvenueQ
Quirky and queer: Avenue Q is “foul, funny, and furry.”

Avenue Q
November 1–23
Music Box Musicals
2623 Colquitt
713.522.7722
One of the best shows of the past decade, this sassy South Park/Sesame Street hybrid will be in the most capable hands of director Michael J. Ross (a veteran of the late, great Masquerade Theatre) who’s had three hits in a row for his newly formed MJR Theatricals: Assassins, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and last summer’s Little Shop of Horrors. This irreverent musical by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music and lyrics), with book by Jeff Whitty (who all won Tony awards), took home the big one, too, for Best Musical. Full frontal puppet nudity is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, but how can you go wrong with a show that includes Trekkie Monster’s addiction to Internet porn, the incessant mating rituals of Lucy T. Slut, and Gary Coleman? Foul, funny, and furry, this is the street where Bert and Ernie should have lived.

Harry Connick Jr.
November 9
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
713.227.4SPA
Who would turn down a one-night stand with the ultra-smooth Mr. Connick? A crooner deluxe, he arrives laden with a Grammy, an Emmy, a Tony Award nomination, and multiple platinum records. Mr. Connick is on tour to promote his recent release, Every Man Should Know, for which he wrote music, lyrics, and did the arrangements. As the press release breathlessly proclaims, “Connick exposes his feelings as never before.” Yeah, sure. Expose away.

Chicago

November 12–17
Broadway in Houston
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
800.952.6560
John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse’s inky musical vaudeville (1975) drips irony with a winking assurance that rivals Sally Rand dropping her feathers. Everything’s in capital letters in this classic show: Showbiz, Razzle Dazzle, Sex, and Fame. In this sequined papier-mâché world, a murderess can become a star through the manipulation of the careless media and a clueless public hungry for stardust. Notorious celebrity and instant fame have been mainstays of tabloid culture even before Maurine Watkins’ original 1926 play, but Broadway wizard Fosse turned up the heat on the “everyone’s a star” theme with blinding theatrical glare and a misanthropic view of humanity not glimpsed since Scrooge. The Kander and Ebb pastiche showbiz tunes, like “All the Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” and “Razzle Dazzle,” could have come straight from an antique Ziegfeld extravaganza. As in Sondheim’s earlier Follies, you can tick off the old styles: an Eddie Cantor up number, a raunchy Sophie Tucker blowout, a torch song for Helen Morgan. If you only know this show from the over-wrought Oscar-winning movie, by all means see it live, where there’s simple magic in two pros sitting in chairs and singing a duet. Adult entertainment with an ice-cold core: guilty as charged.

Djembe and the Forest of Christmas Forgotten

November 14–December 22
Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main
713.520.0055
After a hot run of numerous holiday musical productions, we look forward to any show by composer/lyricist Carlton Leake and director/choreographer Patdro Harris. The team is Ensemble’s modern-day Irving Berlin, Flo Ziegfeld, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Okay, so Cinderella wasn’t memorable, but it packed the house. This year’s Christmas show has an African beat. A djembe is an east-African drum that is shaped like a goblet or hourglass, usually with a goatskin top and a loud, distinctive sound. In Leake’s original story, the drum that ushers in Christmas is stolen by the king’s evil sister. The king’s baby daughter grows up, finds the missing drum, and restores peace to the kingdom. Simple, but elegant. This colorful world premiere should raise the roof.

Don Pasquale
November 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Blvd.
713.861.5303
When Gaetano Donizetti wrote his delectable 1843 opera buffa Don Pasquale, he was Europe’s most famous stage composer, having already written the international smash hits Llisir dmore and Lucia di Lammermoor. By the time of Pasquale, Donizetti had written some seventy operas and penned this last comic masterpiece in either eleven days or, by some accounts, a lazy two weeks. While his luck lasted, he was Rossini’s heir and king of the world. Five years later, he was dead at the age of fifty from untreated syphilis. Forget all this when you’re watching. Filled with youthful sunshine and ardent hopefulness, Pasquale is the last of the great comic operas so beholden to Rossini for their evergreen freshness and sparkle. It still holds up today, thanks to Donizetti’s lyricism and Giovanni Ruffini’s lyrical libretto with its moral that old men shouldn’t marry young brides.

A Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas
November 15–December 29
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, Charles 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 onstage on a Victorian bicycle, or the housekeeper in drag. These touches erode the charm. Fortunately, enough of the original is still apparent to spread snowflakes of cheer.

Flipside: The Patti Page Story
November 16
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice Street
Galveston
800.821.1894
The most successful female singer from the late 1940s through the ’60s is barely known today, so Greg White’s sketchy jukebox bio is welcome if not completely satisfactory. If you’re hankering for a catalog of Miss Page’s greatest hits, you’ll be in doggie heaven; if you want a tabloid backstage peek, you’ll be disappointed. But by all accounts, there never was much of a past to Page. A thorough professional, she walked into the studio, sang the song, the record sold millions, she recorded another, and another hit was born. That was her life. No drama, no scandal, no flipside—and not much to hang a play on. But the music keeps on coming: “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” “Allegheny Moon,” “Old Cape Cod,” “You Belong to Me,” and her signature song “Tennessee Waltz.” During her career, it’s estimated she sold one hundred million records and had over one hundred hits on the Billboard charts. Let’s remember Clara Ann Fowler, aka the Singing Rage, Miss Patti Page.

Marie and Bruce
November 22–December 14
Catastrophic Theatre
1119 East Fwy
713.522.2723
What a wonderfully dark way to usher in the holiday season, as only Catastrophic can do with such glee. Stand back when you open this present—the acid will sting. Wallace Shawn’s 1979 bile-encrusted ode to marital hell begins in bed with a profane rant by Marie, as husband Bruce lies nearby. He may be snoring, but that doesn’t stop Marie from her corrosive, toxic attack. Later, at a party that could best be described as the sick soul of Manhattan, her gimlet-eyed view of the world extends to the fatuous revelers. Love isn’t satisfactory, man is vile, but all we have is each other. Damn it.

A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration
November 29–December 22
Main Street Theater
Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose
713.524.6706
Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) stitches together quite an historical panorama for this holiday production. Set in Washington DC on Christmas Eve, 1864, great and small characters are intertwined: President Lincoln, Union general William T. Sherman, Walt Whitman, runaway slave Hannah searching for her lost daughter in the blustery night, Confederate soldiers, Mary Todd Lincoln’s black dressmaker, starving Union troops. The blast of war continues, but all huddle where they can, dreaming of peace. Even when the characters are riven by loss, the period songs, spirituals, and carols lift them up, as if only their hope can save them. If they can dream, they will survive. Parallels to the Christmas story are threaded throughout, tying up this simple, effective, and ultimately human drama. How far we’ve come, the musical subtly proclaims, and how far we’ve yet to go.

The Nutcracker
November 29–December 29
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 Tchaikovsky’s most atmospheric score. The opulent Desmond Heeley sets and costumes—all out of a Victorian greeting card—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 one of them will light up the holiday.

The White Christmas Album . . . A Beatles Holiday
November 29–December 31
Music Box Theatre
2623 Colquitt
713.522.7722
Hmmm, the Beatles and Christmas together? Rest easy, the holiday season is in terrific hands—all ten of them (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan, and Luke Wrobel); eighteen if you add the jazzy quartet led by Glenn Sharp. Five-part harmony never sounded so beautiful. Each Broadway Babe gets to shine solo; sometimes they sing together a cappella, giving the band a rest; sometimes they act in a screwy comedy routine. The concept works surprisingly well—deftly so. Think about it: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” segues into “With a Little Help from My Friends.” “All You Need Is Love” smoothly blends with “Ring Christmas Bells.” The idea is some sort of brilliant. When these Fab 5 sing with Sharp’s Fab 4, it’s a gift of pure Christmas cheer.

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
November 30
Society for the Performing Arts
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.227.4SPA
This octet of zany musicians we gotta hear. Everything from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” to the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” is strummed and plucked, turning Don Ho positively green with envy. Adored by millions, they’ve been around for twenty-five years, become a cult favorite on YouTube, and have played every venue in the world: Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Salisbury Cathedral—you name it, they’ve played there. This orchestra has made the uke respectable. Now, that’s impressive.

Panto Goldilocks
December 4, 2013–January 5, 2014
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
713.527.0123
For its annual holiday revels “for children of all ages,” Stages presents a brand-new “panto.” Written by Genevieve Allenbury, who’s been involved in these annual British vaudeville-inspired fun-fests since their inception, this year’s new take on an old story brings us a Mod Squad, swingin’ sixties Goldilocks. Double agents are involved, and probably a mad scientist or two, but there will be plenty of musical numbers, groaning puns, audience participation, and, we hope, Buttons (the delectable Ryan Schabach) to keep us hissing the villains and awarding the heroes with wild applause.

Jubilee of Dance
December 6
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
713.227.2787
The hottest ticket for dance lovers is always this one-night-only event. Set inside the run of Nutcracker, it gives balletomanes, inured to the charms of dancing mice, a chance to get their fix. The jam-packed Jubilee fills the need in spades, showing off the internationally acclaimed company in tantalizing excerpts from upcoming rep and beloved hits from the past. This edition’s jubilant pièce d’occasion will be the third act from Marius Petipa’s Paquita, a high-energy classic that set the standard for bravura dancing when the Imperial Ballet performed Petipa’s 1881 make-over in St. Petersburg. No doubt the fast-paced evening will end on a high that’ll last for days.

Elf: The Musical
December 6–19
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
713.558.8887
I guess the producers added the tag line “the musical” so we wouldn’t confuse this Elf with what . . . the opera? The great American novel? The arena show? As if you didn’t know, the Broadway musical (music by Chad Beguelin, lyrics by Matthew Sklar, book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan), which has had a successful holiday run for two seasons on the Great White Way, is a faithful adaptation of the 2003 Will Ferrell movie. Little orphan Buddy falls into Santa’s bag of toys one Christmas Eve and is whisked away to the North Pole where he is raised as one of the little people. When he discovers he’s not an elf, he sets off to New York City to find his origins. Any show that can turn hard-nosed New Yorkers into bowls of sentimental jelly deserves our “Ho ho ho.”

D.L. Groover writes on the arts for the OutSmart, Houston Press, Playbill, Arts & Culture, and Dance Source Houston. This past July, he received a national award for his theater criticism from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN), and has previously received two Lone Star Press awards for the same. At the Houston Ballet, he has written its two educational/outreach programs, Dancing in Texas and Around the World in Seven Dances, as well as the original scenario for Ben Stevenson’s Cleopatra. He is co-author of the irreverent appreciation Skeletons from the Opera Closet, now in its fourth printing.

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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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