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OutSmart’s 2014 Fall Arts Preview!

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Trock ’n’ troll: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo tip their toes into Galveston’s Grand 1894 Opera House on November 15. Photo by Gene Schiavone/courtesy Indianapolis Ballet Theater.
Trock ’n’ troll: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo tip their toes into Galveston’s Grand 1894 Opera House on November 15. Photo by Gene Schiavone/courtesy Indianapolis Ballet Theater.

Treasure Trail
by D.L. Groover

The Houston stages glitter in riches during this 2014 fall season. Please use our Arts and Entertainment guide to chart your path to the glories waiting to be discovered. The following pages describe some of the best of the best theater available, but this guide is only a suggestion. Believe me, there’s more. What you do when you find the treasure is up to you. My suggestion: once you find something you like, keep digging! 

The Foreigner
Through September 7
Texas Repertory Theatre
14243 Stuebner Airline
Larry Shue’s sweet backwoods comedy (1983), a staple of regional theaters, makes a return engagement after being chosen as an “audience favorite” for Texas Rep’s current season. Shy Charlie recuperates at a rural Georgia fishing camp for needed R&R after learning of his wife’s constant infidelities—23, by last count. Charlie has an abnormal fear of talking to anyone about anything, so his dear friend Froggy invents a story that he can’t speak English and doesn’t understand a word anyone says. Naturally, everyone at the lodge—good guys and some very bad KKK ones—tell him all their secrets since they think he’s either stupid or can’t hear. It’s a fun premise. With a game cast, the lighter-than-air play can be abnormally funny. Watch for the breakfast scene between Charlie and “backward” Ellard. It’s a gem of timing and good old-fashioned physical comedy.

Old Friends
Through September 7
Alley Theatre
University of Houston
Cullen Boulevard, Entrance 16
For all the revisions Horton Foote made to this family drama over the decades, you’d expect the play to be a lot more convincing. He kept working on it until his death in 2003, and the play finally received its posthumous premiere off-Broadway in 2013. It lasted a month. But what came out of it is choice, and on display at the Alley: Betty Buckley, Vienne Cox, Hallie Foote, and Cotter Smith, acting up a drunken storm in fictional Harrison, Texas. Okay, not so much Ms. Foote and Mr. Cotter (old friends who still carry a torch and stay sober during the play’s duration), but Buckley and Cox chew up the scenery and spit in our general direction. It’s hot at the Alley’s temporary home at the University of Houston for this company’s season opener. The play’s middling—neither comedy nor drama, and a lot of soap—but the troupers are unbelievably grand.

New Girl in Town
September 4–7
Bayou City Concert Musicals
Heinen Hall
3517 Austin
Continuing its stellar record in staging rare or neglected historic musicals, Bayou City Concert Musicals, under the incomparable direction of Paul Hope, brings this 1957 Bob Merrill rarity to life. Based on Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie and starring the hottest musical star on Broadway at the time, Gwen Verdon (appearing right after Damn Yankees and before Redhead), O’Neill’s dockside prostitute sings and dances in this hybrid musical play. Both Verdon and co-star Thelma Ritter (as the acerbic, been-around-the-block-a-few-too-many-times Marthy) shared the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. In BCCM’s show, dance pro Krissy Richmond, former Houston Ballet principal and Broadway vet, plays gold-hearted Anna.

A meeting to discuss the Christmas pageant...or is it?: Lisa Schofield (l–r), Bob Maddox, and Cassandra Austen star in Doubt at Theatre Southwest, September 5–27. Photo courtesy Theatre Southwest.
A meeting to discuss the Christmas pageant…or is it?: Lisa Schofield (l–r), Bob Maddox, and Cassandra Austen star in Doubt at Theatre Southwest, September 5–27. Photo courtesy Theatre Southwest.

Doubt
September 5–27
Theatre Southwest
8944-A Clarkcrest
Did he or didn’t he? Did popular parish priest Father Flynn abuse little Donald Muller, an altar boy at the school? Starchy Sister Aloysius, the school’s principal, firmly thinks so and will do anything to convince herself that the meager hints are major evidence. (For starters, check out his manicured fingernails.) John Patrick Shanley’s very intriguing play deservedly won both the Tony for Best Play (2004) and the prestigious Pulitzer for Drama (2005). The drama lays out the circumstances and never takes sides. At the end, we still don’t really know. But what a piece of work the dear Sister is. Don’t give her a ruler!

The God Game
September 5–20
Stark Naked Theatre
Studio 101
1824 Spring Street
Primary season is upon us. Like Christmas decorations appearing in July, didn’t it seem to start months ago? To keep up our interest, here’s a heady, controversial political drama from Suzanne Bradbeer that received its world premiere last January. A popular moderate Republican senator is picked to serve as the running mate for a very Christian candidate. Somebody on the staff didn’t vet very well, for the senator is firmly agnostic. Oops. How long will he remain so, if he wants the spot on the ticket? What are his priorities? Can he betray his devout wife’s faith in him or his faith in himself? Is power that destructive? Duh! If the sleazy world of politics hasn’t already turned you into a zombie, this could be a nice fix. One of our stage favorites, Justin Doran, plays the conflicted politician.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
September 7–14
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
Is there any Shakespeare play more ripe for dancing than this magical, fun-loving romance? Richard III and Hamlet don’t quite cut it on the dance floor, if you know what I mean. Choreographers as diverse as Balanchine, Ashton, Ib Andersen, Christopher Wheeldon, Bruce Wells, and David Nixon have brought this gossamer work to the stage, as has American master John Neumeier. Premiered in 1977 at the Hamburg Ballet (where Mr. Neumeier has been artistic director since 1973), the ballet has been produced everywhere in Europe, but not over here. Houston Ballet has rectified that with the work’s American premiere. Using Mendelssohn’s immortal score, augmented with the unworldly soundscape of György Ligeti for the fairies and sprites, Shakespeare’s ethereal comedy gets a real lift in this neo-romantic, spiky ballet.

Ground Zero 360: Never Forget
September 11, 2014–January 11, 2015
Holocaust Museum Houston
5407 Caroline
In one of the most special installations ever assembled at this august institution, Holocaust Museum Houston presents a harrowing look at 9/11. On heartbreaking view: personal artifacts from the victims, a piece of twisted I-beam from the World Trade Center towers, emergency radio calls, and photographs taken on that fateful day by Nicola McLean, wife of this exhibit’s curator Paul McCormack, a retired inspector from the New York City Police Department who participated in the rescue and recovery effort. This event is as memorable as they come: horrible, terrifying, and yet a sadly uplifting record of our country’s overwhelming response to the face of evil.

The 39 Steps
September 12–October 5
A.D. Players
2710 W. Alabama
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 thriller (based on John Buchan’s spy novel) made his international reputation. Hitchcock turned the creaky material into a giddy run-from-the-law tale, as innocent man Richard Hanney gets himself handcuffed to a beautiful blond adversary who thinks he’s guilty. It’s a fabulous romp as they scamper over the Scottish highlands, eluding the police hot on their trail. Playwright Patrick Barlow has adapted the adaptation and turned the movie into sublime silliness that won Tony and Drama Desk awards for “unique theatrical experience.” A cast of four actors plays all the parts. Hitchcock’s movie is there in plot, in scenes, in verbatim dialogue, but Barlow has added a great dollop of English panto and a gushing seltzer spritz of Benny Hill. Barlow has also added some wondrous moments of theatrical magic and make-believe: blink-of-an-eye character changes that occur when a hat is doffed and another quickly put on, boxes that represent the interior seats on a train that instantly whoosh into the exterior of the train with our hero running breathlessly on top, or the farmer’s wife shaking her braids behind her as if they’re caught in a windstorm when the cottage door is opened to the blasted heath. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, no question about it. The play’s a quirky homage to Hitchcock; but at its heart it’s really an ode to theater.

We hear a symphony: Houston Symphony’s new maestro, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conducts Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Photo by Julie Soefer.
We hear a symphony: Houston Symphony’s new maestro, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conducts Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Photo by Julie Soefer.

Inaugural Concert
September 13
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
Beloved Hans Graf is gone. Long live Andrés Orozco-Estrada, the Symphony’s new maestro. Colombian-born, Mr. O-E has charisma for days, and his head full of curls will be bouncing at the podium when he conducts Mussorgsky’s sonically shattering Pictures at an Exhibition with acclaimed British trumpeter Alison Balsom blaring away. This orchestral fanfare inaugurates his leadership, as does the previous night’s festive concert at Miller Outdoor Theater with folk music and fireworks, and the subsequent free concert at Jones Hall (with an emphasis on Hispanic musical influences) featuring Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero bouncing along to Gershwin’s jazzy and classic Rhapsody in Blue. Welcome, Maestro!

The Pointer Sisters
September 13
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, TX
The Pointer Sisters open an exciting new season at The Grand with a high-energy night filled with their high-octane hits. Join Ruth Pointer, Anita Pointer, and Ruth’s granddaughter Sadako as they sing all your ‘80s favorites including “He’s So Shy,” “Slow Hand,” “I’m So Excited,” “Automatic,” “Jump (for My Love),” “Neutron Dance,” and “Dare Me.” —Megan Smith

The way they were: Cay Taylor channels Barbra Streisand while Rebekah Dahl as Judy Garland holds on for dear life in last year’s Damaged Divas of the Decades revue. Damaged 2 debuts on September 13 at The Music Box Theater. Photo by David Scarborough.
The way they were: Cay Taylor channels Barbra Streisand while Rebekah Dahl as Judy Garland holds on for dear life in last year’s Damaged Divas of the Decades revue. Damaged 2 debuts on September 13 at The Music Box Theater. Photo by David Scarborough.

Damaged Divas of the Decades 2
September 13–October 24
The Music Box Theater
2623 Colquitt
Cabaret is a time-honored big-city entertainment: intimate and boozy, a sophisticated evening’s wrap-up after dinner at eight. In Manhattan, it’s a time to savor a showbiz legend either on the way down or clawing back into your consciousness, or perhaps a “chanteuse”(who is, as big-band singer Dolly Dawn once quipped, a singer who can’t sing). Café tables (often lit with candles or upscale pinspots) define the audience space where the footlights would normally be, and the artists emerge up close and personal in a way they never could in the theater. Except for boot-scootin’ bars with weekend bands—not exactly your Cole Porter experience—the best after-dinner venue in the Bayou City is the intimate Music Box Theater. The troupe’s five seasoned pros (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor) have musical talent to spare, and intriguing personalities that blend together or create sparks, as required. It’s a bracing mix and, vocally, is unchallenged anywhere in town. Last time they performed this revue, the damaged goods included jazz’s Etta James and Billie Holliday; rock’s Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks; pop’s Barbra Streisand and Mama Cass; and special surprise guest William Shatner (via John Gremillion’s wacky impression). Who’s going to show up this time around is anyone’s guess, but whoever it is, the show will be boffo—and the singing, out of this world.

Detroit
September 16–October 18
Catastrophic Theatre
1119 Eastex Freeway (Main at Naylor)
Lisa D’Amour’s incendiary look at new neighbors and unrequited dreams seems like a perfect fit for Catastrophic Theatre, with its patented skewed view of the world. Although passed over for a Pulitzer, this drama won the Obie for Best New American Play. Not a bad consolation prize. In a glowing review from the New York Times at the play’s 2012 off-Broadway premiere, we quote, “The accoutrements of your average suburban home—the patio umbrella, the back porch, the sliding-glass door—become emblems of surprising menace in Ms. D’Amour’s carefully patterned play, echoing the emotional tension that slowly builds between the two couples, who, as they begin spending more time together, trade their troubles the way that couples of earlier generations swapped stories of their kids’ ball-field triumphs.”

From Houston to the World
September 18–28
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
Houston Ballet’s fall mixed-rep will showcase three choreographers who have made works especially for our own scrumptiously unique artists. Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo shows us ONE/end/ONE; Edwaard Liang mesmerizes with his hit from two seasons back, Murmuration; and Stanton Welch revives his adaptation of Petipa’s virtuosic third act from Paquita. A little bit of everything for dance lovers: plotless modern, a flock of birds, and stunning classicism.

Women in the Pit
September 18–October 12
Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main
The best candidate to become the new preacher at the black Mount Zion Baptist Church is Reverend E.R. George—a woman! Oh, my God! In playwright Joyce Sylvester’s warm and thoughtful comedy of manners (2012), the age-old arguments for and against women as authoritarian voices in church are debated and thrashed around in delightful (but sometimes loud and cantankerous) ways. Blow that horn, Gabriel!

A woman playing a man who impersonates a woman: Anastasia Barzee stars in the title roles in Victor/Victoria. The musical launches TUTS’s season on September 18 at the Hobby Center. Photo by Claire McAdams Photography.
A woman playing a man who impersonates a woman: Anastasia Barzee stars in the title roles in Victor/Victoria. The musical launches TUTS’s season on September 18 at the Hobby Center. Photo by Claire McAdams Photography.

Victor/Victoria
September 18–October 18
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
Blake Edwards’s gender-bending movie comedy was one of the hits of 1982, nominated for a slew of Academy Awards and winning Best Song and Score. With its Parisian sex comedy premise—singer Victoria pretends to be female impersonator Victor in order to land a job—it’s no surprise when events spiral out of control, especially when a Chicago nightclub owner falls for this new “toast of Paris” (but knows he’s really a she). Original film composer Henry Mancini died before he could complete the show’s score, and Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll and Hyde; The Scarlet Pimpernel) finished the job. Broadway and Hollywood legend Julie Andrews starred in both movie and Broadway show, creating a stir when she refused her Tony nomination because no one else in the show received a nod from the committee. During the run, Andrews developed vocal problems, had botched surgery for non-cancerous growths on her vocal cords, and never sang again. She successfully sued the surgeon for $20 million, but the loss to the theater world was incalculable.

Peace in Our Time
September 18–October 19
Main Street Theater
2540 Times Boulevard
Continuing its Noël Coward retrospective—one play each season—Main Street unveils atrue rarity: his post-wartime fantasy Peace in Our Time. This is a what-if drama, akin to Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here or George Orwell’s 1984. England has lost the war and the Nazis are in charge. At the Shy Gazellepub, a disparate group of regulars tries to keep the moral lassitude at bay after the execution of Churchill, the imprisonment of the royal family, and a concentration camp set up on the Isle of Wight. The play was a bomb of its own, since the Londoners still suffering deprivation and harrowing loss during the war wanted to be spared the remembrance. A supreme patriot, Coward longed to see this play be successful. Perhaps now’s the time.

Rigoletto

September 26–October 5
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Boulevard
Giuseppe Verdi’s early masterpiece is a gothic horror show of revenge, court intrigue, curses that come true, single-parent problems, teenage angst, and romantic pipe dreams. Jester Rigoletto makes fun of the hapless cuckolds in the Duke of Mantua’s court, but underneath he really hates his work. When the Duke makes a play for Rigoletto’s virginal daughter and succeeds, all hell breaks loose. This opera masterpiece from 1851 is blessed by a ripping-good yarn, psychologically believable characters and situations, and scored to some of Verdi’s most luscious tunes. This is one opera that really never stops moving, one way or the other.

Watts Plays Rachmaninoff
September 19–21
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Texas
The immaculate André Watts, who knows his way around a keyboard with a facility and finesse that his peers envy, brings all his savvy to Rachmaninoff’s deeply romantic Piano Concerto No. 2, which has been used in so many pop-culture soundtracks (to provoke feelings of sweet love) that it’s almost a cliché. The piece still works like gangbusters, however, especially when mined so delicately and thoughtfully by Mr. Watts. Also on the program is a world premier from Gabriela Lena Frank, and Richard Strauss’s sweeping Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).

Bach’s Cantata No. 187
October 2 and 4
Bach Society Houston
Christ the King Lutheran Church
2353 Rice Boulevard
What could be more powerful and theatrical than J.S. Bach at his best. History’s foremost composer had music pouring out of him, as he sat at the organ in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church and dazzled with unstinting melody and virtuosity. Appointed in 1723 to write hundreds of “church cantatas” for all of the church services in town, he remained in that post until his death in 1750. Little did he know that his heavenly music wouldn’t be appreciated until a century after his death. Truly “music of the spheres”—ethereal, dramatic, and overpoweringly moving.

Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence
October 2, 2014–February 1, 2015
Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross
Putting a face on Gandhi’s non-violent opposition movement is probably as fleeting as peace in our times. That the world needs a lot more Gandhis is incontrovertible, and the prestigious Menil is hell-bent on trying to get things restarted. India’s independence movement is documented by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic pictures, as well as reminders of previous movements whose titular leaders have been Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Sojourner Truth. Artwork through the centuries and various cultures highlight the illusive quest for peace and tranquility. Peace through art? Good luck with that!

Playboy of the Western World
October 3–12
University of Houston
Cullen Boulevard, Entrance 16
John Millington Synge’s 1907 classic is the mother of all Irish dramas. Naturally, it’s set in a pub, and main character Christy Mahon gets the patrons’ respect by boasting that he’s just killed his father. Christy’s such a likeable chap and sexy storyteller that barmaid Pegeen throws herself at him, as does Widow Quin and a host of local lasses. Unfortunately for Christy, old dad is very much alive. The townsfolk are not pleased by falling for a scamp and charlatan. To prove his worth, Christy attacks dad, but the old man is indomitable. Pretty Irish all around. Riots during the play’s initial run secured an abiding victory for Synge. “A vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform,” screamed the detractors, which of course only insured a profitable run at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, and subsequent international acclaim.

Love, Loss and What I Wore
October 8–19
Theater LaB
Obsidian Art Space
3522 White Oak Boulevard
Forget vaginas—let’s talk fashion. This stage adaptation of Ilene Beckerman’s best-seller from sisters Nora and Delia Ephron (You’ve Got Mail) is all about women and how they see themselves through their wardrobes. It’s like Proust’s madeleines: an article of clothing triggers fragrant and revelatory responses. This is chick theater, but it can still touch those of us who are XY.

Dracula
October 8–November 2
Alley Theatre
University of Houston
Cullen Boulevard, Entrance 16
Long before he was sired by Bram Stoker in 1897, Dracula had been a potent myth in European folklore, tracing his lineage to the sadistic 15th-century warlord of Romania, Vlad the Impaler. His first screen test was F.W. Murnau’s haunting 1923 German silent Nosferatu, where he was given a ghoul’s visage, rat teeth, bat ears, and claw-like paws, as described by Stoker. But Dracula’s immortality derived from Romanian actor Bela Lugosi in his 1931 film interpretation with his lounge-lizard’s languid sophistication, appropriate accent, and impeccable wardrobe. Todd Browning’s film was tailored from the smash 1927 Broadway play by Deane and Balderston, starring Lugosi, who then sailed into film immortality. With Edward Gorey’s black and white (and blood-red) settings, designed for the famous 1977 Frank Langella revival, the chills come quick and clean.

Alchemia
October 10
Momix
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
Earth, wind, air, and fire. The four elemental elements are just the starting point for Moses Pendleton’s imaginative and stunning stage pictures that his company, Momix, conjure with such precision and wondrous theater magic. Momix is Cirque du Soleil for the smart set. You haven’t seen anything on stage until you’ve seen Momix’s magicians turn the everyday into rare beauty.

Marie Antoinette
October 10–November 2
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
American playwright David Adjmi, recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and numerous award grants, presents the doomed queen of France as a TV reality-show housewife, all OMG inflection and self-involved reflection, or lack thereof. With a tiered ball gown and hair piled to unsupportable height, Marie spouts anachronisms and doesn’t get her comeuppance so much as a sitcom smack in the face. This ultimate 1 percent-er never truly realizes what’s happening to her. There’s a prescient sheep who tries to lead her to the light, but she’s more interested in dousing the pungent ovine with perfume than listening to what he says. Always listen when a sheep talks to you.

Bayou City Art Festival Downtown
October 11–12
Downtown Houston
Produced by Art Colony Association, the Bayou City Art Festival transforms Downtown Houston into an entertainment mecca this October. One of the nation’s top 10 annual outdoor fine art events, the festival boasts 300 national and international juried fine and visual performing artists with original works ranging from furniture to photography to sculptures and more. Be sure to check out this year’s featured artist, Ella Richards, who uses scissors, black paper, watercolor paper, and a glue pen to create intricate pieces of art that she calls “scissor drawings.” New to the festival this year is Bayou City After Dark. Held on Saturday night from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., this evening of concerts and cocktails is open to the public and replaces the festival’s previous VIP Art Heist. Ticket pricing for adults all day is $15, After Dark only $10, children (ages 3–12) $3, and are available for purchase online at artcolonyassociation.org. —Megan Smith

Anything Goes
October 14–19
Broadway at the Hobby
Hobby Center
800 Bagby
Is this Cole Porter’s best show? I think so. A huge hit from 1934, it starred Ethel Merman as nightclub singer turned faux evangelist. Her songs include the title number, “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and “You’re the Top.” There’s a great transatlantic liner set; gangsters chase everybody; and the witty book is by English funnymen Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, and American wisecrackers Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. It’s love on the high seas. Perfect.

The Speckled Band
October 15–November 2
Classical Theatre Company
The Barn
2201 Preston
In 1909, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adapted his own short story into this hit play starring detective Sherlock Holmes. Doyle had leased a London theater to produce another of his plays, but it didn’t do well and he was stuck with an empty building. With the fortitude and ingenuity of his internationally renowned creation, he turned to his best work and made a play out of one of Holmes’s tales. Elementary, my dear Watson. It was Broadway superstar William Gillette (actor, playwright, director) who had already been there, done that—in 1899, no less. Matinee-idol handsome with masculine stage presence to spare, Gillette was a stage innovator, too. He eschewed actor-y declamation, replacing it with a real-life rhythm and naturalness; he loved scenic effects and startled audiences with blackouts and fade-ins to punctuate his plays. For all his historic contributions to theater, though, his most lasting achievement was his classic portrayal as Sherlock Holmes. Gillette gave Holmes his deer-stalker hat, meerschaum pipe, violin, and the detective’s immortal line, “this is elementary, my dear fellow”—all to Doyle’s enthusiastic approval.

Of Mice and Men
October 16–November 9
Texas Repertory Theatre
14243 Stuebner Airline
If you want living proof of the Depression, look at beaten-down George in John Steinbeck’s elemental tale of hardship and friendship on the migrant farms around Salinas, California, in the 1930s. He’s the essence of a Walker Evans or Dorothea Lang photograph come to life, the color of blown-away dust. Slouching in battered fedora and worn overalls as if kicked one too many times, there’s still a core of goodness and strength, even though he can’t stop the battering life gives him. And yet through it all, he dreams of owning a little farm—the only thing that keeps him going, except for Lennie, the “slow,” powerful man/boy whom George looks after. They’re quite a team, these two mismatched loners and drifters—working in the field for a few dollars before Lennie unintentionally mucks things up and the pair’s got to get the hell out of there, on to the next place down another road where nobody knows them. But George would never desert him—how could he? They’re one and the same. George may not have anything but dreams, but he’s got his honor and his word—and that, Steinbeck implies, is the meaning of a man, no matter what biblical vexations are set against him.

The Tempest
October 17–November 8
Company OnStage
536 Westbury Square
From all of the latest detective work on the elusive Shakespeare, this “last” play from the world’s greatest playwright was hardly that. It is by all accounts the last one he wrote by himself, before he collaborated with John Fletcher on Two Noble Kinsmen and All Is True. True has the distinction of being the play that burned down the Globe in 1613. A stage cannon shot landed on the theater’s thatched roof, and poof, the Globe was history. It was rebuilt shortly after the fire, but by then Shakespeare had withdrawn as a company shareholder. He had a house in London next to the innovative “indoor” Blackfriars theater, in which he had a share, and lots of property in Stratford. But the question remains: did he move back to the country or stay in town? Seems likely he stayed in the capital to be close to his beloved stage. Full of magic and wonder and love of theater, The Tempest is Shakespeare at the peak of mastery (as if there was ever a time when he wasn’t).

Ravel & Debussy
October 23, 25, 26
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
When Maurice Ravel heard fellow Frenchman Claude Debussy’s The Afternoon of a Faun, he said he “understood what real music was.” Debussy scared a lot of people, musicians included, with his diaphanous chords and shapeless melodies. It was like listening to a cloud. Ravel was much more a sensualist, who could lift you out of your seat with a steady drumbeat rhythm and rushing instrumentation. Former Houston Symphony maestro Hans Graf returns for this sparkling array of French insouciance: Ravel’s fairy-tale Mother Goose, Debussy’s impressionistic Images, and pianist Jon Kimura Parker bouncing through Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto.

Tales of Hoffman
October 24–27
University of Houston
Moores Opera House
Cullen Boulevard, Entrance 16
French composer Jacques Offenbach never saw his masterpiece on stage, having died in 1880 after completing the piano score and orchestrations for Act I. Since then, others have arranged, deleted, and changed all sorts of things, until two more-or-less definitive versions were unveiled in 1992 and 2011 by Offenbach scholars Michael Kaye and Jean-Christophe Keck. Debates still go on, but Offenbach’s sparkling and fantastic opera, with its three different stories, is as fresh as ever. In the best of all possible worlds, the three female leads (mechanical doll Olympia, wicked courtesan Giulietta, and virginal singer Antonia) are sung by the same soprano, a tour de force in operatic circles, as each demands different styles. Giulietta’s lilting “Barcarolle,” sung as she lounges on a gondola while being punted around a Venetian canal, is the work’s best-known number, and the opera—even with all the disparate cooks who’ve meddled with the ingredients—is a spectacular, flavorful dish.

Otello
October 24–November 7
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
Giuseppe Verdi’s penultimate 1887 opera gives powerful musical voice to Shakespeare’s tale of revenge, jealousy, and love gone horribly wrong. This is one of the great works of art, operatic or otherwise. There’s nothing extraneous in it anywhere as it moves inexorably, as if by the waves of the sea, under the command of the great composer. Turbulent, poignant, and psychologically sound (thanks to librettist Arrigo Boito’s excellent adaptation), the three lead roles—Otello, Iago, and Desdemona—are touchstone roles for tenor, baritone, and soprano. The opera boils and scalds. It was an immediate hit at its La Scala premiere, and became an instant classic. Verdi had voluntarily retired from the stage after Aida 10 years earlier, and the public was clamoring for more from the world’s greatest opera composer. They got it in spades. If anything, the opera has only grown in stature.

The Pillowman
October 24–November 15
Theatre Southwest
8944-A Clarkcrest
Oh boy, just in time for Halloween. This chilling work, written by Irish gothic magician Martin McDonagh (The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Beauty Queen of Leenane) is all about the act of writing. Riffing on the Brothers Grimm, a writer in an unnamed police state is accused of murdering children, just like in his stories. Family ties and sadism run parallel in this nightmarish world. This is one play that haunts long after it’s over. Unsettling is barely an apt description.

Sister Act
October 25
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, Texas
Get ready to bring out your inner diva, because Sister Act is coming to The Grand! This Broadway musical comedy follows Deloris, a street-smart, wannabe star who hides out in a convent after witnessing a crime. Along the way, she enchants her fellow sisters, helping them find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own. Featuring original music by Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors), Sister Act is a tribute to the true power of friendship.—Megan Smith

Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River
October 26, 2014–January 29, 2015
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet
I mean, really, what’s Paris without its river? Just another beautiful city, except it speaks French. Ah, but add the majestic Seine, and everything changes. Claude Monet knew that best of all. He adored the river, its changing light, the swirling reflections, the early morning mist, the evening’s dark blues. When he wasn’t painting his beloved water lilies, he was painting the river. More than 50 of his dreamy works are on display, culminating with his masterpiece series, Mornings on the Seine. Come splash with this incomparable artist.

Così fan tutti
October 31–November 15
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
In one of Mozart’s sublime operas, the faithfulness of women (and men, too) is dissected with a sympathetic wink. On a bet, two friends pretending to go off to war wager that their fiancées will be faithful. When the guys return in silly disguise as exotic Albanians with big mustaches, their women find themselves strangely drawn to the opposite man. Needless to say, complications ensue as all four—and a saucy maid who knows all about the ways of the world—find themselves in forbidden territory. The ending is ambiguous, and we never know if the paired lovers, back to the original formation, will actually be happy with their original choices. This opera, rarely performed during Mozart’s time and forgotten for years after the premiere, is now one of opera’s crown jewels.

Company
October 31–November 22
Music Box Musicals
2623 Colquitt
Caustic, sophisticated, and acerbic, Stephen Sondheim’s multiple Tony winner from 1970 ushered in that era’s swingin’ beat. Unmarried Robert—Bobby baby, Bobby boobie—is besieged by five pairs of his closest friends and told to settle down. Watching them in action as they bicker, needle, and upset each other, he’s in no hurry. Even his three girlfriends want him to make up his mind and choose. He hems and haws through some of Sondheim’s most blistering songs—“The Ladies Who Lunch,” “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “The Little Things You Do Together.” The music, while pure Sondheim, is also pure ’70s with a Burt Bacharach undertone. Robert has commitment issues and is probably gay—as the authors made a feeble stab at revealing in a revised scene that was dropped before the show opened. They may pull a straight veil over Robert, but we know what would make him happy.

The Return of Ulysses
November 1–5
Rice University
Rice Boulevard, Entrance 18
When opera came to Venice, it came with a vengeance. The first theater to be built expressly for opera production opened in Venice in 1637. Monteverdi, who was by then over 70, was music director at St. Mark’s, the most prestigious music position in Italy at the time, and his colleagues pestered him to write for the Venetian stage. Thirty years previously, he had written opera’s first great masterpiece, Orfeo, in Mantua, but Venice was fast becoming the center of new opera fashion. Monteverdi didn’t disappoint, and his Ulysses had a notable run during the 1639 Carnival season. His music was different and mature, explaining the characters’ inner lives in a way no other composer had ever attempted. It’s still affecting today, a lovely rush of Baroque melody, scrumptiously orchestrated, filled in with stunning stage effects (lightning bolts, a flying chariot, a ship turned to stone) that wowed even the jaded Venetians.

Feel the heat: Society for the Performing Arts brings Joshua Bell to Houston on November 5 at Jones Hall. Photo by Chris Lee.
Feel the heat: Society for the Performing Arts brings Joshua Bell to Houston on November 5 at Jones Hall. Photo by Chris Lee.

Violinist Joshua Bell
November 5
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
A favorite performer throughout the world, virtuoso violinist Bell exudes sexy charm while his long fingers blur over the strings with magical felicity. A classical-music superstar, recently appointed music director of London’s ultra-prestigious Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, he’s a delicious crossover artist, collaborating lately with pop superstars John Groban, James Taylor, and Sting. Any chance he’ll bring his friends along to Jones Hall?

The Liar
November 13–23
University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance
Cullen Boulevard, Entrance 16
If you think padding your résumé is something new, may I direct you to Pierre Corneille of Paris, 1643. His farce about hypocrisy and egotism is beyond compare. Mistaken identities abound—from sisters to servants—each more outrageous when found out. A young swain comes to Paris and meets two young women in a park. To impress them, he lies about his background. Has anything changed? Corneille, soon to become the classicist among classicists in the French theater pantheon, butted heads with staid Cardinal Richelieu, prime minister to Louis XIII, and an amateur playwright himself. French royalty loved the theater, and spent the nation’s treasury on sumptuous stages, Italian scenic artists, and court spectacles. The Revolution was on its way.

Hansel and Gretel
November 14–23
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Boulevard
A passionate Wagnerian, Engelbert Humperdink assisted the Titan at Bayreuth during the premiere of Parsifal, even scoring a bit of Act I’s Transformation scene, where Wagner’s music wasn’t long enough to cover the scene change. He remained an ardent admirer for the rest of his life, but suffered in the great one’s shadow. His best-loved work is this lighthearted opera, adapted from Grimm by his sister Adelheid Wette. The orchestra, big and complex like Wagner’s, doesn’t overshadow the simple tale but keeps it moving through the lushness of its tonality. Although an international smash, this opera is the only work of Humperdink’s to have legs. Even though his escapist, neo-romantic style fell out of favor when verismo rushed into the void, this holiday favorite never spoils.

A Soulful Christmas
November 14–December 21
Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main
Continuing its tradition of producing original musicals for the holidays, Ensemble brings back director/choreographer Patdro Harris and musical director Carlton Leake to oversee Stepp Stewart’s sprightly jukebox Christmas show. Two kids are swooshed back in time to discover their culture’s “soulful” past as the Temptations, Mahalia Jackson, Donny Hathaway, and others lead them through a musical history of Christmas.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
November 15
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, Texas
Man, can these guys dance! This world-renowned company of male professional dancers returns to The Grand to bring their exquisite knowledge of dance, their comical genius, and amazing theatrics to a whole new audience. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says, “The Trocks are frolicsome guides to the quirks that inhabit classical ballet and modern dance.” Watch these dancers prove that men can, indeed, dance en pointe with elegance and grace. —Megan Smith

From screen to stage: Josef Brown and Amanda Leigh Cobb (from the 2008 tour) mix dance with romance in Dirty Dancing, at the Hobby Center, November 18–23. Photo by David Scheinmann.
From screen to stage: Josef Brown and Amanda Leigh Cobb (from the 2008 tour) mix dance with romance in Dirty Dancing, at the Hobby Center, November 18–23. Photo by David Scheinmann.

Dirty Dancing
November 18–23
Broadway at the Hobby
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
Nobody puts Baby in the corner! You got that right. Put Baby center stage. To capitalize on the movie’s international juggernaut, just repeat it live. Samuel Pergande, the hunky one in the black wifebeater, and Julian Mueller, the one with the frizzy hair, play iconic Johnny Castle and Frances “Baby” Houseman, the two misfits from opposite sides of the track who meet at a Catskill resort and set the trees aflame with their hot dance routine. As was quipped about Astaire and Rogers, he gives her sex, and she gives him class. Sort of. All the classic lines are here, as are the many numbers, including the Academy Award-winning Best Song “The Time of My Life.”

The Economist
November 21–December 17
Catastrophic Theatre
1119 Eastex Freeway (Main at Naylor)
The delightfully idiosyncratic actor Miki Johnson has eschewed the footlights for the word processor. We miss her giddiness and sheer command of performing (Happy Days, Bluefinger, Spirits to Enforce, Mr. Marmalade), but her plays—she’s the company’s Playwright in Residence—show an utterly equal command of the weird and the wonderful. Fleaven, American Falls, and clean/through are sharp and brutal, cutting you with their edges, then healing somewhat with their heartfelt observations on love and life. I quote from Catastrophic’s press release on Johnson’s latest world premiere: “It’s 1999 in Indiana and 15-year-old Matt is fighting to balance his bi-polar and suicidal older sister, narcissistic mother, naïve father, sweet girlfriend, and a world full of American heartland depression. The play is about psychiatric medicine, the devastation of mental sickness, and the bond between a brother and sister, too smart and complicated for a tiny town in the Midwest.” Classic Johnson.

Sister’s Christmas Catechism
November 21–December 28
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
Ah, nuns behaving badly. We like this. For her holiday show, Sister asks the imponderable: “So what happened to the Magi’s gold?” She knows the frankincense and myrrh were used as potpourri—hey, they were in a barn, don’t you know—but what about that pricey gift the three wise men left for baby Jesus? If you love Maripat Donovan’s blockbuster Late Nite Catechism, you know the drill: silliness, the ruler, and a lot of audience embarrassment as Sister puts us in our place and makes us laugh out loud. Religious instruction can be fun!

The Freeway
November 21, 2014–January 10, 2015
Lawndale Art Center
4912 Main
Here comes the mother of all traffic jams. A sober look at concrete, macadam, and so many, many potholes. Everything you ever wanted to know about highways—their design, function, ergonomics—will be answered in this scholarly exhibit. What I want to know is why, after living here for 20 years, Houston’s streets have not improved. Ever!

Beethoven & Elgar
Mercury
November 22
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
There must be some good reason these two musical opposites— the titanic German and the sweet-tempered Englishman—are paired together. Whatever, we’ll find out when Mercury, under Antoine Plante, deconstructs Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Elegy; couple these with Beethoven’s luminous String Quartet, Op. 131, and for added mystery, open with Handel’s Concerto Grosso No. 2.

A Christmas Carol
November 25–December 24
Alley Theatre
University of Houston
Cullen Boulevard, Entrance 16
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 on stage in a Victorian bicycle), or the housekeeper in drag. These touches erode the charm. Fortunately, enough of the original is still apparent to spread plenty of cheerful snowflakes.

Maid Marian in a Stolen Car
Starring Jaston Williams
November 28–29
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, Texas
Greater Tuna creator and master storyteller Jaston Williams stars in this one-person show about life in the theater. Find yourself crying with laughter as Williams tells his true tales, like the story of his first theatrical performance Hamlet con Queso, a San Antonio production of Hamlet that mimicked the Battle of the Alamo. Delight in Williams’s hilarious recreation of the wildest Maid Marian since they chopped down Sherwood Forest. —Megan Smith

Nutcracker
November 28–December 28
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
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. Desmond Heeley’s opulent sets and costumes—all out of a Victorian greeting card—delight and tickle the eye, as does the sure-fire theatrical rightness of former HB artistic director Ben Stevenson’s choreography, and the technical brilliance of the company’s dancers. Many casts rotate during the run, and any one of them can light up the holiday.

Jubilee of Dance
December 5
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
The hottest ticket for dance mavens is always this one-night-only event. Set inside the run of Nutcracker, it gives those balletomanes who are inured to the charms of dancing mice a chance to get their fix. The jam-packed Jubilee fills this need in spades, showing off the internationally acclaimed company in tantalizing excerpts from rep-to-be and beloved hits from the past—especially Welch’s classical ballet bravura showstopper adaptation of the third act of Marius Petipa’s Pequita, a high-energy classic that set the standard in 1881 for bravura dancing. This edition’s jubilant piece d’occasion will be Welsh’s hypnotic Bolero, set to Ravel’s scintillating score. The fast-paced evening will end on a high that’ll last for days.

A Christmas Carol
December 5–21
Houston Grand Opera
Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
Perhaps a surprise treat under the tree, Houston Grand Opera has commissioned a world premiere from composer Iain Bell and actor/director Simon Callow: a musical one-man version of Dickens’s immortal holiday classic. There have been so many musical adaptations that make one reach for the punch or grumble “Bah, humbug,” and none of them have really taken hold. Young Mr. Bell has a solid reputation as a writer of art songs, so maybe, just maybe. What we can glean so far is that the work will feature a 15-piece orchestra, costumes and sets by Laura Hopkins, direction by Mr. Callow, and “all personages, including the odious Mr, Scrooge,” will be portrayed by American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey (a revelatory Peter Grimes at HGO a few seasons ago). We wish them all well.

Ho Ho Humbug
December 5–24
Stark Naked Theatre
Studio 101
1824 Spring
I know nothing about this world-premiere holiday show except that its author and star Scott Burkell lives in New York City, once played various roles in the musical Titanic, is a transient actor (who isn’t), and currently writes musicals with Paul Loesel (Sorta Love Songs, LMNOP, The Extraordinary Ordinary), with whom he’s received the Jonathon Lawson Award. He’s been commissioned by Stark Naked to write this spoof—I think it’s a spoof—and I wish them all luck.

The White Christmas Album
December 5–27
Music Box Theater
2623 Colquitt
Hmmm, The Beatles and Christmas together? Rest easy, the holiday season is in terrific hands—all 10 of them (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan, and Luke Wrobel); 18 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, and 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 the Fab 4, it’s a gift of pure Christmas cheer.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
December 5–28
Broadway at the Hobby
Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Holy high steppers, here they come. There’s got to be a B or C team also on tour, because on December 20, the intrepid Rockettes play four shows, the first one starting at 11 a.m.! This is grueling grunt work. Not only do these fearless gypsies have to smile that patented 1,000-kilowatt smile, but then they have to perform the rigorous Toy Soldier domino-falling routine before their morning Starbucks has a chance to kick in. Hope these Broadway gypsies are well paid.

Panto Rapunzel (and Zombies)
December 5, 2014–January 4, 2015
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
As its holiday revels for “children of all ages,” Stages has grabbed onto the idea of English “panto” with the tenacity of Scrooge holding onto his money box. Each one has been rather dreary (one edition, Red Riding Hood, was redeemed only by Justin Doran’s delightfully sleazy Woof). So we’re praying to the holiday gods that Rapunzel will be golden. Book and lyrics are by Joseph Blanchard and Jodi Bobrovsky (what, is Stages inspired set designer turning in her drawing paper for typing paper?). There will be plenty of musical numbers, groaning puns, audience participation, and Buttons (the delectable Ryan Schabach, in both good guise and evil twin mode) to keep us hissing the villains and awarding the heroes with wild applause.

Andrea Bocelli
December 10
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
Do I have to say something nice? How about, he’s no opera singer. How about, don’t waste your money. How about, he’s shameless. Oh, you won’t listen to me? So go, already. Hear Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” (“No one’s sleeping”) from Turandot for the 20th time, so forced and overblown it’ll curl your toes! You have been warned. Bah, humbug!

Messiah
December 18–21
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
There’s nothing else in the rep quite like George Frederic Handel’s masterpiece. “Inspiring” should be used sparingly, but that’s the only description possible for his sublime 1742 oratorio. Although the work is about Christ’s life, Charles Jennens’s libretto is mainly prophetic Old Testament passages set into three sections: Birth, Passion, Aftermath. In his typically speedy mode, Handel composed his masterwork in three weeks even while being plagued by stony censors and prickly prima donnas. One year after completion, Messiah had its premiere in Dublin with Handel conducting from the harpsichord. Hard to believe, but it was only a modest success. It took decades for its radiant message to work its magic. But once it took hold, this most uplifting score has remained forever with us, as majestic and haunting as the day “the great Saxon” finished it.

The Manhattan Transfer Christmas Show
December 28
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, Texas
There’s no better way to ring in the season than with all your favorite holiday tunes performed with spectacular four-part harmonies, swinging rhythms, and jazzy arrangements by Grammy Award winners The Manhattan Transfer. One of the biggest success stories in the history of American jazz, The Manhattan Transfer has sold millions of albums and won numerous awards. You’ll also enjoy the group’s classics including “Java Jive,” “Tuxedo Junction,” and “Birdland.” —Megan Smith

D.L. Groover writes on the arts for the Houston Press, OutSmart magazine, Arts & Culture, and Dance Source Houston. He recently received a national award 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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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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