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Fall Arts Preview: Get Thee to a Theater or Museum!

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By D.L. Groover

Well, what do you say to a season that has everything? How about something cribbed from Shakespeare, like, Get thee to a theater! Or, Once more unto the breach, dear friends! But does anyone know what a breach is any more? Probably not, so just go and see some live performance. There’s got to be something in the following preview to stop you momentarily from obsessing over Pokémon Go. I’ve heard a few of those elusive little critters are romping in Houston’s Theater District. If that doesn’t interest you, how about heading to the theater to forget the upcoming election? There’s plenty of stage trumpery on view, at least, to make Houston theater great again (as if it needs that, considering what’s on tap). So, pick something—anything, really—and let live theater change your life. It really can, if you let it. You might even learn what a breach is.

Hand to God

Through September 18

Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.

Remember your beloved sock puppet that you chewed on for years and years, never letting it out of your sight except when you slept? How you watched over it anxiously when mom had to clean it in the washing machine because it was so filthy and disgusting? Well, what if that little guy could talk? And what if that little guy had a mouth on him like some low-rent dude on a Harley, or maybe, just maybe, like Satan on a very bad day? When sweet Tyrone takes possession of little Jason during a youth church service, all hell breaks loose. Robert Askins’ deep, dark comedy (Tony-nominated as Best Play in 2015) opens the Alley’s 70th season with a disclaimer: Hand to God contains explicit language, profanity, sexual situations, and very rude puppets. Mature audiences only. Into the washer, Tyrone.

The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On

Through September 18

Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy.

Roger Bean’s lucrative Wonderettes musical franchise is such a chick magnet for Houston audiences that Stages commissioned the world premiere of yet another jukebox musical adventure for these intrepid beehived girls. How many more songs are left in the pop rep that haven’t already been used by Bean? Quite a few, it seems, like “Build Me Up, Buttercup;” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “I Will Survive,” “I Can See Clearly Now,” and “We Are Family.” The four fast-and-furious friends are Rachael Logue, Chelsea Ryan McCurdy, Christina Stroup, and Holland Vavra. All have musical chops for days, and their stage-trouper bonafides (how many editions have they performed?) clearly compensate for Bean’s perfunctory plotting.

Best If Used By

September 2, 2016–January 15, 2017

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

4848 Main St.

Organized by HCCC curator Sarah Darro, this exhibition, featuring the work of Celia Butler, Kazuki Guzmán, Joshua Kosker, Aurélie Mathigot, Yuka Otani, and Rachel Shimpock, “investigates the dynamic intersection of craft and food in contemporary culture.” The artists use wool, ceramic, electro-formed metal (whatever that is), cast sugar, cured tangelo rind, embroidered meat, and sculpted chewing gum to make their witty installations. Half-eaten donuts are encrusted with semi-precious gems; a banana is sewn with a Louis Vuitton logo; French fries are made into bangles. Do not eat the art.

The Revolutionists

September 3–October 2

Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd.

History buffs and theater mavens unite, for here is the play of your dreams: Lauren Gun-
derson’s (
I and You, The Silent Sky) fantasia on the French Revolution. Four women collide as the Reign of Terror and history swamp them. Crazy Charlotte Corday, who assassinated firebrand Marat in his bath; feminist playwright Olympe de Gouges, whose pamphlets mocking the Jacobins would lead her straight to the guillotine; pitiable royal one-percenter Marie Antoinette; and an imaginary Haitian activist Marianne Angelle, fighting the French occupiers of her island. Girl power indeed!

Seth MacFarlane

September 4

Houston Symphony

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Family Guy creator channels his inner Frank Sinatra. Really, he’s the real deal as a lounge singer, a bit like Vic Damone with his lazy, smoky baritone and finger-snapping rhythms. He has an impressive musical background, he’s released three albums of songs from the Great American Songbook, and he looks good with a martini in his hand leaning seductively close to the piano. Belting like Peter Griffin is one thing (in those sassy Broadway parodies on his animated Fox sitcom), but MacFarlane’s got the Broadway Baby bug bad.

American Ingenuity

September 8–18

Houston Ballet

Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.

Born in Georgia, Russia, the greatest ballet choreographer, George Balanchine, began his training at the prestigious Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg. Surviving the tumultuous 1917 revolution, he graduated into the Mariinsky Ballet (later known as the Kirov), and soon established a reputation as a strikingly modern dance-maker. In 1924, while on a tour to Paris with a small group from the ballet, he was offered a job as choreographer at the Ballets Russes by the world-renowned impresario Serge Diaghilev, and the rest is history. By 1934, Balanchine was in the U.S. looking to open a school to promote the technique he wanted for his particular type of ballet. He found it, and the world of dance has never been the same. He became an American citizen in 1939, already having created dances for Broadway and Hollywood: On Your Toes (he insisted on the credit “choreographed by,” the first such Broadway designation); The Boys from Syracuse, The Goldwyn Follies, plus his classic ballets Apollo, The Prodigal Son, and Serenade. His lightning-fast steps, his incredible musicality, his fertile imagination, and his innate ability to set movement to match music are just a few aspects of his evident genius. There’s never been another like him. See his 1947 masterpiece Theme and Variations (created for the burgeoning American Ballet Theatre and set to the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 for Orchestra) on HB’s fall rep. This is classical ballet at its most modern, an homage to his training in imperial Russia and his never-wavering love of the speed and vivacity of America. Also on the program: William Forsythe’s spiky post-modern ballet Artifact Suite (2004) and Jerome Robbins’ romantic duet Other Dances (1976).

Honky Tonk Angels

September 9, 10

Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Dr.

Those singin’, jukebox stealin’, goodtime trailer-park gals from Ted Swindley’s Honky Tonk Angels via Stages Rep refuse to go away. Bonding on a bus to Nashville, the bouffant trio goes for the gold with stars in their eyes as they battle marital troubles, bad boyfriends, and each other on their not-so-bumpy road to country success. Fried in lard would be too good a punishment.

Buried Child

September 9–October 1

Catastrophic Theatre

MATCH, 3400 Main St.

American dysfunction (incest, infanticide, and even crop failure) landed young playwright Sam Shepard a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979. Here, the American dream is a definite nightmare, and there hasn’t been such a messy family since the age of Sophocles. This is comic, utterly black surrealism with a vengeance. The symbolism piles up like the desiccated cornstalks. I’m not sure the malaise has gotten any better since the Carter administration.

The Texas Tenors

September 10

The Grand 1894 Opera House

2020 Postoffice St., Galveston

One’s blond and hunky (Marcus, the contemporary tenor), one’s dark and sexy (JC, the romantic tenor), one’s sort of ordinary (John, known as The Tenor), but these wily cowpokes in their designer duds have a surprising ability to blend their voices into a very profitable, pleasing enterprise. This crossover trio has three Emmy Awards, a PBS special currently airing, and no doubt a backstage trunk heaped with female panties thrown at them by panting fans from China to Washington. With dramatic strobe lighting and lots of fog, the guys lightly trip through Puccini, Webber, and all your favorite Las Vegas lounge-act melodies. They know just how to give to their audiences.

In the Heights Lin-Manuel Miranda (c) on Broadway, with the original cast of In the Heights, in 2008. TUTS brings the show to Houston this month. Photo: Joan Marcus
In the Heights
Lin-Manuel Miranda (c) on Broadway, with the original cast of In the Heights, in 2008. TUTS brings the show to Houston this month. Photo: Joan Marcus

In the Heights

September 13–25

Theatre Under the Stars

Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.

Before there was his incredible blockbuster Hamilton, creative guru Lin Manuel-Miranda wrote and starred in this rather traditionally plotted 2008 musical drama about life on the Upper West Side—the very upper-west side of Washington Heights, to be precise. Full of patented sass, electric hip-hop rhythms, and super-fluid choreography by Andy Blankenboehler, this tale of the disparate Dominican neighborhood of Hispanics, blacks, and assorted weirdos getting along as well as they do filled a niche that Broadway had never seen. Sure, there’s plenty of old-time melodrama and musical shtick, but there’s abundant life and color and a heart-tugging message about home and friendship and family. The show won Best Musical, Score, Choreography, and Orchestrations. Not bad for a work that Manuel-Miranda originally wrote in college.

Squirrel Nut Zippers and Shinyribs

September 16

Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Dr.

If you’ve never experienced the unique sound of this most original of New Orleans bands (Benny Goodman meets zydeco?), then airboat over to Miller Outdoor and bask in their fun, raucous sound. I don’t know if the bubble machine will be in full swing, but for 20 years creator Jimbo Mathus and Chris Phillips have been swingin’ hot and bubbling away with their laughing style. Ingrid Lucia from Flying Neutrino joins the boys, and other friends from N.O. Squirrel’s warm-up act will be Shinyribs (another down-home original with Kevin Russell on his six-string uke, Winfield Check on keyboards, Keith Langford on drums, Jeff Brown on bass, and the Tijuana Trainwreck horns). Houston’s al fresco joint in the park’ll be jumpin’.

Picasso: The Line

September 16, 2016–January 8, 2017

The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross St.

In this comprehensive exhibition, our little gem of a museum presents Pablo Picasso’s way with a pencil, or pen, or charcoal. In over 90 works, spanning the years 1901 through 1969, we follow the master artist as he refines his style and keeps learning how to draw. A lifelong admirer of Ingres, France’s greatest draftsman of the 19th century, Picasso’s dreams are put down on a flat plane, but his work turns deep and rich as he draws in 3-D.

Houston Symphony Opening Night

September 17

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.

Maestro Andrés Orozco-Estrada directs Mahatma Ghandi . . . no, no, no, I mean Sir Ben Kingsley . . . through his paces as narrator of Prokofiev’s charming Peter and the Wolf during the opening-night performance and gala dinner honoring our Houston Symphony. Also on the program will be Rossini’s cackling overture to The Thieving Magpie and Richard Strauss’ majestic, buoyant, wistful Suite from Der Rosenkavalier

The Origin of Fruit, Sky Island, and Bug

September 17–October 29

BOX13 ArtSpace, 6700 Harrisburg Blvd.

Five very different artists are showcased in this triptych exhibition of new art at BOX13. Daniela Koontz and Taylor Waldt use flowers as motifs in Origin of Fruit; fiber artists Sarita Westrup and Analise Minjarez explore the Texas border in Sky Island; and Bryan Keith Gardner sees us as bugs hurtling  through space. There’s a connection here somewhere.

Madame Butterfly

September 22–October 2

Houston Ballet

Wortham Theater Center, 501Texas Ave.

Houston Ballet’s artistic director Stanton Welch molds Puccini’s tragic opera into a real verismo, gut-wrenching ballet. Using the Italian master’s score as his blueprint, Welch’s treatment is packed with action, lively characters, fragrant pastels, lots of fog, and the most athletic love pas de deux (cad naval officer Pinkerton bench-presses frail geisha Butterfly twice before hauling her off into the paper-walled house for their honeymoon). The imagery is delicate Japanoise, but the tale is gangbusters, as is the dancing, and definitely the storytelling.

Sassy Mamas

September 22–October 16

Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main St.

Playwright Celeste Bedford Walker, an NAACP Image Award-winner, gets a regional premiere with her comedy about three older ladies of accomplishment and status—black panthers, they call themselves, not cougars—who pursue much younger men. Will the studs that these ladies pursue reciprocate, laugh out loud, or fall hard? Will the gentlewomen keep the peace between them that they’ve shared for many years? What’s more important at this stage in life—friendship or a fun time?

David Parsons Dance

September 23

Society for the Performing Arts

Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.

Bad boys of ballet eventually grow up. David Parsons certainly did. In his heyday, as a lead dancer for legendary Paul Taylor, the beefy and movie-star handsome Parsons—the type of male dancer Taylor liked—was always an audience favorite. His infamous publicity photo (by another legend, photographer Annie Leibovitz, where he posed nude atop one of the immense Art Deco gargoyles on Manhattan’s iconic Chrysler Building) is itself legendary, and boosted sales for his newly formed Parsons Dance Company. His signature piece as choreographer is the sublime solo “Caught,” where the dancer in blackness circles the stage in bounding leaps while tripping a strobe light whose control he conceals in his hand. The effect of constant weightlessness and heavenly flight is theater magic at its best. Parsons still has the magic. See modern-dance prestidigitation at its best when his famous company (around since 1985—a milestone) bounds into the Wortham.

Peter Max—The Retrospective: 1960–2016

September 25, 26

Off the Wall Gallery

1515 Westheimer Rd., Suite #2208

Oh, the colors, the colors. Mr. Max is the artist of psychedelia. His ’60s graphics are the very pictures of the time: vibrant and weedy; eye-popping; totally rad, man. He created record covers, redesigned the NBC peacock, and was the official artist for Woodstock. He was saturated way before Photoshop. When you think of The Beatles’ fat little underwater ship, that yellow submarine was Peter Max. When you think of hippie flower-power, those day-glo rubbery petals are Max. Follow his eclectic career and meet the German-born artist at this most colorful celebration.

Remote Houston

September 29–November 18

Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.

One of the coolest trips in Houston, this immersive downtown walking tour will blow you away. Created by the Berlin performance company Rimini Protokoll, and presented through the Alley Theatre, a group of 50 pedestrians, wearing headphones, follows the instructions of the strange voice in their head. “I am Heather,” she says without inflection. “Do you trust me? I am not human, but I want to be your friend. Let’s go.” And you’re off to Oz, although it looks a lot like Houston.

Josephine Baker: A Portrait Soprano Julia Bullock brings the story of Broadway’s highest-paid chorus girl to the Jones Hall stage. Photo: Christian Steiner
Josephine Baker: A Portrait
Soprano Julia Bullock brings the story of Broadway’s highest-paid chorus girl to the Jones Hall stage. Photo: Christian Steiner

Josephine Baker: A Personal Portrait

September 30

Da Camera of Houston

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.

In 1925, the highest-paid chorus girl on Broadway sailed to France and never looked back. Truly overnight, she became the toast of Paris, a star of stars in the La Revue Nègre and at the Folies Bergère, where her “Danse Sauvage,” performed in a skirt of artificial bananas, caused a scandal. She was electric on stage—the jazz age personified, as those who saw her always noted. America turned its back on her, though, and she never received the fame in the States that she deserved. A lifelong advocate of civil rights, Baker spoke at the preliminary session during Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington in 1963, but no female speakers were officially recognized. Baker remained a superstar in France, and she would ultimately receive France’s highest honor, the Legion d’honneur, among so many other awards. Up-and-comer soprano Julia Bullock, who’s received glowing press recently for her recitals and opera performances, brings Baker’s story to the stage, illuminated with new music and arrangements by composer and multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey. 

Fly Dance Company

September 30

Miller Outdoor Theatre, 5000 Hermann Park Dr.

There’s nothing in the world of contemporary dance quite like Fly. Okay, they don’t actually fly, but these talented young guys do take to the air and leave one breathless. Their energy is a perpetuum mobile. Each one is unique in body type, but when they juke it up, their combined power, grace, and wit is undeniably infectious. From Alaska and the Kennedy Center to the crowned heads of Europe, Fly has left ’em smiling and wanting more.

The Bear and The Proposal

October 5–23

Classical Theatre Company

4617 Montrose Blvd.

Anton Chekhov, that gentle Russian of exquisite melancholy (Three Sisters, Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya) who packed a stiletto behind his sighs, isn’t known for his laugh-out-loud comedy stylings, but his funny streak peeks through in these one-act plays. The Bear is even subtitled “A joke in one act,” in case we don’t get it the first time. Produced in 1888 in Moscow, his “trivial little vaudeville” was a tremendous success, providing royalties for his entire lifetime. Smirnov barges in on young grieving widow Elena, demanding the money her late husband owes him. He won’t leave until she pays him. Their sparring eventually turns into a kiss, just as the neighbors are aroused by the furor. The Proposal (1890) is sweet farce, where neighbor Ivan courts Natalia, but they fight every time he proposes. The great playwright called this work “vulgar and wretched.” So much for
insight.  

Beethoven Recnstrctd

October 7, 8

Ash Danceworks

MATCH, 3400 Main St.

If u cn rd ths mesg, u lik modrn danc. No, that’s not a typo in the title, it’s just contemporary dance being edgy. One of Houston’s leading dance makers, Rebecca French, has reimagined Beethoven’s stunning Violin Concerto in D. Using electronic enhancements and video projections, her nine dancers (and the modern troupe Group Acorde, a quartet of two dancers and two musicians) will bring Beethoven’s 1806 masterpiece to vibrant life.

The Musical of Musicals, the Musical!

October 7–23

Theater LaB Houston

MATCH, 3400 Main St.

“I can’t pay the rent” is the theme of the cult 2003 off-Broadway hit by Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell. Each of its five mini-musicals parodies the style of famous Broadway composers by using the same cast of iconic characters: the hero, the villain, the ingénue, the matron. Let’s see, how about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s melodic Corn with “I Couldn’t Keer Less About You,” or Stephen Sondheim’s brittle A Little Complex with “We’re All Gonna Die,” or Jerry Herman’s upbeat Dear Abby with “Take My Advice and Live!” or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s operatic Aspects of Juanita with “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” or Kander and Ebb’s sexy Speakeasy with “Color Me Gay”? The show is a campy, affectionate romp through our favorite mode of entertainment and the music of our lives—the Broadway musical. Maybe that sentence should have an exclamation point.

De Kus (The Kiss)

October 12–30

Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy.

This Dutch play by Ger Thijs, translated by Paul Evans, is autumnal but quietly warmed by the human heart. It’s a journey play, if you will, as two unnamed people on their own inner quests continually cross paths in the woods to confront, challenge, and console each other. “What if” is the question gently asked as the play proceeds. Will they help each other on their separate pilgrimages? A chance encounter can change a life in a heartbeat, can’t it? The 2015 American premiere was directed at St. Louis’ Upstream Theatre by Stages artistic director, Kenn McLaughlin. Now he brings this warm, intriguing philosophical puzzle and its leafy physical production to Houston. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

October 12–November 5

Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.

Is there any other comedy that seems like it was written on cobweb? This gossamer play by Shakespeare is unique even among all his numerous unique works. It flits across the stage, feather-light, much like goofy Puck who gets everything wrong by putting magic love juice into the wrong people’s eyes, thereby setting in motion the many comic misadventures. Lovers who love someone else fall in love with those who hate them, and vice versa. Then there’s the subplot of Bottom the weaver and his yokels who are rehearsing their play in the mysterious woods. He’s turned into an ass, which enchants the queen of the fairies, thanks to Puck’s wayward shenanigans. The play’s all moonlight, exceptional, bewitching.

Handel’s Jephta

October 15

Ars Lyrica

Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.

Now here’s something you don’t hear every day—a rare Handel oratorio (his last, by the way), composed in 1751 as the Great Saxon was going blind and the genre of epic religious choral music was on the wane. Pious gods, kings, and Old Testament judges were kicked out of the theater by audiences who demanded hot pop tunes written by those incessant Italians and French, who only wrote about sex. The Bible didn’t stand a chance. Jephtha is a militant judge of Israel who battles the Ammonites. In a rash vow, he promises to sacrifice the first person he sees after victory. Unfortunately, who should rush from the tent to greet the returning hero but his only daughter. Handel fills the ironic narrative with his usual sublime melodies and inventive orchestration, whether depicting war or abject sorrow. Ars Lyrica, Houston’s preeminent early-music ensemble led by harpsichordist and artistic director Matthew Dirst, will no doubt bring out all the intricacies and heavenly beauties of this rare score.

Dry Land

October 20–November 5

Mildred’s Umbrella

Studio 101, 1824 Spring St.

A finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which honors new plays written by women, Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land (2014) receives its Houston premiere from Houston’s preeminent women’s theater company. Not that Mildred’s Umbrella is all-women, but it only produces plays that are decidedly from the distaff perspective. Spiegel’s 90-minute drama is definitely on that side as it details, in chilling clinical terms but without judgment, a teen attempting to have her friend give her an abortion. Neither knows what to do nor how to do what they don’t know. Set in a high school locker room with a series of blackout scenes, wary friends Amy and Esther play doctor with alarming results.

An Evening with David Sedaris One of America’s favorite humorists brings his sarcastic wit and wisdom to Houston.
An Evening with David Sedaris
One of America’s favorite humorists brings his sarcastic wit and wisdom to Houston.

David Sedaris

October 22

Society for the Performing Arts

Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St.

The pin-prick wit of monologist David Sedaris, always a favorite performer in Houston, should be particularly sharp this election season. Don’t stand too close if you’re a Republican.

RandPaul’s Drag Race:

Destination 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

October 22

Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 West 11th St.

It’s about time! Those clever loonies from Halloween Magic (HM) are back for a 25th-anniversary production, and we’re laughing before they even appear. Need I tell you that this edition is a send-up of the upcoming election? The outrageous clowns from HM have much to ridicule and mock, and the reunion of sorts includes directors Jerry Miller and Dennis Draper, Gilbert Perez (as Cuban bombshell Venezuela Maria Concepción de Los Angeles Valdez Vallejo González), and Gary Rodd, John Tucker, and Stewart Zuckerbrod as writers. Since 1988, HM’s wickedly bitchy comedy revues have raised over $1 million for HIV/AIDS service organizations in Houston. Seats go fast, so order now. Premium tables, seating 12, are $5,000; Star tables, seating 10, are $1,500; and individual tickets are $150. This year’s beneficiaries are Lazarus House, Legacy, Pet Patrol, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, and Omega House. A more worthy gala would be hard to find. And a funnier one? No way!

Wolf Hall (Parts I and II)

October 22–December 18

Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd.

Now, this should be juicy. Based on the phenom novels by Hilary Mantel, adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton, this immersive two-part series about the life and times of Henry VIII, as seen through the ambitious eyes of equally ruthless Thomas Cromwell, is awash in Tudor intrigue, court backbiting, beheadings, and enough English Renaissance panoply for an entire PBS series. Hey, wait a minute, it was a PBS series. And it was just seen on Broadway last March via the Royal Shakespeare Company in a limited run that had the critics salivating like the wolves they are. You will be, too.

How to Succeed in Business

Without Really Trying

October 25–November 6

Theatre Under the Stars

Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.

Frank Loesser’s career really took off after a lucrative freelance stint in Hollywood penning a slew of hit songs for Betty Hutton, Dorothy Lamour, and his Academy Award-winner for Esther Williams, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from Neptune’s Daughter. Known for his sparkling, surprising lyrics, his music was finally heard on Broadway in Where’s Charley? (1948), then in the Pulitzer- and Tony-winner Guys and Dolls (1950), then in How to Succeed (1961), another Tony winner for him. Succeed tells the story of J. Pierrepont Finch’s Mad Men-era rise—in two weeks—from window washer to the top of the corporate ladder. He’s a cad, a bounder, and utterly charming as he walks over everyone before love lays him low. “I Believe in You” is his mantra as he looks at himself shaving in the mirror.

Faust

October 28–November 11

Houston Grand Opera

Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.

Long before Les Mis, Lion King, and Wicked, there was a musical that struck a chord in the national consciousness. It broke all box-office records and had people singing its tunes endlessly. French composer Charles Gounod (famous for writing a Bach-knockoff version of Ave Maria) struck operatic gold with this tale from Goethe about the aging, depressed philosopher who sells his soul to the devil for another chance at life. Needless to say, it doesn’t go well, although young Faust gets to sport with Helen of Troy during the scandalous “Walpurgis Nacht” ballet. The opera is filled with tunes you’ve heard in the background of your life, although you may not have realized their origin: the famous “Waltz,” Marguerite’s “Jewel Song,” and her spectacular ascension into heaven. Faust is what is known as Grand Opera, a five-act behemoth, and it deserves every accolade. The best role, of course, is Mephistopheles, a true boulevardier with his cape, medieval tights, and feathered hat. He leads Faust into hell with a demonic laugh, and forever after the French have taken him to their bosom.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

October 29

The Grand 1984 Opera House

2020 Postoffice St., Galveston

During his heyday, Lon Chaney was the most famous of silent-screen stars. Known as the “man of a thousand faces,” his sympathetic portraits of horror—usually a misunderstood man driven mad by unfeeling society—struck a chord with moviegoers. A master of makeup, he’d distort his body in all manner of contortions that now seem unreal and masochistic in today’s world of CGI and green-screen. But Chaney went the full monty. Although he portrayed a frightening Phantom of the Opera (1925), his most memorable character was Quasimodo in Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Victor Hugo’s eponymous medieval bell-ringer. He metamorphosed himself into a living gargoyle for the role, and the film, with its gargantuan sets and massive cast of thousands, turned out to be Universal Pictures’ most profitable silent movie. Rob Landes, organist and artist-in-residence at Houston’s St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, provides the atmospheric live soundtrack to this most atmospheric film.

Five by Tenn

November 4–12

Dirt Dogs Theatre Co.

MATCH, 3400 Main St.

Houston’s newest theater troupe (there’s a new one every month, Yay!) presents some rarities from America’s most idiosyncratic playwright, Tennessee Williams. Drugs and alcohol, and a roller-coaster sex life, slowly took its toll on the genteel southerner (who was always more Blanche than Stanley) while certain themes—his personal archetypes—swirled through his writing like lifelines. These five one-acts, written between the classics The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) can’t compare with that universal A-list, but it’s still an education in itself to experience Williams re-work his demons of memory, ghosts, and recrimination. The plays are The Long Goodbye, Portrait of a Madonna, The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen, and Something Unspoken.

Jersey Boys

November 15–20

Broadway at the Hobby

Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.

There is no finer “jukebox musical” than this mother of them all from 2005. There is none so thought-out, so exquisitely crafted, so full of theatricality, so full of heart. Who knew that the story of the classic rock ’n’ roll band The Four Seasons held so much stage beauty? All the guys’ songs are here, in chronological order, yet placed within the context of their rise, fall, and rise with such dexterity, such finesse. The show is so utterly pleasing, so enjoyable, that you never for a moment think that these songs have been with us, spinning in our brains, since the ’60s (unless you’ve been around that long). No mere nostalgia trip for Baby Boomers, everyone can relate to the show’s joy, show-biz magic, and sheer fun. “Oh, What a Night” indeed.

The Nutcracker

November 25–December 27

Houston Ballet

Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.

Out with the old, in with the new. Ben Stevenson’s beloved Christmas ballet, boldly embroidered by designer Desmond Heeley’s evanescent Victoriana snowscapes, has been a Houston Ballet staple for almost three decades and the one production most young’uns grew up mooning over, dreaming about becoming ballerinas or spinning Russian Gopaks. Well, that production is gone with the winter wind. In its place will be artistic director Stanton Welch’s new and equally spectacular version of Petipa and Ivanov’s immortal tale of little Marie and her magical voyage to the land of the sweets. Tim Goodchild has designed the fresh opulence (yes, Virginia, there’s still that Christmas tree that grows through the roof.) And of course, Tchaikovsky’s most radiant score retains its eternal freshness and vigor. You can hear the snowflakes swirl in the ethereal celesta. Mr. Welch knows exactly what a daunting task he faces in retiring such a landmark, but don’t ever underestimate his prodigious talent in stagecraft and theatricality. His new Nutcracker may also be dancing into the future for the next 29 years.

Into the Woods

December 6–18

Theatre Under the Stars

Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.

Could this be chilly Stephen Sondheim’s most empathetic musical? It’s always been an audience-charmer, as our favorite fairy-tale characters (Cinderella; Jack with his beanstalk and cow; Little Red Riding Hood; Rapunzel, a misunderstood witch; and a baker and his wife who want a child) interact with each other in act one, then come to maturity in act two when their dreams come true. Happily-ever-after endings aren’t assured in this Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book) Tony winner from 1987. Be careful what you wish for.

Loretta Lynn

December 18

The Grand 1894 Opera House

2020 Postoffice St., Galveston

Hard to believe, but the queen of country
music has never performed at the island’s opera house where every other musical performer has been heard over the years. Never too late, I say. “Full Circle” is her new album, and it’s an appropriate title for this indomitable singer who has been the voice of country music since she twanged through her first record, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” in 1960. One of the most lauded of all singing stars, this coal-miner’s daughter from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, has been there and done that. Long may she reign!

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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