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AUTUMN SCENERY: OutSmart’s Annual Arts & Entertainment Preview

A colorful slate of 2018-19 shows will relieve your midterm anxiety.

Well, the midterm elections will soon be upon us, but don’t be depressed. If you need a safe space in which to raise your spirits and elevate your mind, there are many places to recommend—all LGBTQ-friendly and a few absolutely fabulous. Hurricane Harvey might have put a damper on last year’s fall season, but the skies look clear, if not radiant, for the 2018-19 season. Pick any of the following and you’ll be walking on air.

Talk Radio
Through September 8
Dirt Dogs Theatre Company
MATCH, 3400 Main Street
If you’re a fan of radio-talk hosts Michael Savage, Opie and Anthony, the late Bob Grant, Don Imus, Sean Hannity, or Howard Stern, Eric Bogosian’s X-ray portrait of a “shock jock” will be catnip. Its antihero is Barry Champlain, based on the ultra-liberal Denver host Alan Berg who was murdered by white supremacists for “mainly being anti-white and Jewish,” as one of the defendants shouted during the trial. Champlain’s got an abusive loud mouth, and he uses it to flail those unfortunates who take his bait and call in. But his own destructive demons are just underneath that excoriating surface, waiting to pop out and say hello. The play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1988 and was the basis for Oliver Stone’s overheated movie version from the same year.

The Moors
Through September 15
Mildred’s Umbrella at Chelsea Market Theater
4617 Montrose Boulevard
Jen Silverman riffs wild and woolly on the famed Bronte sisters. Isolated on the bleak English moors, the two sisters (Agatha and Hudley, along with earthy maid Marjory) exist only to flee, if they can. Crazy brother Branwell may lie a-hidin’ in the attic, like Rochester’s deranged wife, while the unannounced arrival of an independent-minded governess adds comic tension. Meanwhile, their loyal mastiff takes a fancy to an errant hen that crashes the 19th-century party. Satire, anachronisms, and witty banter delightfully collide.

On Transcending the Inhibited Space
Through September 25
O’Kane Gallery at University of Houston-Downtown Welcome Center
One Main Street
How do you define “place,” and your sense of it? And what about your identity? How do you define that? Multi-disciplinary artist Raheleh Filsoofi, an Iranian-American, seeks to give place space, and space place. In Imagined Boundaries, the first of her two installations, you peer through open-ended boxes arranged in a honeycomb pattern. When you peep through, people in Iran look back at you. In The Inh(a/i)bited Space, the synapses of the brain seem to be made visible with a multitude of Persian jars all connected by wires. Soothing bird song and the plucking of a stringed instrument lull you. An explanation from the exhibition states, “The nexus of experience that the installation represents is disrupted by technology and by the rhetoric of selective travel bans that results in anxiety, psychological displacement, and inner inhibitions that outweigh any sense of overt privilege.” I missed that completely.

Always…Patsy Cline
September 7 and 8
Stages Repertory Theatre at Miller Outdoor Theatre
6000 Hermann Park Drive
Stages founding artistic director Ted Swindley’s golden-oldie weepy about Cline’s one-night-only friendship with a Houston housewife shows no wear and tear for its 30th birthday. Once you wallow through the corn-fried humor and heart-on-your-sleeve melodrama, there are 27 of Cline’s classic songs to savor. Kelley Peters channels Cline like she’s haunted, and Susan Koozin spins straw into gold as irrepressible Louise. With its meager plot, this is the ultimate jukebox musical. And any fan of Cline’s is a friend of mine.

Mkay (Everything’s going to be alright, or whatever)
September 7, 8, 9
Suchu Dance Company
MATCH, 3400 Main Street
The saddest news at the Houston Fringe Festival may be saying goodbye to Suchu Dance. Its founding artistic director and choreographer Jennifer Wood is “leaving the country,” according to Suchu’s mysteriously worded press release, so this is the last performance “for some time to come.” We hope Wood will get back quickly from wherever it is she’s going, for her rough-and-tumble antic spirit is unique, fearless, and whip smart. Mkay is described as “14 people packed in a tiny space dancing furiously for one hour. What could go wrong? Everything—and that is the fun part.” See why she will be missed?

Heathers: The Musical
September 7–23
Art Factory
1125 Providence Street
Just how far would you go to be popular? Murder? Fake a suicide? Blow up your school? They do all this and more at Westerberg High, where the trio of Heathers don their red scrunchies and make hash of anyone not near their pedestal. This rock musical, with book, lyrics, and music by Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness and Desperate Housewives) and Lawence O’Keefe (Legally Blond: The Musical), adapted from the 1988 movie knows how to maneuver around dark satire with bite and social purpose. There are psychotic bullies, gay dads, a sad-sack heroine, fake suicides, and real bullets. A grand mash-up of Grease and Matilda, with a whiff of Spring Awakening and Little Shop of Horrors, this little musical-that-could has become quite a cult favorite itself. High school was never like this, was it?

Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony
September 13, 15, 16
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana Street
The riches of composer Gustav Mahler’s sublime works lay hidden for almost a century after their premieres. His lush music, written for a titantic orchestra and influenced by the sonic chromaticism of Richard Wagner, hearkened to another world, languid and full of angst. It wasn’t until NY Philharmonic maestro Leonard Bernstein unearthed  these treasures in the ’60s that Mahler finally got his due. It was a long time coming, but worth the wait. Regardless of the influence of late romanticism, Mahler has his own distinct voice. His diminished-sevenths reek of unfulfilled promise, his military marches sound the call to action, and his high strings, recalling the song of angels, summon the divine. His Symphony No. 2, subtitled “The Resurrection” (1867), is epic and sprawling, using chorus and large orchestra, offstage trumpet fanfares (one of his signature effects), and swelling climaxes. No other music sounds like Mahler’s—a cry from the heart writ very large indeed.

Opus Cactus
September 14
Society for the Performing Arts
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana Street
Cutting-edge dance company Momix is filled with magic. They can turn anything and everything nto thrilling voyages of discovery. Earth, wind, air, fire, lizards, flowers, sand—whatever you want. The four elemental elements are just the starting point for Moses Pendleton’s imaginative and stunning stage pictures that illuminate the southwest desert. For 90 minutes, they mesmerize. Momix conjures with such precision and wondrous theater magic, it’s like Cirque du Soleil for the smart set.

The Menil Collection

The Reopening of the Menil Collection
September 22
The Menil Collection
1533 Sul Ross
Shuttered for months to complete a needed renovation, the famed Menil, Houston’s crown jewel of an art  museum, opens its doors again. New floors, new gallery design, new lighting, and more bathrooms will greet visitors who have missed the gentle gray giant on Sul Ross. All our favorites will be on display: the monkey-fur Kono mask, the existentially whimsical Magrittes, the glorious sunken relief of Horus from Egypt’s New Kingdom period, those glowing gilded Byzantine icons, Jaspar Johns’s kaleidoscopic colors, the Tlingit carved wooden pipe. There’s a whole world of art awaiting, and it’s always free. Go be refreshed.

Troye Sivan: The Boom Tour
September 24
Revention Music Center
520 Texas Avenue
Step aside, girlyboy Justin Beiber, there’s a new sensation breathing down your skinny geek neck. And he comes with gay pedigree, phenomenal Internet hits, a YouTube blog followed by millions, and a burgeoning movie, theater, and singing career unmatched by any other Gen-Z-er. Flash in the pan? Today’s latest LGBTQ flavor? Maybe, but you can’t discount his meteoric rise to quasi-stardom with his electro-pop baritone and the galvanizing force of his gay Pride.

Les Misérables
September 25 – 30
Broadway at the Hobby
800 Bagby
One of the truly great theater works, this blockbuster mega-musical adapted from Victor Hugo’s classic novel displays remarkable staying power and enduring appeal. Those soaring, emotive pop-operatic anthems composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg (with libretto by Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel, ably adapted into English by Herbert Kretzmer), perfectly capture the soul of this ultra-romantic/ultra-earthy tale. Swirling underneath the story of thief Jean Valjean and his ultimate redemption is a bold denunciation of 19th-century French social ills. The criminal-justice system is corrupt and unduly harsh, represented by the stolidly obsessive Inspector Javert who hounds Valjean through the decades. Among the downtrodden are a prostitute, her illegitimate daughter, a young revolutionary, and a street urchin who embody Hugo’s grand theme that “to love another person is to see the face of God,” which is trumpeted in blistering arch-romantic music that, if sung in Italian, might pass for Puccini. It works like gangbusters in the context of the universal struggle of the hopeless. A juggernaut of contemporary musical theater in all its grandeur, Les Mis never disappoints and very often enlightens.  

Director Emilio Rodriguez

Swimming While Drowning
October 3 – 21
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
According to a 2012  Williams Institute Study, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as gay. You know the contributing factors: social stigma, discrimination, rejection from family. To get money they often fall into prostitution. They’re more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse. Because of their sexual orientation, they are more likely to be abused by adults, beaten up at school by peers, and spit out onto the streets they fear. Playwright Emilio Rodriguez’s 2017 torn-from-the-headlines drama finds teens Angelo and Mila seeking refuge in an LGBT shelter. Their need for stability, their overwhelming feeling of not being Latino enough and not fitting in, and their attempt to make the most of what little they are given is conjured through rap and poetry. Since youth has the advantage of resilience, perhaps these two might make it after all.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
October 3 – 21
Classical Theatre Company
Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose Boulevard
Mr. Holmes, that smart detective with the deerstalker hat and meerschaum pipe, abetted by his trusty loyal pal Dr. Watson, makes a return in Timothy Evers’ adaptation of several Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short-story adventures featuring the intrepid pair. Apparently, this play is thrown to Watson, portrayed again by company member Andrew Love (who first played Watson in Classical Theatre’s previous foray into English crime fiction, The Speckled Band). CTC’s artistic director, John Johnston, parlays Holmes with enthusiastic wit and a gymnast’s grace.

The Rocky Horror Show
October 19 – 31
Art Factory
1125 Providence Street
Just in time for Halloween, here comes Richard O’Brien’s gender-bending phantasmagorical cult musical that refuses to die! Its oh-so-shocking sexcapades seem mighty tame these days, but I guess there are Rocky virgins out there immune to its faded charms. I mean, Frank-N-Furter, that “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania” sporting bustier and fishnets just doesn’t shock as much any more after we’ve experienced RuPaul. But we’re sure everyone will be singing along to “Time Warp” and talking back to the actors. Don’t go in that room, Janet!

Visual Pathology
Through October 7
Galveston Arts Center
2127 Strand, Galveston
Leave it to Galveston to come up with something that sounds positively ghoulish. Five artists (photographers Steve Fisher and Sarah Sudhoff, sculptor Kamilla Szczesna, draftsman Mark Greenwalt, and charcoal portraitist Colleen Maynard) are let loose in the remnants of University of Texas Medical Center’s pathology and surgical collection and find some specimens that have been fading away in their formaldehyde baths since 1891. If you can stand the grisly surrealness of it all, their contemporary take deserves a view. Just hold your nose.

The Book of Will
September 8 – October 7
Main Street Theater
2540 Times Boulevard
In a delicious irony, one the most famous people in history is almost entirely a mystery. There are two extant signatures, his will, a deed for property, a second-hand account of court testimony, and an early slam by a writer who was jealous about this upstart’s rising fame. There are more books about Shakespeare than any other writer, but we still know next to nothing about him. The foundations of his famous Globe Theater were recently discovered, with the remains of the audience pit filled with hazelnut shells (a popular Jacobean snack during performances). We also know that he was a majority shareholder in the venture and died owning three personal properties—two in London and a fine manse in Stratford. He finagled a coat of arms, although his father was only a glove maker; his plays were major successes, and his troupe was financed and protected by King James himself—quite a major accomplishment. His troupe played before Elizabeth (and later, James), but neither of them thought it important enough to mention him in their voluminous writings. Nobody cared about the man who so thoroughly entertained all levels of society at the theater. Only Ben Johnson praised Shakespeare immediately after his death, and the only portraits may or may not actually depict the writer. Why did he leave provincial Stratford-upon-Avon and his family for London? What did he do during the “lost years” before he burst upon the London stage like a meteor? Why did he leave the stage at the height of his power and go back home? Whether these questions are answered at all in Lauren Gunderson’s historic romance will be, at best, only suppositions until more forgotten archives and manuscripts are unearthed. Gunderson concerns herself with the compiling of the First Folio by his faithful actors who remained in the business after the master walked away. They, at least, pay him abiding tribute.  


September 11 – 23
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center
800 Bagby
TUTS opens its 50th season with the great Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. After Show Boat (1927), whose book and lyrics were written by a much younger Hammerstein, no other show since has so influenced the course of the Broadway musical. With its infectious music paired to the story, psychological underpinning, wondrous verve, and adult themes, Oklahoma knocked all competition off the boards in 1943. It was a tsunami. The face of the musical changed forever. No matter what’s done to it—gender-switched (as in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s positively au courant version just two weeks ago), newly orchestrated, or cast by a color-blind director), the show is eternal and grand enough to withstand whatever assaults are thrown at it. TUTS’ production, though, should be most exciting, since Houston Ballet’s Stanton Welch, with a large contingent of his own dancers, will be reimagining the famed Agnes deMille staging. Oh, what a beautiful morning.

Martini Madness
September 14
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main Street
Here’s a fundraiser we can get raise a glass to, and I mean it this time. Special martinis, noshes, a theme party based on Manhattan styles from any era, a photo booth (for all you Dorothy Parkers and George F. Kaufmans), and handmade artisanal martini glasses to take home after the bash. If you don’t want your own souvenir glass, you can arrive fashionably late, after 9 p.m., for all the other festivities. Lest you think you’re partying without a cause, a portion of your donation benefits Houston Food Bank and Craft Emergency Relief Fund, which supports Texas artists affected by Hurricane Harvey. We’ll drink to that.

Da Kink in My Hair
September 20 – October 14
Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main Street
Eight black women in Toronto, recent immigrants from the Caribbean, meet in a hair salon to celebrate, inspire, and goad each other into sisterly solidarity. When she touches their hair, owner Novelette can read their histories. In Trey Anthony’s 2001 dramedy, music and dance (naturally) play a major part in the beauty parlor’s magic realism. When Novelette’s former boyfriend dies, his sister demands repayment of the loan that set up the business. The rousingly entertaining music is by S. Renee Clark,  e’Marcus Harper, Carol Maillard, and Michael McElroy. You’ll be dancin’, too—probably during the show.

Re-gifting with Royalty
September 21
Ars Lyrica
Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center, 800 Bagby
Who’s the royalty here? Composers Bach and Couperin, or the star-studded performers? You be the  judge after hearing Bach’s fifth and sixth Brandenburg concertos, his stunning cantata Non sa che sia dolore, and a panoply of François Couperin’s instrumental chamber works performed by harpsichordist Matthew Dirst, soprano Lauren Snouffer, Baroque flutist Colin St-Martin, Baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, and the sterling Ars Lyrica ensemble orchestra. By the way, check out Blumenstock’s 1660 Guarneri violin. Now that’s royalty!

Never Again

Never Again
September 21 – 23
6 Degrees
MATCH, 3400 Main Street
Politics or circus—who can tell? If you think MSNBC is the last word in political commentary, turn your gimlet eyes to confrontational dance troupe 6 Degrees. The Texas legislature gets a major skewering in this Barnum & Bailey Orwellian world where the coat hanger is the only option, diversity is a dirty word, race is a weapon, and sexuality is a crime. Amy Ell is the aerial consultant, so I expect to see Dan Patrick on a trapeze. Produced and choreographed by provocateur Toni Leago Valle, Never pricks politicians as clowns, resistance is burlesque, and Austin is a sideshow. Who knew? Ask Rachel, she knows.

HGO and Plácido – Coming Home!
September 26
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
Who else in the world of opera has had a longer, more distinguished career than celestial tenor (now baritone) Placido Domingo? His international career began with his years at New York City Opera in the ’60s, but his early career included conservatory training in Mexico City, minor roles at the National Opera of Mexico, and journeyman service at Tel Aviv’s Hebrew National Opera Israel (where he earned $16 a performance). His rise to international superstardom was jump-started by performances with Beverly Sills and Renata Tebaldi, and then amazing fireworks appearances in Europe. The Spaniard conquered wherever he sang. His powerful lyric voice, lush and creamy, wowed everyone, and his handsome stage presence was duly welcomed. His was a golden voice, a once-in-a-generation voice. He survived when many faded, and his distinctively robust and masculine voice was an undimmed force of nature. Even today, after his move into the baritone repertoire, his voice is stentorian, trumpet-like, and smooth as velvet. In the opera world, he is a god among gods. To celebrate its return to Wortham Theater after the ravages of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston Grand Opera is throwing a party—an expensive one, to be sure, but who better to consecrate the return than the Great Domingo? He will be joined by Houston favorite soprano Ana Maria Martinez, a student of Domingo’s. A gala banquet follows the gala performance. Start saving your pennies now.

Evil Dead: The Musical
September 27 – October 27
Obsidian Theater
3522 White Oak Drive

Five clueless young ‘uns, hopped up on sex and beer, go to an abandoned cabin in the woods. Guess what befalls? Oh, the horror, the unleashed undead spirits, the chainsaw, the splattering blood, the screwy squirrel, the laughs. Written, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, by George Reinblatt with music by Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, and Melissa Morris, this campy musical (2003) has had its own zombie life, playing all over the world. There’s even a version in Korean! Be warned, there’s a splatter zone. Don’t wear white.

Wynonna & The Big Noise
September 29
The Grand 1894 Opera House
Galveston Island
The Grand opens its 2018–2019 “Jewel of a Season” with a one-night-only appearance of my favorite country singer. SPA brought her in last season, but a year is too long to wait to hear her again. I don’t think there’s currently another female singer in her league with such a resonant voice.  Rich and chocolaty, her powerful belt is Mermanesque, if not operatic. She can growl like a rocker, or purr like Fitzgerald. Unlike her Mother Judd, I don’t believe she’s a nasty woman. Her voice is too pure, her style too unique, her sassiness too down-home. Pumped by her band, The Big Noise (led by husband/manager/drummer Cactus Moser), she’ll be ready to shake it up. Bring it on home, darlin’.

October 5 – 7
Art Factory
1125 Providence Street
Musical icons don’t die, they end up in tribute shows. Art Factory presents one of its recurring concert series, a potpourri of current and past superstar entertainers (or their avatars, anyway) like Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Prince, Freddie Mercury, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson. Come relive the music of your life.

Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits from Holbein to Warhol
October 7 – January 27, 2019
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet
Nobody gets tired of the royals, do they? If you want to refresh your Downton Abbey fantasies or relive The Queen of Wolf Hall, the MFAH has a show for you. Bring your Liz II purse, wear a Eugenie fascinator, and dress like Kate as you check out 500 years of royal portraits. All your favorite monarchs are on imperial display—painted, photographed, or sculpted by Hans Holbein, Sir Peter Lely, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol, and Annie Leibovitz. Thanks to an MFAH partnership with London’s unparalleled National Portrait Gallery, London, these you’ll see works that have never traveled outside of England. Additional loans have come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Palazzo Barberini in Rome; the Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado. Quite an impressive list. Gaze upon spread-legged Henry VIII’s girth; spy upon Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, as she strides upon a map of England like a colossus; see the madness encroaching upon George III (who didn’t approve of our independence); remember the sadness in Diana, Princess of Wales; and the indomitable strength of current ruler Elizabeth II, the longest reigning English monarch. I hope Prince Harry is on view somewhere. Rule, Britannia!

Savage Winter
October 19
Aperio, Music of the Americas
MATCH, 3400 Main Street
Living up to its own definition (“to unveil” or “to hear with new experiences”), Aperio, Music of the Americas, lets us hear new voices we wouldn’t necessarily know. It’s always an education with this striking presenter of North and South American new music. Diversity is built in to its DNA. Winter is a one-act chamber opera by Douglas J. Cuomo, which had its world premiere by Pittsburgh Opera last February. The piece is scored for amplified tenor (Tony Boutté) and three on-stage musicians—amplified trumpet, piano, electric guitar, and plenty of electronics. Using translations of William Muller’s poems, this is angst made into music, an existential cry from the heart as the Man confronts his past and tries to atone for all his mistakes, his lost love, his guilt. Part acid jazz, art song, punk, and searing electronics, the music might sizzle your brain, but you won’t forget it.

The Flying Dutchman
October 19 – November 2
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
Wagner’s first success (1843) helped secure his place as one of opera’s rising voices. His was certainly a distinct one: chromatically challenging, demanding leather lungs from his singers, and propelled by a sex-tinged libretto that ruffled the staid feathers of most operagoers. Dark and storm-tossed, the opera is a bracing splash of sea water right in the kisser. A ghost story of redemption, the cursed Dutchman is permitted to land once every seven years to find a woman who will love him without question. Innocent Senta’s been in love with the portrait of a brooding man said to be the flying Dutchman. Guess who comes to visit? Their love, though chaste, is fiery and salty. In a classic case of misunderstanding, he sails away because he thinks she’s in love with young Erik. Pleading from the waterfront, Senta flings herself into the sea, redeeming him. In Wagner’s original libretto, they are seen rising out of the waves into heaven, blessed by their unsullied love. The story was pretty hokey even back in 1843, but the music was new and dangerous—deliriously so. It made Wagner’s reputation, and the egotist was off and running. He never looked back.

Halloween Magic

Halloween Magic presents Kinky Re-Boots, Making America Kinky Again
October 20
Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church
2025 West 11th Street
They’re back! Those gay loons responsible for the best comedy revue  in town have returned, finally. Where have they been? We’ve missed them. But what a fabulous time for a comeback. What’s in store with this edition? How about a Real Housewives of the White House skit? This show is a satire, right? Written by Gary Rod, John Tucker, Craig Stephens, and Stewart Zuckerbrod, all these irreverent crazies (and I mean that as a compliment) reunite for the ribald challenge, especially Gilbert Joseph Perez, a veteran Halloween Magic performer who channels the Cuban spitfire Venezuela Maria Concepción de Los Angeles Valdez Vallejo González. Wait until she meets Ivanka…or The Orange One himself. The accents will fly, as will musical numbers, wicked wit, and plenty of barbed darts. Since its founding in 1988, the organization has raised more than $1 million for various Houston AIDS service organizations. Olé, we shout from the rooftops!

The Wiz
October 23 – November 4
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby
“Don’t nobody bring me no bad news,” sings Evilene, a.k.a. the Wicked Witch of the West, in Charlie Smalls, Timothy Graphenreed, Luther Vandross, Zachary Walzer, and William F. Brown’s very sassy uptown take on Baum’s immortal Wizard of Oz series. This Tony winner from 1974 has snap and dis in its genes. There’s no bad news at all. Sidney Lumet’s film version of the show (1978), even with Michael Jackson’s luminous appearance as the Scarecrow, was limp and lifeless, with a way-too-old Diana Ross as Dorothy, which skewed the fairy tale into uncomfortable feminist territory from which it couldn’t recover. This show skews in all the right ways. Let’s all ease on down the road and enjoy.

La bohème
October 26 – November 11
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas
If there’s anyone out there who’s never seen Puccini’s eternal tale of Bohemian love on the rooftops of Paris, here’s your chance. (And where have you been? Did you miss Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge? Or Jonathan Larson’s Rent?) It doesn’t matter—go now and see the original. This 1896 opera, whose premiere was conducted by the legendary Arturo Toscanini, has been a staple of every opera house in the world and is renowned as the most popular and most performed work in the rep. It deserves every accolade. It is as fresh, novel, and involving as ever. Hopes and dreams, then dashed hopes and dreams, have never sounded so ardent, pure, and radiantly alive as when written by master Puccini. The melodies soar, the characters seem real, and we are transported anew. The opera casts a particular charm all its own, full of youthful vigor, angst, and love in capital letters.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto
October 26, 27, 28
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana Street
Tchaikovsky’s stupidest decision of his life was to marry his former student Antonina Miliukova, who had literally stalked him from their first meeting. The marriage was a total sham, since the famous composer was thoroughly gay (as was his brother and many of his close friends in St. Petersburg). It seems unlikely that he was pressured or thought the marriage would cure his desires, as Peter Ilyich constantly cruised the banks of the Neva in search of rough-trade happiness. Maybe, he thought, once they were officially married, she’d leave him alone. When he fled from Antonina (who would later die in an insane asylum), he found solace in writing his luscious Violin Concerto in D. The two most famous violinists of the day and friends of his, Iosif Kotek and Leopold Auer, refused to play it for the premiere, citing the work’s extreme difficulty. (Neither of them thought it very pretty.) It’s a tour de force, for sure, replete with double stops, dissonances, trills, and string-jumping leaps. But it is also rhapsodic and folk-like, fiendishly rhythmic, and now universally regarded as perhaps the best of the best. Also on the program are excerpts from filmdom’s best of the best, Bernard Herrmann’s Suite from Vertigo and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Suite from The Sea Hawk. These two idiosyncratic composers changed the sound of film music: Korngold in the ’30s with his sweeping romanticism, and Herrmann in the ’40s with his layered psychological undertones. A grand night for music.

The Joint is Jumpin’: Big Band Favorites
October 27
Houston Chamber Choir
Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive
Dust off that zoot suit, put your hair in a snood, pull up those bobby socks, and take the A Train up to Miller Outdoor Theatre for this jumpin’, hoppin’, and jivin’ concert of Big Band favorites. Houston Chamber Choir channels The Andrews Sisters, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and other masters from the Greatest Generation. Best of all, the admission is free. Hubba hubba.

Macbeth Muet
November 1 – 11
Main Street Theatre
2540 Times Boulevard
This sounds absolutely intriguing: Shakespeare’s Macbeth performed without words. It’s from the quirky Québec theater collective La Fille du Laitier, who drive around the city performing out of a refurbished ambulance—much like medieval traveling players in those days of yore before permanent theaters. The company of three (Jon Lachlan Stewart, Caroline Belanger, Marie Helene Belanger) call themselves a theater-delivery service, and that’s exactly what they do by driving through neighborhoods and performing spontaneously. They are mad, full of imagination, and startlingly original. Just like theater, yes? Since this is Macbeth (although Main Street gives it a romp of a production), Main Street has rated this for patrons 13+.   

The Phantom of the Opera
November 7 –18
Broadway at the Hobby
800 Bagby
For a show that’s been savaged as the British import that aided in the demise of Broadway due to its empty spectacle and phenomenal success, this latest version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1988 Tony Award-winning super-production should put that canard to rest once and for all. This is just the type of show Broadway needs: melodious, clever, and opulent beyond belief; a wonderful blend of the spangly showmanship of Flo Ziegfeld with the visual panache of Cecil B. DeMille. The dark romance, based on the B-grade 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux, is a variant of Beauty and the Beast, with Beauty being aspiring opera-singer Christine who falls under the erotic spell of the Beast, the psychotic yet talented Phantom who lives in the subterranean caverns beneath the opera house he haunts. When he doesn’t get what he wants (i.e., Christine), he goes batty and starts killing stagehands and dropping chandeliers. Among the glamorous settings are massive swags with equally massive tassels, a fireball-spitting staff, fields of candles that rise from the dank mists, an elephant, a corps of ballerinas right out of Degas, an ornate organ, a gilt-and-cherub-encrusted proscenium arch, blinding sparks, and, of course, that naughty chandelier that goes bump. Sir Webber’s lush Puccini-inspired score is lyrically evergreen. Phantom is a classic musical, and all its glories are on eye-popping display in this refreshed production with a cast of 50. Go see for yourself why this show is eternal.       

Così fan tutte
November 9, 11, 15, 17
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Boulevard
Among all of Mozart’s splendid operas, perhaps Così is most special because it has taken the most lumps. After the Vienna premiere run was cut short after the death of Emperor Joseph II, when the theaters were shut for mourning, the opera returned for five shows through August, and then, except for a few scattered performances, was forgotten for over a century. Hard to believe that a work with such mastery, wit, and finesse could be shoved in the closet, unloved. Well, times change, and now Mozart’s comic sex masquerade by librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, is regarded as one of opera’s crowning glories. When Ferrando and Guglielmo, two army officers, crow about their lovers’ faithfulness, old cynic and friend Don Alfonso bets them that within the day, their fiancées, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, will be unfaithful. In his plan, the men pretend that they’re called to the front but immediately return in disguise as two Albanians, with great plumed mustaches, to each woo the other’s betrothed. Needless to say, the women prove inconstant. The title freely translates to “they’re all alike.” At the time it was gleefully shocking with its ultra-modern theme of infidelity, casual sex, and an irreverent, saucy maid, Despina, added to mock her employers. Così is a sophisticated ensemble piece unlike anything that had been seen before on the opera stage. You can hear Mozart purring in the background as he adds his unique celestial voice to give his characters weight and emotion. The whole premarital affair bubbles with joy.

When Women Ruled the World

When Women Ruled the World
November 10
Society for the Performing Arts
Cullen Theater, Wortham Center
501 Texas Ave.
Way back in ancient Egypt, about 3,824 years ago, a woman called herself “king” and was worshiped as a god. Her name was Nefer-u-sobek, which means “Sobek is beautiful.” Sobek was the crocodile-headed god of the Nile and offered protection from its dangers. This distaff pharaoh, who reigned for  maybe four years, had all the power in the known world. Find out about political intrigue, patriarchy, and sexual politics (millennia before Hillary, Elizabeth, or Alexandria) when noted Egyptologist Dr. Kara Cooney examines her life, along with two other fascinating queens (kings) of Egypt: Nefertiti and Cleopatra. You may know Nefertiti, wife of the heretical Akhenaten, from the incomparable painted bust of her that is an icon of ancient Egyptian sculpture. And everybody knows about Cleopatra, right? Wait to answer until you hear Cooney’s insightful investigations.     

Christmas Is Comin’ Uptown
November 10 – December 30
Ensemble Theatre
3500 Main
Dickens receives a smart and sassy adaptation as Scrooge and company find themselves in Harlem. Written by Phillip Rose, Peter Udell, and Garry Sherman, mean old Scrooge is a slumlord who snatches coins out of the hands of kids and raids the charity bucket. Marley warns the old miser to “boogie right and get a new routine,” as the three ghosts, Past, Present, and Future, appear as a high-strung boxer with an ego and a bigger Afro, an impatient Rastafarian who won’t brook backtalk, and a sexy rapper in shades with an impressive switchblade. The musical is vibrantly choreographed by Patdro Harris. Dickens gets attitude. You’ll be dancing in the aisles.

The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore
November 18
Houston Chamber Choir
St. Philip Presbyterian Church, 4807 San Felipe Street
For opera lovers, here’s a real treat: a rarely performed piece by Gian Carlo Menotti, once considered a modern heir to Puccini. His greatest work remains Amahl and the Night Visitors, written for NBC in those golden days when TV networks actually commissioned fine art. This “madrigal tale” was commissioned by the Library of Congress in 1956, and tells the story of a Poet and his three mythical pets who represent the three ages of his life. With a prologue and 12 madrigals, all sung by chorus, the work is accented by dance. The acclaimed NY City Ballet, overseen by the legendary George Balanchine, staged the work the following year with an all-star cast choreographed by John Butler, who staged the Washington premiere. Full of Menotti’s rapturous ear for melody and orchestral color, Unicorn is as unique as that gentle beast, just as beautiful, and just as mysterious.

Panto Star Force
November 21 – December 30
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
You know exactly what to expect at Stages’ Christmas panto productions: bad puns, jukebox music, raucous kids, scenery-eating actors, and blue jokes for the adults. Sometimes the magic works. They’re so eager to please, the infection becomes contagious, so maybe lightning will strike in this one. What we like already in this Star Wars parody is the name of evil incarnate: Dark Tater. And the fact that our favorite pantomimist, Ryan Schabach, returns as the irrepressible Buttons (and as a co-writer). Hey, maybe we’ll be pleased to accompany farm boy Jed from planet Cypress and his zany pals. May the force be with them, and us, too.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
November 23 – December 23
Main Street Theater
2540 Times Boulevard
Calling all Janeites! By my troth, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, feminist writer Lauren Gunderson (Silent Sky, The Revolutionists—both recently produced by Main Street with radiant ease) has a whirl with her sequel to Pride and Prejudice. It’s two years after Elizabeth and Darcy have wed, but dweeb black-sheep Mary has moved in, too—the last of the five Bennet sisters without a prospect. Co-written with Margot Melcon, Ms. Gunderson’s seasonal romance is liberally sprinkled with Edwardian charm, the love of learning, and the fight for independence, even if it isn’t the kind everybody else thinks you should have. With empire-waist dresses a-flowing, ringlets caressing dewy cheeks, and hearty men in riding boots and greatcoats, Ms. Austen and her world, newly minted, is in fine hands for the holidays.

The Nutcracker
November 23 – December 29
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas
Houston Ballet’s Stanton Welch’s holiday perennial is a Barnum & Bailey production, the likes of which you’d only see on Broadway. The house is solid and large, the Christmas tree literally bursts through the ceiling, the land of snow is a blizzard of flurry steps and explosions of confetti, the land of sweets has an English bulldog with a cigar and an African lion in a caftan. It’s eye-popping, tremendously theatrical, and certainly amazes the little ones who are often attending their first ballet. Although you’ll be wowed by the sets, glistening costumes, and CGI effects, the dancing is still the star, and all the blockbuster numbers from Lev Ivanov’s 1892 original have been caressed and enlarged by the incomparable artists of Houston Ballet.

Who’s Holiday!
December 5 – 30
Stages Repertory Theatre
3201 Allen Parkway
Where is there room at Stages for a third holiday production? There must be a lot of shuffling backstage between shows. This one-woman parody of Dr. Suess’s Christmas stories by Matthew Lombardo (Looped, about Talullah Bankhead; High, about a tough-love nun) is definitely adults-only. What can you expect, since Suess Enterprises sued Lombardo for copyright infringement. Citing “fair use,” Lombardo won the case—so now we can see what dear old Seuss didn’t find funny. Since that infamous crime from years past, when the Grinch attempted to steal Christmas, little Mary Lou Who has grown up fast and loose and hard. Bleached blond, she survives in a trailer on Mount Crumpit and tells us her story of woe. Apparently the Grinch stole something more than her presents under the tree. Do I hear a Who? And how.

The Wondrous Gift Is Given: Christmas at the Villa
December 7 and 9
Houston Chamber Choir
Chapel at the Villa de Matel
6510 Lawndale
It has been called the most beautiful sacred place in Houston, and you’ll see why if you attend Houston Chamber Choir’s Christmas concerts at the Villa de Matel convent’s radiantly serene chapel . As the main sanctuary for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the luxurious combination of towering campanile, Italian marble, tile mosaics, and luminous stained glass elevates you, no matter your faith. After seeing the chapel, you’ll believe. When you hear carols sung by the sublime Chamber Choir, accompanied by the Treble Choir of Houston and Apollo Chamber Players, you’ll convert.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
December 11 – 23
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby
Here it comes again! This perennial Disney chestnut started right here at TUTS, which co-produced the show with Disney Theatrical. It was Disney’s first foray into Broadway production, and the out-of-town premiere occurred at the Music Hall in November 1993. Currently there are three Disney shows running in NY: Aladdin, Lion King, and Frozen. A gargantuan pop hit, if not a critical success, Beauty closed in 2007 after running 14 years. The producers more than recouped their cost, reputed to be as high as $20 million. If you’ve seen the animated movie (really, you’ve never seen it?), the show is as faithful a reproduction as it can be. It’s impossible to replicate the phantasmagoric “Be Our Guest” number with its anachronistic spirit and Busby Berkeley homage, but the creative team knocked itself out to be somewhat true to the comic tone. This version, staged especially for Houston’s Hobby Center, will be brand-new.

This article appears in the September 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 


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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