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Get Thee to a Theater: 2015 Houston Fall Theater Preview

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By D.L. Groover

Can you believe it? Not a political play in sight. Maybe everybody’s waiting for next November. With the 2016 election campaign in ceaseless swing, we count ourselves lucky to keep wayward politicians and their ilk out of our theaters. But you’ll still find a boy who won’t grow up, a girl who desperately seeks to grow up, a harried butler in Swingin’ London, a shipwrecked girl in drag, a mermaid, a handsome Russian prince who mocks true love, a Parisian prostitute who dies in Louisiana, a hunky boy-toy in Bucks County, a gangster’s moll who may star opening night, lovers who become Depression-era killers, a clown who murders his wife’s lover, a psychotic mask-wearing opera composer, and a little boy who just wants a BB gun for Christmas. Once more, dear friends, into the breach! Get thee to a theater! The experience will change your life in deeper, more meaningful ways than any politician’s empty promises.

September 2–27
12 Angry Men
Reginald Rose’s juicy courtroom drama is a souped-up theatrical version of his Emmy Award-winning 1954 TV production for CBS. Earnest in a civics-lesson kind of way, cleverly constructed with alternating swells of calm and storm, taut with dramatic plot twists and character revelations, and actor-friendly with big set pieces so everyone can shine, the original one-hour play was perhaps the epitome of what TV used to be famous for. The plot is classically simple: 12 jurors must decide the fate of a young slum kid on trial for murder; if found guilty, the young man will die. The disparate jurors, of various ages and socio-economic backgrounds, seem convinced at first of the “open and shut” nature of the case. One witness has placed the kid at the crime scene; another actually saw him commit the murder. The motive’s clear, the knife was found and identified, all that’s needed is the conviction. They take a cursory vote. Juror #8, the play’s conscious, is the lone dissent. He isn’t convinced one way or the other of the boy’s guilt, but the outcome is far too serious a matter not to discuss it—and for the next 1½ hours they battle for a fair and impartial trial. Prejudices, old scores, accusations, and even parental conflicts get dredged up as the men grapple with the facts. They put on quite a show, and the ensemble cast can be terribly impressive. If you like Law and Order, here’s its daddy.
A.D. Players
2710 W. Alabama
713-526-2721
adplayers.org

September 9–October 4
Peter Pan

He Can Fly!: Dan Rosales plays the title character in Peter Pan, a spectacular new innovative stage production at Threesixty Theatre in partnership with Society for Performing Arts.
He Can Fly!: Dan Rosales plays the title character in Peter Pan, a spectacular new innovative stage production at Threesixty Theatre in partnership with Society for Performing Arts.

Given its own special venue—a 360° tent that uses computer-generated projections to add zoom to the flying sequences—James M. Barrie’s immortal play flies high indeed in this 2009 production from Herrick Entertainment. This latest incarnation has been on an international tour since its premiere at Kensington Gardens, London—the actual location where Barrie met and mesmerized the darling Llewelyn children who would inspire him like no adult ever would. Barrie’s wild boy who wouldn’t grow up, after a century of being played by actresses, is portrayed here by a guy—a much more realistic touch that melds with the whizzbang 21st-century technology. This gender-correct casting also hints at all sorts of hidden subtexts in Barrie’s strange world. If you remember the Alley’s more grounded production with Jay Sullivan as feral man-boy Peter, you know what a good casting choice this is. Good old-fashioned 19th-century theatrics meets state-of-the-art wizardry. Clap your hands if you believe in fairies!
Society for the Performing Arts
Threesixty Theatre
4747 Southwest Freeway
spahouston.org

September 10–13
The Little Mermaid
Disney’s aquatic live-action cartoon is barely here long enough to get wet, but this special weekend return engagement should pack in the tykes who missed going “under the sea” last fall when TUTS presented this tuneful earful. Given a scuba-friendly scrub, this 2012 rewash of the 2008 Broadway musical flows more easily. All your favorites are still in clear view: snarky crab Sebastian, wicked sea-witch Ursala, handsome Eric, lovely Ariel, comedic Flounder the fish and Scuttle the seagull, and all sorts of denizens of the deep that only Disney and his team of theatrical wizards could dream up. Bob Crowley’s redesigned sets (and especially those limpid underwater vistas) are truly breathtaking, as are all the robust songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and collaborator Glenn Slater. This musical is full of enchantment.
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
tuts.com

September 10–20
Manon
A period melodrama, choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet adaptation (1974) of Massenet’s famed opera is a female Rake’s Progress into the dark side. Innocent Manon, on her way to a convent, is waylaid by her upstart brother, who pimps her out with a rich bounder. Unfortunately, she has already met impoverished student Des Grieux and fallen in love when she’s swiftly seduced by the high life of a courtesan (those jewels, those dresses, the chichi apartment in Paris!). True love doesn’t stand a chance when you’re the toast of the demimonde. After she mocks her patron, the influential Monsieur G., he takes revenge. Arrested and deported, destitute and ill Manon lands flatly in Louisiana. Des Grieux follows, but it’s too late. Filled with swirling young-love pas de deux, ensemble dances for the low-lifes, a drunken solo for brother Lescaut, a debauched sex scene, and enough emotion for a soap opera, MacMillan’s mature ballet is catnip for dancers, who love his highly charged steps and acting challenges. Not recommended for children.
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue
houstonballet.org

September 11–26
Small Mouth Sounds

Off-Broadway Satire: Stark Naked Theatre finds the humor in a weeklong “cleansing retreat” attended by all the usual suspects.
Off-Broadway Satire: Stark Naked Theatre finds the humor in a weeklong “cleansing retreat” attended by all the usual suspects.

At a spiritual retreat overseen by an obsequious unseen “teacher,” six participants undergo a weeklong cleansing that requires “no talking.” To playwright Beth Wohl’s credit (American Hero; Pretty Filthy), her diverse characters in this gentle satire face this hurdle with lots of attitude and varying degrees of success. They also get to talk to us directly about how they feel, why they’re here, and what they think about their roommates. Sad Jan, squabbling lesbian couple Joan and Judy, alpha-male Rodney, frazzled Alicia, and sensitive Ned all bounce off each other, setting off sparks, grunts, and groans. Wohl’s comedy received its acclaimed off-Broadway premiere last March. Silence may be golden, but it sometimes says much more than words.
Stark Naked Theatre
101 Spring Street
starknakedtheatre.com

September 11 – October 3
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Theatre Southwest opens its 59th season (an impressive feat in itself) with Christopher Durang’s loopy, evocative, and extremely pleasing comedy riff on the plays of Chekov. It’s a beaut. Recently seen only last season at the Alley before that company moved to the University of Houston during their building’s extensive facelift, Durang’s sweet play is a godsend for aging baby-boomers. Three middle-age siblings (two of whom share the family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania) face the prospect of growing old in this current uncertain world of youth, free love, and no accountability. Unmoored, without finances or partners, Vanya and Sonia bicker and while away their days, overseen by prophetic housekeeper Cassandra, who flies into Greek fits while cleaning house. Movie-star sister Masha arrives with gorgeous but vacuous boy-toy Spike, and lays them low with a bombshell: she’s selling the beloved house. Serious, like Chekov, the play’s gentle homage possesses its own sense of laugh-out-loud humor. Vanya has a showstopping second-act aria of a monologue, a heartfelt comedic harangue about what’s been lost since the Leave It to Beaver ’50s that should make you laugh, then weep, then laugh again. Just like Durang’s wondrous creation.
Theatre Southwest
8944-A Clarkcrest
713-661-9505
theatresouthwest.org

September 12
Violinist Joshua Bell
Any time’s a good time to spend with cute-as-a-button international violinist Joshua Bell, so why not open Houston Symphony’s season with a private concert? It can’t get any better than Bell playing Bernstein’s West Side Story as a suite for violin and orchestra. Cuter, still, is Bell’s radiant musicality with melting tone, virtuosic fiddling, and sumptuous phrasing. He’ll make you root for both the Jets and the Sharks. HS’s maestro, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, also leads the band in Gershwin’s jazzy icon An American in Paris and Stravinsky’s strikingly mystical and magisterial Suite from The Firebird, the 1910 ballet score that changed all music that came after it.
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
houstonsymphony.org

September 17–20
Bells Are Ringing
Eons before smartphones, ages before email, decades before sexting, there were actual people who would answer a person’s phone, take real-time messages, and relay all the info to clients who would call in and ask, “Any messages for me?” Meet Ella, one of the drudges at Susanswerphone, who loves the anonymity of her job, taking on the personae of the type of person she thinks is at the other end of the line. In this Betty Comden, Adoph Green, and Jule Styne classic from 1956, originally directed by Jerome Robbins and co-choreographed with Bob Fosse, there’s no sweeter sound than “Hello.” Listen and relax into standards including “The Party’s Over” and “Just in Time.”
Bayou City Concert Musicals
Heinen Theatre
3517 Austin
713.465.6484
bayoucityconcertmusicals.org

September 18–19
Rent
If you’ve never experienced this intoxicating 1994 rock musical by Jonathan Larson, based on Puccini’s eternal opera masterpiece La Bohème, you have only two days to get downtown. Granted, Rent never goes away for long, owing to its abiding popularity, but really, TUTS, two days? Set in NYC’s grunge East Village, Larson’s passionate hymn to life and love in all its forms is arguably the best musical of the last two decades. It’s a glorious work, full of youth and youthful smartass attitude, full of promise and dreams. The ultimate irony of it all is that Larson died on the eve of its premiere and never knew what a powerhouse work he’d created—a cultural icon for many and an object of veneration for the rest. Larson won a posthumous Tony, a Drama Desk, an Obie, and a Pulitzer Prize for this remarkable creation. He deserved them all.
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
tuts.com

September 18–26
I Pagliacci
Of all the verismo works that swamped the world’s opera houses in the late 19th century, Rugerro Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci was the one that had legs. These real-life “slices of life” arose to counter the frilly bel canto valentines of Bellini and Donizetti, with their royalty, divas, and divine heroes and heroines. The new sound was scrappy, husky guy music for rough trade. Set solidly in the middle class, or lower, with a clear-eyed view toward adultery, scheming lovers, and family betrayal, this is rub-your-nose-in-it music. Most of the musical elite hated what they heard at first, but Pag (1892) caught on with the public and has never left. A ragged troupe of traveling actors tours the Italian provinces. Canio, the lead clown, is married to Nedda, the troupe’s leading lady. She’s in love with Silvio; but company member Canio thinks she loves him. This is enough plot for any verismo, and Leoncavallo gets a lot of mileage out of this simple triangle—always appropriate in music that is dramatic, rushing, and intense. Two famous numbers have cemented Pagliacci into opera history: Canio’s melodramatic “Vesti la giubba” (“Put on the costume”), his “laugh, clown, laugh” aria; and Nedda’s soaring flight with “Stridono lassù,” where she pines for a bird’s freedom to fly far away from trouble. Needless to say, Nedda doesn’t get to fly away.
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Boulevard
713.861.5303
operaintheheights.org

September 19–October 24
Autumn in New York
The fab-five singer-actors at The Music Box Theater (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan, Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel) have a new cabaret act that sounds swingin’ and hot—a song catalog from performers associated with Manhattan. That should include Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Carole King, Billy Joel, and maybe even Broadway babies like Merman, Martin, and Channing. You never can be sure what this marvelous quintet will ultimately decide, but the program will definitely include some wacky comedy sketches, personal reminiscences, and the most astonishing singing you’ve ever heard. Dahl’s drama, Scarborough’s lilt, Sullivan’s crystal, Taylor’s purr, and Wrobel’s earthiness meld into harmonies that are just this side of heaven.
The Music Box Theater
2623 Colquitt
713.522.7722
themusicboxtheater.com

September 20, 2015–January 24, 2016
Mark Rothko Retrospective

Ultimate Rothko: The definitive retrospective of artist Mark Rothko’s work comes to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts this fall.
Ultimate Rothko: The definitive retrospective of artist Mark Rothko’s work comes to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts
this fall.

Sorry to be such a philistine, but I’ve got to admit that Rothko leaves me cold. Sure, you can lose yourself in his huge color swatches of that patented abstract expressionism, and even experience a pulsing calmness around his lively edges, but I’d rather zone out to Vermeer, Van Gogh, or the exciting, primal dramatic arrangement of Caravaggio. But I’m in the minority—witness the prices that this dead American artist’s paintings command. According to the catalog, his “canvases remain a testament to the deep humanism he brought to modern painting.” That’s hard to believe. However, he’s a major force in the art world, and this major retrospective should be a blockbuster, bringing to Houston what are known as Rothko’s Rothkos, his works bequeathed to Washington’s National Gallery of Art. Ironically, Houston’s own Rothkos are religiously displayed at MFAH’s rival museum, The Menil, in its own sacred space, the Rothko Chapel. We will be awash in Rothkos. I’ll be there to see if all the reverent oohs and ahhs are deserved, but I doubt I’ll be smiling. I’ll be dreaming of Dutch sunlit interiors, blazing sunflowers, or that beguiling, sexy tough, John the Baptist.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Beck Building
5601 Main Street
mfah.org

September 24–October 4
Fall Repertory
This Houston Ballet triple bill for balletomanes showcases political repression (Christopher Bruce’s haunting Ghost Dances), pure classical dance tinged with contempo swiftness and refinement (artistic director Stanton Welch’s Tapestry), and the fluttery excitement of a world premiere from a former HB dancer (Garrett Smith, a choreographer who’s been on a fast upward trajectory as a dancemaker ever since his days in Houston). There’s something for everyone. But best of all, it’s all about dance.
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue
713.227.2787
houstonballet.org

September 24–October 18
Platanos Y Collard Greens
In its regional premiere, David Lamb’s 2003 comedy explores the uneasy dance between blacks and Latinos at Hunter College in NYC. You might call it a new-age, brainy West Side Story, albeit with a happy ending. Freeman loves Angelita, but their families and friends are not pleased. Prejudices and racial stereotypes are exposed in gentle satire, hip-hop rhythms, and soft sit-com situations. Adapted from his own novel, Platanos has been a big success on college campuses. Congeniality is a potent flashpoint.
Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main
713.520.0055
ensemblehouston.com

September 24–November 11
As Bees in Honey Drown
What a marvelous creature is mega-agent Alexa Vere de Vere, prime supernova con artist running roughshod over the rubes in Douglas Carter Beane’s cubic zirconium of a comedy (1997). Alexa reinvented herself with a vengeance, leaving West Reading, Pennsylvania, far behind and heading to the Big Apple, where fame and fortune is found at others’ expense. Always at others’ expense. She drips with such magnificent dreams that everyone who wants one just like hers becomes snared in her web—only to discover that their bank accounts are soon depleted and their credit cards maxed out. One such victim is hot gay writer Evan Wyler, first seen shirtless as he poses for a photo shoot for the cover of his recent bestseller. Alexa sees dollar signs and some chiseled pecs, while deluded Evan only sees dollar signs yet to be. Bitchy revenge and laugh lines follow.
Queensbury Theatre
12802 Queensbury
713.467.4497
queensburytheatre.org

September 25–October 17
The Danube
Winner of nine off-Broadway Obie Awards and a 1990 Pulitzer Prize finalist for And What of the Night?, Cuban-American “experimental” playwright Maria Irene Fornés has been a vital avant-garde theater voice since the ’60s whose work was heavily influenced by her lesbian and feminist activism. She and devoted leftist author Susan Sontag were lovers in New York in the ’60s—an inspiration that had major consequences for Fornés’ unique perspective on character, identification, and stagecraft. Danube (1982), a double Obie winner for directing and writing, also received some harsh criticism at its premiere. The New York Times called her apocalyptic drama “brittle and oblique, obvious and mechanical,” while the Village Voice praised it as “startlingly original and devastating.” Nobody could agree, which in the theater is a good thing. Go, make up your own mind.
Catastrophic Theatre
1119 East Freeway
713.522.2723
catastrophictheatre.com

October 1–11
Bonnie & Clyde
Theater composer Frank Wildhorn hasn’t had it easy, not since Jekyll and Hyde (1990), his only mega-hit and consistently performed work. Svengali, The Civil War, Dracula, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Count of Monte Cristo, Wonderland, and Excalibur have died on stage, pretty much dead before the curtain went up. Only B&C (2009) might become a standard, although it closed four weeks after its 2011 Broadway debut. Its country-influenced music—a bit rockabilly, a bit gospel, and a good deal of Broadway belt—is the show’s best feature. Wildhorn’s music is always a standout; he can write in any genre, providing a showstopper with endless facility, like this show’s anthem for Bonnie, “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” or sister-in-law Blanche’s more poignant “That’s What You Call a Dream.” What comes in between the songs is always the stumbling block in a Wildhorn show. Whether or not young, hot, Depression-era small-town criminals such as Clyde Barrow and waitress Bonnie Parker should be so comic and nonchalant between murders is up for debate.
TUTS Underground
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
713.558.TUTS
tuts.com/underground

October 6–18
Matilda
Currently running on Broadway and London’s West End, this award-winning musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book is a true charmer. Cult Australian comedian/musician Tim Minchin wrote the music and lyrics, Dennis Kelly wrote the book, and precocious little Matilda Wormwood treads not-so-lightly on her journey of battling ogreish adults, clueless parents, and the indomitable headmistress Mrs. Trunchbull, an Olympic hammer thrower and showstopper deluxe. Childhood, with its fascinating terrors and dreams of growing up, is magnificently drawn in bold theatrical strokes—using school, of course, and the beauty of reading as notable escapes from the agonies these intrepid little kids must endure on the road to becoming teenage free-spirits.
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
713.558.TUTS
tuts.com

October 7–November 1
One Man, Two Guvnors
This inaugural production in the new, improved Alley Theatre—crisp lobby, state-of-the-art stage, enlarged backstage area, intimate auditorium—is probably not as important as the theater’s brand-new facelift, but the company has wisely programmed a rambunctious British farce that will put smiles (with a few belly laughs) on everyone in the audience. Adapting Goldini’s iconic masterpiece “Servant of Two Masters,” Richard Bean keeps the screwy plot intact, the classic character types in your face (old poops, blossoming ingenues, goofy second bananas, comedic heroes), and the physical action non-stop. Set in the Swingin’ ’60s of seaside Brighton, the silliness is sublime—a pastiche of Monty Python, Benny Hill, and Hyacinth Bucket (“That’s Bouquet…”) from Keeping Up Appearances. The rollicking comedy is filled with mistaken identities, bad drag, outrageous situations, and love triangles whose sharp edges are never deadly, just insanely funny. When the play opened in London (2011) the Daily Mail called it “the funniest show in the Western world.” It just might be.
Alley Theatre
615 Texas Avenue
713.220.5700
alleytheatre.org

October 14–November 8
Freud’s Last Session
Ironically, on the day that Germany invades Poland in 1939, superstar father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, an unrepentant atheist, invites brilliant young professor C.S. Lewis, a devout Christian, to his home for a chat. In Mark St. Germain’s intriguing two-character conversation, curmudgeon Freud engages upright, morally unshakable Lewis in a one-act round of intellectual tennis. The guys serve and volley with professional precision, batting back and forth such boldface subjects as emotion vs. intellect, faith vs. scientific method, fathers vs. sons. They are both expert players. Freud, dying from jaw cancer, usually gets the best lines, but Lewis parries with the finesse of youth and the implacable certitude of his Christian faith. There are moments of levity during the dry debates, and both men get their share of audience sympathy. Freud, a still-smoldering volcano, bellows smoke and fire; he’s a mighty lion and knows his place in history, but his body is broken, even if his ego is secure. Young C.S. Lewis, before he became internationally famous as an unrepentant Christian from The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, is as clean and bright as Freud is sooty. He radiates goodness and morality, with a whiff of insufferable righteousness. Although the drama resembles SparkNotes more than Tom Stoppard, St. Germain shows us two advocates and adversaries engaged in a literate, adult game that hinges on the mysteries of life. There’s plenty to think about. We’re grateful for that.
A.D. Players
2710 W. Alabama
713.220.5700
adplayers.org

October 15–31
Mac Wellman’s Dracula
Even though he’s one of America’s most prolific, experimental, and thought-provoking playwrights, Mac Wellman isn’t widely known outside the fringes of off-off-Broadway, where his distinctive, edgy work (Sincerity Forever, 7 Blowjobs) has won theater awards, devoted audiences, and cult status. His 1987 adaptation of Stoker’s Victorian novel, about the Transylvanian count who invades a cozy English town, is perhaps his most accessible play. All the trademark Wellman-esque touches are here. The playwright loves words, their meanings, the way they ring in the air, the way they can be strung together almost randomly and sound as natural as conversation. Words and thoughts tumble out free-form and unedited. In this revisionist reworking, Wellman digs into what lies at the book’s core, interweaving Stoker’s basic plot with the unspoken sexual repression lurking beneath. The story combines staid Victorian atmosphere with erotic postmodern situations. What more striking image of a repressed society aching to be liberated is there than the living undead? The closer they get to bloodless damnation, the more fiercely alive the characters become. Wellman’s mixing and matching of the old and the new is just the contrivance this story needs—and it works brilliantly. The camp aspect, mercifully, is tamped down, and the ripe Victorian Gothic poetry is allowed to shine.
Mildred’s Umbrella
Spring Street Studios
1824 Spring Street
mildredsumbrella.com

October 15–November 8
A…My Name Is Alice
“Small scale” in name only, this musical revue (1983), conceived by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd, spans the world of all things female. In this early (and still fine) example of a comedy/drama/musical focusing on women’s issues, five women sing, tell stories, bitch, praise, and connect with us. There’s a French chanteuse who used to be German, but needed to be French so she could sing about lost love twice a night; a feisty woman who confronts a macho construction worker who ogles every pair of legs that passes by; the power executive who gets what she wants but not what she imagined; a blues singer on the psychiatrist’s couch who croons about her needs in Sophie Tucker innuendo; a perfect housewife who daydreams about seeing her husband’s jockstrap in the washing machine—while he’s still in it. Long before The Vagina Monologues, there was Alice. She’s doing just fine.
The Texas Repertory Theatre
14243 Stuebner Airline
281.583.7573
texreptheatre.org

October 17
Michael Feinstein
Our favorite lounge act, gay Mike’s silky voice and velvety technique have aged over the years like fine wine. He’s still the best practitioner of the American Songbook, and here he celebrates Sinatra. Who could ask for anything more?
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice St.
Galveston Island
409.765.1894
thegrand.com

October 20–25
Pippin
This 2013 revival of the 1972 Stephen Schwartz and Bob Fosse musical has morphed into a gigantic circus that seems to out-Fosse Fosse’s original concept. It’s all very new-agey and existential, if you like the idea of medieval clowns as the personification of deep angst and finding yourself. But, like the original, this is a director’s show, made relevant through sexy posturing that drips with irony (Fosse), or piled with high-wire spectacle that rivals Barnum & Bailey (Diane Paulus). This was Schwartz’s first breakout success, 18 months after the hippie Godspell and 30 years before his Wicked juggernaut put the composer/lyricist firmly into the one-percent league. As a case for cultural overkill, slender little Pippin has been forced to the gym. He’s got a six-pack, but there’s still nothing in his head.
Broadway at the Hobby
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
houston.broadway.com

October 23–November 14
Tosca
Giacomo Puccini’s tale of jealous opera diva Floria Tosca in love with revolutionary firebrand Mario Cavaradossi has not lost any of its breathless pace since its Rome premiere in 1900. It took the maestro four years to hone Sardou’s play into a sublime opera, mostly because he battled his librettists relentlessly while turning a smash vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt into a sleek musical. The opera booms, purrs, and sighs under Puccini’s swirling orchestral palette. There’s not one ounce of fat on this sleek, glam, dangerous, and sexy diva. Ukranian dramatic soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, worthy of this demanding role, should be a revelation as a hot-headed, hot-blooded diva, while Siberian tenor Alexey Dolgov, who’s sung this role previously at HGO, should sail through impetuous Cavaradossi with enough grace and finesse that you’ll never suspect this is one of the most demanding of all tenor roles. HGO’s physical production is no looker: drab colors, off-putting setting (the same enclosed place for all three acts, with an inexplicable broken hole in the ceiling), mismatched costumes, and ill-conceived flourishes (Scarpia’s henchmen resemble him, bald and stocky, in white shirts and trench coats, like a quintet of Mini-Me’s). Director John Caird of the Royal Shakespeare Company has impeccable theater credentials all the way back to that golden musical epic Les Misérables, but here he strikes out.
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue
713.228.OPERA
houstongrandopera.org

October 28–November 15
The Other Place
American playwright Sharr White receives a belated Bayou City showing of his 2011 Tony-nominated mystery drama. Can we believe anything drug company scientist Juliana Smithton tells us? Scenes and their meanings shift constantly. Is that really her name? Does she really have a brain tumor? A brilliant doctor researching a new Alzheimer’s treatment, her lecture to colleagues is interrupted by her past life: estranged daughter, cheating husband, and haunting remembrances of that “other place,” her Cape Cod family beach house. Is she sick? Demented? Too smart for everyone? The New York Times called the 2013 off-Broadway transfer to Broadway “a cunningly constructed entertainment that discloses its nifty twists at intervals that keep us intrigued. In what is shaping up to be a lousy season for new plays on Broadway, perhaps this alone is worth a cheer or two.”
Alley Theatre
615 Texas Avenue
713.220.5700
alleytheatre.org

October 29–November 15
Wait Until Dark
As a follow-up to his ultra-successful suspenser Dial M for Murder (filmed in 3-D by Hitchcock in 1954), Frederick Knott upped the ante by making his leading lady blind. During the final scene when housewife Susy is menaced by sadist Roat, who is trying to get his grubby hands on a doll filled with heroin, she turns off all the lights in order to level the playing field—the most resourceful heroine since Scarlett O’Hara saved beloved Tara from those pesky Yankees. The fun of this thriller is finding out if she can outfox the foxes. Chills in the theater are difficult to come by. This one takes the cake. Make a wish and blow out the lights.
Queensbury Theatre
12802 Queensbury Lane
713.467.4497
queensburytheatre.org

October 7–November 7
The Medium and The Telephone
Opera in the Heights opens its season with a delectable, and rare, double bill of operas by Gian Carlo Menotti, once believed to be the saving grace of modern opera. His stunning Amahl and the Night Visitors, which remains the best of all holiday-themed operas, aired live by NBC on Christmas Eve, 1951. It was once a staple at Christmastime throughout America, but has sadly gone out of favor. Menotti’s lush Italianate scores, thoroughly melodic and wondrously theatrical, are throwbacks to an earlier era—and there’s nothing wrong with that! Like Puccini and Verdi, Menotti grabs you from the opening chords. A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner for Music (The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street), Menotti’s dated sound fell foul of the critics who wanted more dissonance. (Writing a melody? How passé.) These two short works, from 1946 and 1947, usually played together, never fail to impress. In The Medium, Flora’s a hucksterish medium, until the backstage tricks she uses to fleece the gullibles turn on her. In the comic opera The Telephone, Ben can’t propose to Lucy because she’s always on the phone.
Opera in the Heights
1703 Heights Boulevard
713.861.5303
operaintheheights.org

October 30
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Ivory Silence : Out entertainer Rob Landes accompanies the silent film Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde on the organ.
Ivory Silence : Out entertainer Rob Landes accompanies the silent film Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde on the organ.

If you need evidence of what silent-movie star power looked like, watch John Barrymore command the screen in this 1920 Paramount treatment of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s deathless tale. Barrymore’s “great profile” is much in evidence whenever the saintly Jekyll weighs the moral consequences of what he’s doing in his laboratory, but it’s Barrymore’s glee in playing the beastly Hyde that obviously captured his actor’s imagination. You can see how much fun he was having as he paws the creamy shoulders of vamp Nita Naldi, as a not-too-believable Italian dancer, or clubs to death his fiancée’s father. The first transformation scene is justly famous: Dr.JekyllMr.HydePosterphotographed in mid shot, Barrymore drinks the potion, grabs his throat, shudders in spasms, and when he clears the hair off his face, his visage has utterly changed. A cut to CU reveals more makeup and prosthetic fingers, but the initial change is without tricks, except those of this consummate actor. Barrymore shot Jekyll at Paramount’s Astoria Studios in Queens during his Broadway run as Richard III, so we can wonder about which evil character influenced the other. Organist Rob Landes accompanies the silent film.
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston Island
409.765.1894
thegrand.com

October 30–November 13
Eugene Onegin
Peter Tchaikovsky’s sadly romantic opera (1879), adapted from Pushkin’s novel (a favorite writer of the Russian composer), is one of the great works of art. Profligate Onegin catches the eye of innocent Tatyana, who falls in love with him and declares her deep feelings in letters he never answers. Later, at a ball, he brutally rebuffs her and subsequently flirts with her sister Olga. Olga’s financé Lensky takes offense at such callousness and challenges him to a duel. Bad idea. Onegin kills Lensky. Full of remorse (for once in his life), Onegin flees abroad. Years later, upon his return to St. Petersburg, he meets Tatyana who has since married into the highest echelon of society. No longer the country mouse, she is poised, glamorous, and happily married. Chastened, Onegin declares his love, but Tatyana, still in love with this handsome rake after all these years, will not betray her husband. She rebuffs him. With its impressionistic scenes that build inexorably in heightened waves, the opera possesses a powerful undertow that is restrained but devastating. None of Tchaikovsky’s other operas have this singular effect—perhaps due to Pushkin’s tale, but more likely due to Tchaikovsky’s redolent melodies and intuitive theatricality. It’s a most modern opera.
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue
713.228.OPERA
houstongrandopera.org

October 30–November 21
A View from the Bridge
Respected longshoreman Eddie Carbone has a thing for his pretty live-in niece, Catherine. Protective to a fault, his sense of pride and manhood take a hit when she falls for gentle Rodolpho, one of his wife’s illegal-immigrant nephews who has asked for shelter in America. Eddie insinuates that Rodolpho’s gay, horrifying the neighbors, his family, and the audience when he plants a big sloppy kiss on the beautiful blond Italian to prove his point. At the same time, he also plants a big one on Catherine, which doesn’t sit well with Rodolpho or Eddie’s wife. Desperate in his jealousy, Eddie turns in the nephews to the authorities, which doesn’t sit well with Rodolpho’s big brother Marco, who stabs Eddie with his own knife. Guilt, pride, male honor, and forbidden sex swirl through Arthur Miller’s operatic drama (1956), which has the overblown theatricality of an ancient Greek play. Lawyer Alfieri, who narrates the play as an omniscient observer, is his own Greek chorus—a rather hoary device. The play is bold with red-letter themes, but weasel Eddie is completely unsympathetic, leaving a great big hole where Miller’s heart should be.
Theatre Southwest
8944-A Clarkcrest
713.661.9505
theatresouthwest.org

November 7–29
Silent Sky
Look up! Look up! After a full season in the dark, Main Street Theater inaugurates its 40th season in a newly renovated facility with a true star-studded gala. Silent Sky is the story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, a Radcliffe graduate who worked at Harvard University’s observatory (for $10.50 a week) as one of “Pickering’s harem,” a drudge team of low-paid women called “computers” who crunched numbers and cataloged star placement using photos of the sky. A tireless intellect, she discovered the correlation between a star’s brightness and distance, known as the period-luminosity relationship, which led to the measuring of the universe and the astounding discovery that the firmament is eternally growing. Never truly appreciated during her short life (she would die in 1921 from ovarian cancer), she had been considered for a Nobel Prize in Physics until the committee realized she was dead. (The prestigious award is never bestowed posthumously.) Lauren Gunderson’s gentle drama is full of humanity, wit, feminism, and the mystery of the great beyond. A fitting opening production for one of Houston’s finest companies.
Main Street Theater
2540 Main Street
713.524.6706
mainstreettheater.com

November 14
Accordion Virtuosi of Russia
An entire evening of accordion music? How could we stay away? Trust me, you ain’t heard nothin’ like this phalanx of reed-free aerophones, nimbly played by an orchestra of 30, accompanied by a percussionist, a pianist, and a violinist who doubles as maestro. The rep bounces around from Russian folk songs, classical tunes like Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance and Strauss waltzes, to Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, Bernstein’s West Side Story, and Beatles favorites. Founded during the horrendous 1943 Nazi siege of Leningrad (!), the virtuosi have been under the leadership of the Smirnovs. No, not those Smirnovs, the musical ones—father Pavel and sons Yuri and Vladimir. The spectacular show is as accomplished and sleek as any Beyoncé concert, replete with strobe lights and fog effects. While this unique band has played all over the world, including three Olympic ceremonies, this is the company’s first time in Houston. Let’s show them a warm Bayou City welcome. Dobro Pazhalovhat!
Society for the Performing Arts
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue
713.227.4SPA
spahouston.org

November 18–29
Phantom of the Opera
Do you really need to know anything about this? Perhaps the most famous show in the world, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mega-hit about that creepy guy in a mask and his obsession with dank underground caverns lit by hundreds of candelabras returns (again) in a new incarnation. Overseen by master choreographer/director Matthew Bourne (the all-male Swan Lake) and the big, big, big producer Cameron MacIntosh, this production has a fancy new design by Paul Brown, refurbished original costumes by Maria Bjornson, a new staging by Lawrence Connor, and new choreography by Scott Ambler. Let’s do the time warp and hear “Music of the Night” once more. All aboard the gondola!
Broadway at the Hobby
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
houston.broadway.com

November 19–December 6
Break of Noon
Opening with a blasting monologue, Neil LaBute’s examination of man’s brittle heart of darkness (a particular obsession for this idiosyncratic playwright) occurs after John Smith survives a workplace massacre. Lucky beyond belief to have survived, has he heard the voice of God? Has he found grace? He sets out to save humanity—a prostitute, a TV talk-show host, his ex-wife, a lawyer, and a detective. But will they listen? This being a LaBute morality tale/satire (Fat Pig, Reasons to Be Pretty), you may have doubts, too.
Queensbury Theatre
12802 Queensbury Lane
713.467.4497
queensburytheatre.org

November 19–December 30
A Soulful Christmas
Jubilant is the word for this Ensemble Theatre musical revue. Sparsely written by TV vet Stepp Stewart, this musical concert is brought to joyous life by the Ensemble’s go-to guys for most of its shiny seasonal musicals, director/choreographer Patdro Harris and musical director Carlton Leake. The team is Ensemble’s answer to Balanchine and Flo Ziegfeld, responsible for the troupe’s blockbusters Cinderella, Djembe, The Twelve Ways of Christmas, and the non-holiday Dreamgirls. With this much high-caliber dancing and singing, we suspect that this team could probably stage the Yellow Pages. On Christmas eve, two grandkids whiz back in time using grandpa’s magic watch, which affords them the opportunity to ease-on-down memory lane through decades of musical styles. There’s a shoutout to Cab Calloway, Mahalia Jackson, Eartha Kitt, Chubby Checker, The Jackson 5, Diana Ross, and even the girl rap group TLC. Whether or not you know your music history doesn’t really matter, because the joyfully bouncy cast will channel it all for you. The flimsy plot is merely an excuse for a Christmas concert—but what a concert! I doubt if the Ensemble would mind if the audience danced in the aisles, as long as they didn’t interfere with the staging. The show’s so catchy and so much fun, it’s hard not to let loose and (at least) boogey in your seat. The vibe of the show is uptown toasty, catching the spirit of the season with snappy sass and respect.
Ensemble Theatre
3535 Main Street
713.520.0055
ensemblehouston.com

November 20–December 12
Everything Will Be Different: A Brief History of Helen of Troy
Pop culture and the politics of beauty get a drubbing in Mark Schultz’s angsty tale of teenage Charlotte’s quest for meaning after the death of her mother. Her search for life leads her through an unresponsive father, a maybe-imaginary friend, a fling with porn, a prick of a boyfriend, meaningless sex, and insights into the greatest beauty in the world. Charlotte is no beauty, inside or out, and Schultz’s rawness gnaws through the pain, grief, and curse of being young and utterly alone.
Catastrophic Theatre
1119 East Freeway
713.522.2723
catastrophictheatre.com

November 22–December 28
A Christmas Carol
Michael Wilson’s somewhat faithful adaptation of Dickens’ timeless classic about the redemption of curmudgeon Scrooge should be a good test of the new Alley stage’s trap-door feature when ghouls and flames shoot up periodically and Marley’s ghost makes a hellish exit not seen since the Wicked Witch departed from Munchkinland. The rest, not counting the housekeeper in drag or the writhing Halloween specters, is epic Victoriana homage to Dickens.
Alley Theatre
615 Texas Avenue
713.220.5700
alleytheatre.org

November 27 – December 27
The Nutcracker
This is the final season for Ben Stevenson’s production with those icy Desmond Heeley landscapes, flying cooks in Candyland, and the wintry blizzard of the Waltz of the Snowflakes. Next year brings a brand new production from artistic director Stanton Welch, so if you haven’t experienced this warm ballet chestnut that’s been a Houston staple for decades, go and pay your respects. Don’t forget, Tchaikovsky’s music is pretty sublime as well.
Houston Ballet
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue
713-227-2787
houstonballet.org

November 28
An Olde English Christmas
Way before Benny Hill, our favorite British import was Herman’s Hermits, a pop group with such pleasant personalities that you could have brought any of them home to meet mother. They were cute and cuddly, non-threatening, drug-free, and drank their Cokes without ice. Their sparkly Manchester accent was heard in hits such as “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “I’m into Something Good,” “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” “A Must to Avoid,” and “There’s a Kind of Hush.” What’s not to love? Well, they’re back—older, wiser, with contract troubles behind them, and no doubt drinking something a bit more potent than soda. But memory plays strange tricks, and I bet, under the concert lights, the boys (or what’s left of the original band) will look just fine. Hello, Peter!
The Grand 1894 Opera House
2020 Postoffice Street
Galveston Island
409.765.1894
thegrand.com

December 2–23
Inspecting Carol
Based on Gogol’s The Inspector General, where an impostor masquerades as an official, playwright Dan Sullivan turns this plot device into holiday comedy. To receive its NEA grant, a shabby theater company currently performing A Christmas Carol must receive a live review. Everybody mistakes an out-of-work actor for the inspector, and—guess what?—hilarity ensues. This farce has been around since 1991, merrily playing at regional theaters, which ironically is the exact target of this satire.
Texas Repertory Theatre
14243 Stuebner Airline
281.583.7573
texreptheatre.org

December 4–20
The Little Prince
Before his plane was shot down during a spy mission over Marseilles in World War II, Antoine Saint-Exupéry was a French national treasure, known for both his pioneering aviation work and his novels and stories that reflected his love of flying. The Lyon airport is named after him, as is, appropriately, the asteroid where his most famous book, The Little Prince, is set. It makes perfect sense for Houston Grand Opera to revive their 2003 Rachel Portman/Nicholas Wright world premiere for the holiday season. Full of misty poetic ruminations on the wonders of life, and a distrust of grown-ups who don’t take time to smell the roses, this tale “of a world outside of time” has been a continuing favorite of both adults and children since its publication. Its simple, gentle message of “trust your heart” is the moral that both the extraterrestrial Little Prince and The Pilot learn by final curtain. The eponymous hero of Academy Award-winning composer Portman’s first opera is sung by a little boy, and the roles of the Stars are scored for children’s chorus. There’s a comic quartet of baobab trees who sing about how menacingly big they grow, among various picturesque characters who punctuate the plot: a fox, a king without power, a water well, an evil boa constrictor. Kids love seeing other kids on stage, and Saint-Exupéry’s beloved 1943 children’s book is, indeed, the perfect subject for what might be a child’s first opera. Francesca Zambello’s magical production is another plus, assisted wonderfully by Maria Bjernson’s storybook, minimal sets, fanciful costumes, and Rick Fisher’s ravishingly colorful lighting. But one might wonder if Portman’s somewhat subdued musical setting of this classic tale can actually win over the little tykes.
Houston Grand Opera
Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue
713.228.6737
houstongrandopera.org

December 4–23
Ho Ho Humbug
Commissioned in 2014 by Stark Naked Theatre, Scott Burkell’s world-premiere holiday show is a snarky elf’s tale akin to David Sedaris’ snarky elf’s tale, Santaland Diaries (see below). The big difference is the size of the cast. Santaland is one elf playing many parts; Humbug has many elves playing many parts. The similarities are pretty striking: an out-of-work actor finds employment at the last moment at a huge department store where Christmas is the most important event of the year. The December gig causes his former ennui and Scrooge-like attitude to magically morph into some kind of perverse jubilation. His bizarre coworkers are either social outcasts, former Nazi guards, or ditzy dysfunctionals. There is a gay subplot. Christmas spirit is good.
Stark Naked Theatre
Studio 101
1824 Spring Street
starknakedtheatre.com

December 6–31
Santaland Diaries
Deck the halls with plenty of attitude, because Crumpet the Elf is back by popular demand! Lacking the skills for a sensible job, a 43-year-old gay schlub (let’s call him David Sedaris) answers a newspaper ad for the next-best thing: the glamour of being an elf in Macy’s Santaland. How hard could it be? With hands on hip, like a male version of movie wise-cracker Joan Blondell, he tells all about this festive environment from hell while leading us on a laugh-filled bitchfest of “relentless cheerfulness and grinding enthusiasm.” Remember, Santa is an anagram for Satan.
Alley Theatre
615 Texas Avenue
713.220.5700
alleytheatre.org

December 8–20
A Christmas Story, the Musical
Adapted from Jean Shepherd’s nostalgia-laden holiday cult movie (1983), it took longer than expected to turn TNT’s goldmine into a Broadway show. First surfacing in 2009 at the Kansas City Rep, the musical was completely revamped by composers/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for a 2010 run in Seattle. A national tour followed before it hit Broadway for a seasonal run in 2012 and 2013, garnering three Tony Award nominations for best musical, book, and score. All your favorite movie moments are here: little Ralphie’s obsession with that “legendary, official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with compass and the thing that tells time built right into the stock”; his dad’s obsession with that hideous leg lamp, the recalcitrant furnace, those hillbilly neighbor dogs; his mom’s obsession with meatloaf and “putting out your eye”; and Flick’s “triple-dog-dare you” dare to stick his tongue on the frozen flagpole. Shepherd’s Christmas memories, filtered through Joseph Robinette’s gentle sepia-colored book and Pasek and Palul’s crisp, soothing songs—all-American, yet universal—appeal to the kid in all of us.
Theatre Under the Stars
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
713.315.2525
tuts.com

December 17–23
Striking 12
American indie pop-rock trio GrooveLily (Gene Lewin, drums; Brendan Milburn, keyboard; Valerie Vigoda, electric violin), with an assist from Rachel Sheinkin of Putnam County Spelling Bee fame, wrote this holiday-tinged musical adaptation (sort of) of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl in 2002, and it had a subsequent off-Broadway production in 2006. Vigoda has described this minimalist production as “a cross between a rock concert and a holiday show for people who don’t like holiday shows.” I know nothing about the group, their music, their sound, or their show, so I will repeat what The New York Times review stated: “The bold choice to interpret a literary classic in contemporary terms, without resorting to a wholesale rewrite or cheeky parody, recalls the boundary-leaping adventure undertaken by Duncan Sheik & Company in Spring Awakening. The strength of that show’s score and this one’s inspire hope that musical theater, long considered to be on life support, may yet make a recovery fueled by musical transfusions from the more eclectic players in the pop and rock spheres.”
TUTS Underground
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
713.315.2525
tuts.com/underground

December 18, 19, 20
Handel’s Messiah
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’ libretto is mainly 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 later, 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.
Houston Symphony
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana
houstonsymphony.org

December 27, 2015–January 2, 2016
Bullets over Broadway
Before he turned to movies, Woody Allen had been a success in standup, television, and theater. Don’t Drink the Water (1968) and Play It Again, Sam (1969) were legit hits, but he stayed away due to his many Hollywood commitments. His gangster/backstage period comedy Bullets over Broadway (1994), starring John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, and Tracy Ullman, was a modest success, and of all his films seemed to benefit from musical treatment. What Allen didn’t do was get an original score, turning to ’20s standards like “Tiger Rag” and “Runnin’ Wild.” So his nostalgic satire became another jukebox musical, albeit with a somewhat more coherent book.
Broadway at the Hobby
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
800 Bagby Street
713.315.2525
houston.broadway.com

December 31, 2015–January 10, 2016
Twelfth Night
Shakespeare’s beguiling romance should be catnip for the latest co-production between Main Street Theater and Prague Shakespeare Company. Each collaboration has been a high point of past seasons: a stirring Henry V, a malignant and creepy Richard III, an eerie Macbeth. Separated by shipwreck, twins Viola and Sebastian wander the island of Illyira. Dressed like a boy to fend off marauders and get a job, Viola charms the elegant countess Olivia without meaning to, then she herself tumbles for the Duke, mooning after him as a love-sick pageboy. Sebastian is mistaken for drag Viola, prompting duels from Olivia’s jealous suitor, Sir Andrew, and erotic pawing from Olivia. Meanwhile, malcontent and priggish servant Malvolio is tricked into also wooing upper-crust Olivia, whose strange courting rituals send him for a madness cure in a dark room. Everything’s sorted out at the end, of course, and the lively romp ends with more song. There are tosspots, puritans, and lovers mad with loss or newfound love. “If music be the food of love, play on,” Orsino says right at the start of the play, and Night never stops singing of love and the marvelous, strange, and delicious effect it has on everyone.
Main Street Theater
2540 Times Boulevard
713.524.6706
mainstreettheater.com

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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