Billy Budd Heralded director Francesca Zambello, who unveiled her new version of the repertory staple Madame Butterfly at the Houston Grand Opera last week, now takes the road less traveled with her rendition of Benjamin Britten's adaptation of the Herman Melville story about injustice on the high seas. Budd, featuring a libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier, visits Houston (courtesy of the HGO and England's Royal Opera, the co-producing entities) after stints at London's Covent Garden and Paris's Opera Bastille; the original incarnation of the work premiered at Covent Garden in 1951. Danish baritone Bo Skovhus sings the role of Billy, a young sailor aboard the British warship HMS Indomitable who's faced with a trumped-up charge of treason and accidentally kills his accuser, master-at-arms Claggart (bass-baritone Jeffrey Wells); tenor Peter Kazaras enacts the role of worthy Captain Edward Fairfax Vere. The production's performed in English, and features surtitles. Robert Spano of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra conducts the Houston Symphony. Opening performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; the run continues through February 14. The Brown Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $20-$175 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Elton John Any true E.J. connoisseur knows that the former Reg Dwight recorded his last must-own album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, in 1975, and that Elton's been skating by on reputation (or is it name recognition?) and the occasional insipid MOR hit since. So why is it still considered such a big deal when he tours, and who the heck's snapping up all of these tickets, anyhow? Elton doesn't even model his sublimely silly line of spectacles or do Jerry Lee Lewisstyle somersaults over the keyboard anymore -- and all of this "Candle in the Wind 1997" tomfoolery, well, we're not going there. One final grouse: The press release accompanying E.J.'s latest album, The Big Picture, asserts that the three-decade-old John/Bernie Taupin songwriting partnership is "rivaled only by Lennon/McCartney." In fairness, the context of the comment was commercial in nature, but the artistic hubris underlying it rubs us the wrong way, as does the thought of suffering through a Bic-flicking rendition of "Candle in the ... " -- we weren't going there. The show, which starts at 8 p.m., is officially sold out; if you must go, consult your neighborhood ticket broker. Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, 961-9003.
"Chaplin: Between Laughter and Tears" The serial homage to the greatest filmmaker of all time continues tonight with screenings of two of the Little Tramp's finest: Modern Times (1936) at 7:30, followed by City Lights (1931) at 9:15. The Chaplin Revue, featuring the early shorts A Dog's Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918) and The Pilgrim (1923), starts at 1 p.m. Saturday. The series runs through February 6. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $6 for tonight's double feature or $5 individually; $4 for Saturday's matinee.
Charlie Haden Quartet West See Critic's Choice on page 69. Showtime is 8 p.m. The Cullen Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $21$41 (DaCamera Music Center: 524-5500; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
African Delight Express Theatre's appropriately titled annual production, in its fifth year, is a charming journey into the cultural heart of Africa; though targeted at tykes, it's recommended for kids of all ages. E.T.'s executive director, Y.A. Bagersh, wrote the show; this year's version centers on the songs, stories and rhythms of Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Egypt. Opening performances are at 7 tonight, 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; the run continues through February 22. The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. $5; $4 for museum members (tix: 759-1314).
"Local Spin: Independent Houston Filmmakers" The series of recent "low- and no-budget" videos and films by local auteurs, a sequel to 1995's similar "First Look" showcase, continues with numerous entries this weekend. Robert Ziebell's Stop Evil is a surrealistic, film noir-style compendium of spliced-together clips from the filmmaker's visits to the 1994 Republican National Convention, Joshua Tree National Monument and an Ohio artist-in-residence program. Its companion film is Peter Lucas's unorthodox coming-of-age tale Now Here. The double feature starts at 7:30 tonight. Following at 8:30 is Kyle Henry's American Cowboy, a filmic portrait of gay rodeo cowpoke Gene Mikulenka that promises a "revisionist perspective on cowboy culture." Greg Carter's Fifth Ward screens at 7 p.m. Sunday; see the story on page 41. "Local Spin" concludes February 7. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $6 tonight; $5 Sunday.
"Steppin' Out!" with the Houston Symphony Guest conductor Michael Krajewski of the Long Beach and Jacksonville (Florida) symphonies wields the baton in this informal pops program featuring our hometown orchestra and light-heeled hoofer Fred Strickler (PBS's Tap Dance in America). The bill of fare includes Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld overture, Tchaikovsky's waltz from Sleeping Beauty, Gould's Tap Dance Concerto, Anderson's Sandpaper Ballet and Irving Berlin's "Steppin' Out." The performance inaugurates the "Symphony Cabaret" series. Showtime is 8 p.m. Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, 230-1600. $15-$180 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).