Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

 A Class Act A Class Act, now running at Theater LaB, is a wonderfully tender homage to the late Edward Kleban, award-winning lyricist for A Chorus Line. Put together by Linda Kline and Lonnie Price, the musical is built around several of Kleban's previously unproduced songs, telling the songwriter's own story as it follows his often troubled life from the beginning of his career until his death. Nominated for several Tony Awards in 2001, the sweet musical captures the writer's phobic, often difficult personality even as it makes clear that the people who put the show together adored the demanding artist. The story hits the tumultuous ups and downs of Kleban's life, using the songwriter's own tunes to illuminate his interior life. Given that the music and the story were stitched together in such an unlikely way, the show is surprisingly coherent. The songs cover Kleban's sexual escapades ("Mona"), his bouts with lost love ("The Next Best Thing to Love") and the drudgery of making a living when he'd rather be making music ("Gauguin's Shoes"). One of the best tunes in Theater LaB's production is "Paris Through the Window," a whimsically nostalgic song about looking back to sweeter days. A good part of what makes this song and so many others effective is David Wald, who plays the difficult Kleban with a warm, rich voice and a glowing personality. He's supported by a strong ensemble put together by director Jimmy Phillips. Especially good are Holland Vavra and Josh Wright, who play two of Kleban's loyal friends. Running at well over two hours, the show could use some major editing. But since these songs have spent so much time lingering in the dark, perhaps they deserve a few extra moments under the bright lights of the stage. Through June 26. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

The Hollow So, which one of the extended Angkatell family has killed the philandering husband John Cristow (Rich Adamus-Delgado)? Is it his mousy wife, Gerda (Amber Gugino), who's found standing over his dead body with a revolver? Is it the ravishing film star Veronica Cray (Kelley Goode), whose advances John has spurned, though they were once lovers in London? Is it sculptress Henrietta (Brenda Kuciemba), who is John's current mistress? Is it loopy Lady Angkatell (Candice Davis), who wants John out of the way so cousin Edward can keep the family house? Is it working girl Midge (Lauren Tunnell), who so desperately needs money? How about Sir Henry (Tony D'Armata), who owns a whole arsenal of guns and never stops dreaming of the family's past glories? But then, of course, never overlook butler Gudgeon (Revis Bell) or chambermaid Doris (Rebecca Rosenberg), both of whom know the family's secrets. One of Agatha Christie's least-known plays, The Hollow was adapted by the writer from her 1946 book featuring Belgian detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot. For its move to the stage in 1951, Christie removed Poirot and added lots and lots of exposition, giving the play more drawing-room texture than necessary. It's all quite languorous until the happy arrival of Veronica Cray, who bursts into the play like a bolt of Technicolor. Goode is exceptional as sultry Cray in her black-and-white peony-print sundress, dripping glamour and sexiness. So, too, are Gugino as droopy, dim Gerda, and Davis as flighty, batty Lady Angkatell. These fine actors keep the production hopping when Christie is content with a snail's pace. Directed by Barbara Hartman, The Hollow is still an intriguing murder-mystery, thanks to Christie's ever-abundant red herrings, abetted most wonderfully by the aforementioned ladies. Through June 26 at Theatre Suburbia, 1410 West 43rd, 713-682-3525.

Shut Up and Drive No. 4 out of the 14 plays that make up Radio Music Theatre's enduring, hilarious saga of the Singing Fertle Family from Dumpster, Texas, this is the most physical of the comedies so far -- and every bit as wacky and laugh-out-loud funny as the preceding ones. In this installment, daughter Carol, who lives the high life in San Diego with husband George, feels guilty for not seeing her low-life family, and so invites Mom, Dad and brother Earl for a visit. This coincides with sister Justicena's visit to Dumpster, so in typical Fertle fashion, the entire clan ends up coming along, including Uncle Al (he of the eyebrow glasses and incessant stogie) and girlfriend Gwenda (she of the cat's-eye glasses and incessant stogie). Nine family members pretzel themselves into Lou's Buick Riviera and set off for sunny California. That the whole panoply of nutsy folk is played by the three multitalented members of RMT only makes this feat more impressive. The entire Fertle clan clambers over, under and around the front seat during their Act I adventure. Hands, legs and a foot-long sausage make appearances, as does a psychotic trucker with a purple Mohawk, along with Doc Moore (he of the gibberish speech). Somehow, the overloaded Buick limps into "San-di-damn-ego," as Lou calls it, and Act II is off and running amok as the family collides in utterly unpredictable, funny ways. Lou builds a boat in the garage and memorizes the Constitution (don't ask!); Earl wins a contest with his backward singing; Justicena finds her G-spot; Pete "bucks up"; and baby Angina learns to say, "My mommy is a slut." Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills are wondrous on stage, as are Mark Cain and Pat Southard backstage with their sound effects and music mixing. The evening flies by much too fast, and the show is brilliant and wild. Through August 27. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

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