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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Anne of Green GablesThere's probably no better fodder for a musical than Lucy Maud Montgomery's perennial 1908 children's best-seller. But Sharla Boyce and Cyndi Scarr Crittenden's adaptation falls flat anyway. An older brother-sister farm couple wants to adopt a boy to help out with the chores. But in a mistake, the orphanage sends imaginative, inquisitive, garrulous Anne, and with her arrival, everything in the small Canadian town changes. This adaptation, with music by Tim Snow and lyrics by Terry Jones, is still a work in progress. It's much too long, it has an unwieldy structure, and its themes start to repeat. With a little work, these problems can be remedied. What's impossible to fix are the pedestrian lyrics and the atrocious music. They've got to be junked. Except for Anne's lullaby "Cherry Tree," there's no beauty to any of the melodies, there's no style, and there's certainly no period flavor. The songs clunk along with bizarre little rhythmic shifts and an inappropriate tone; the lyrics can't keep up with the strange little tunes and trip all over themselves. Instead of meshing seamlessly, there's a great grinding of gears. The production is saved, however, by Jennifer Martin's delightful, sprightly Anne, whose refreshing stage presence keeps all eyes on her, and by Leslie Maness's curmudgeonly Marilla and Marion Arthur Kirby's avuncular Matthew. The large cast, with a lot of kids, is ably shepherded by director Crittenden; the sumptuous costumes by Donna Schmidt and Abby Smith are a feast for the eyes when our ears give out; and the evocative sets are ably rendered by Paul Larsen. Through August 28. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721.

Honky Tonk AngelsThe three women who populate Ted Swindley's surprisingly mediocre Honky Tonk Angels have a dream. Angela, Darlene and Sue Ellen all want to be country singers. Stuck in individual ruts, they're desperate to "fly away" to Nashville, the Hollywood of country music. Watched over by their guardian angels, the three meet on the Greyhound bus trip and decide to form a trio. Without so much as breaking a sweat, they land a job on their first try. Angels is a "jukebox musical," a compilation of songs -- here, mostly country -- strung loosely together into a show. The skill lies in the weaving. Swindley, founding artistic director of Stages and creator of Angels, knows all about jukebox musicals, having created one of the most enduring, profitable ones, Always...Patsy Cline. Unfortunately, lightning hasn't stuck twice. Angels is strictly second-hand goods. There's no conflict, no roadblocks to the women's success, no compromises to force them down unfamiliar paths. What makes this low-rent show worth the trouble are the three performers, who use their entire arsenal of stage tricks to keep this jalopy of a show constantly moving. Susan Shofner (Angela) is the comedic Sophie Tucker of the group, the mama who's the glue that holds them all together. In Act II, the sleazy lounge act, Shofner stops the show with "Harper Valley PTA," jiggling across the stage in platform wedgies, animal print mini, padded bosom and stovepipe hairdo. The lovely-voiced Deanna Julian (Darlene), a pig-tailed, bib-overalled "sweet young thang" who could have sashayed straight out of the Dukes of Hazzard remake, gives "Ode to Billy Joe" a fragrant, romantic flavor. And Brooke Wilson (Sue Ellen) gives her material more oomph than it gives her. She manages to make "These Boots Are Made For Walking" (one example of the second-rate songs used for this revue) really sound good -- and hot. With Honky Tonk Angels, Swindley has taken the easy road, employing guardian angels in place of drama, taking the sex and heat out of story, and making it palatable for children of all ages. It'll run for years. Through September 18. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123.

Tamalalia 10: The Greatest Hits ShowThough she's only in her thirties, Tamarie Cooper has become a sort of institution in H-town. Every summer, she's treated the city to a brand-new musical episode of her ever-evolving, bust-a-gut-funny Tamalalia series, put on with the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. And hip Houstonians have come to love her for it. But sadly, all the fun is about to come to an end, as this year's show is the absolute last one ever. So what a treat it is to revisit some of the high jinks from past productions in our favorite redhead's last blowout. Narcissism never looked as good as it does here. As always, this revue is about Cooper's personal problems, but because they look an awful lot like those of most women trying to find love and happiness in America today, they only add to the production's appeal. Cooper's inner demons run the gamut, from unhealthy body image to substance addiction to crappy boyfriends to that eternal search for a really good dress. She's got a song about it all, and somehow, she makes those problems hysterical. One favorite blast from the past: the parade of former boyfriends that show us Cooper's dating mistakes, including Stalker Guy (Kyle Sturdivant), Racist Boyfriend (Richard Jason Lyders-Gustafson), Gay Boyfriend (Wayne Wilden) and Boring Guy (Chris Irvin). Along the way she also talks about her sexy dreams about the princes of England, her love of bad '80s MTV dance moves and a dreaded PE class she once had (led by the hilarious Noel Bowers as Coach Gascamp). These and other scenes add up to a wonderful night of memories from one of Houston's most charming performers. Through August 28 at the Axiom, 2524 McKinney, 713-522-8443.

 
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