Capsule Reviews

Our critic weighs in on local theater

 Bombay Dreams Set inside Bombay's thriving Hindu film industry (bigger than Hollywood and just as pervasive), this new hit musical has irrepressible charm, an exotic locale and a fresh and haunting score (by India's celebrated A.R. Rahman, whose gargantuan Lord of the Rings is wending its international way toward Broadway). There's Broadway sass, Indian dissonances, a social conscience, a lavish swirling production, the best touring cast you could imagine, percussion musicians in the side boxes drumming their hearts out, and a circular fountain that spurts real water. But for all its exotic novelty and raffish charm, the musical's inventive creators have given us the oldest story ever told. Talented slum boy Akaash (Sachin Bhatt), one of the Untouchables, the lowest of the low in caste-happy India, dreams of a Bollywood career. Denying his family, his friends and his own sense of self, he's seduced by the glamour, sex and power of the movies and becomes India's new young star. When his boyhood friend Sweetie (Aneesh Sheth), one of Bombay's revered, but reviled, transgenders, uncovers a dastardly plot to raze the slums, Akaash is slapped awake from his dissolute, selfish life and saves the day for all concerned. The story is so predictable, we can plot out the reversals and the surprises two scenes before they happen. This glaring flaw would be enough to doom any other production, but while the story line lulls us to sleep, the marvelous cast and those distinctive, propulsive songs work overtime to keep us awake and entertained. The musical works in spite of itself, and it is definitely worth a look-see. Through June 4. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525.

The Chalk Garden Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden is an old-fashioned English yarn about a governess with a dark secret who's hired by an eccentric grandmother (Jeannette Clift George) to care for a smart-mouthed, teenage granddaughter (Kacy Smith). After many scenes that involve a wacky houseman (Chip Simmons) and lots of metaphorical chitchat about how to care for the dying garden outside, it becomes clear that the governess (Cyndi Scarr Crittenden) is just what the strange family needs. Not only does she know a thing or two about flowers, she clearly knows how to tame a wild girl. The garden starts to grow, the adolescent becomes more civil, and the grandmother finds a friend. In fact, everything is going splendidly until one fateful afternoon when an old judge (David Parker) comes for lunch and tells the story of a young woman he once condemned to death for murder. All hell breaks loose! Secrets come to light! Emotions run high! It's easy enough to tell where the story is headed, but the fun is in the journey. Unfortunately, A.D. Players' production is marred by the performance of its star player, George. On opening night, the elderly actress, who is a charming performer and a still frankly beautiful woman, did fine through the first act. But by the middle of Act II, she was clearly getting tired. And by Act III, a stagehand was feeding her her lines. The show would have gone more smoothly had she simply carried a script. Because George shines with such natural charisma, it is difficult to watch and even more difficult to report her troubled performance. But when a theater charges $30 a ticket, the actors should know their lines. Through June 4. Grace Theater, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721.

Hotter than Houston St. Peter doesn't know what to do with Stan Wetzel. Stan's not bad enough for hell, but he's certainly not worthy of heaven. There aren't enough stars for good deeds tallied on St. Pete's celestial tote board. Not yet, anyway. "Can't I go to that middle place?" Stan pleads. To earn his wings, he's transported to -- where else? -- the center of Montrose in 1977, with $50 and a Greensheet. Pete gives him his orders: Be a force for positive change, or the pearly gates will be forever closed. So begins Radio Music Theatre's zany summer production, one of its "infertle" musical comedies, in which the patented goofball family from Dumpster, Texas, does not appear. Instead, the company's inspired acting trio (Steve Farrell, who's also the playwright, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills) introduce us to a whole new galaxy of loonies, hucksters, shysters and clueless folks, as Stan's quest leads him through Houston's recent history of boom, bust and reboom. Barbara Bush and former mayor Kathy Whitmire make appearances, as does con man deluxe Aldine Bender. There's also Jake and Lunabelle, who live deep inside one of our streets' numerous potholes; a forever hopeful -- and scary -- duo in yellow rain hats who wait for the appearance of the bus; and Uncle Dan, the crappy-furniture salesman who advertises the "scoot and shoot," the ultimate recliner fitted with firearms. Steve Farrell's songs keep the laughs coming; among the best are the bus-stop anthem "The Bus Is Gonna Come," the correspondence-school-doctors' ditty "Can We Trust Him If He Survives?" and the toe-tapping "Who Took the Boom Out of Boomtown?" If we have to relive the hell of Houston's past, this is the way to do it. Through September 2. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

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