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Capsule Reviews

Our critic weighs in on local theater

Johnny Guitar, The Musical Send yourself to summer camp a little early by heading to Theater LaB for this extremely funny musical adaptation of Nicholas Ray's 1954 film-noir western. The cult film was pretty much a parody to begin with, considering its subtext of womanly homoeroticism out on the range, its overheated dialogue and its inclusion of Joan Crawford in skintight jeans, acting more butch than the guys. New creators Nicholas van Hoogstraren (book) and Martin Silvestri and Joel Higgins (music and lyrics) have taken the extant screenplay almost word for word, tossed in some '50s-type songs and created their own camp classic. Right from the start, as tumbleweed is pulled across the stage, we can sit back, relax and laugh ourselves silly. The hilarity continues with the show's cartoon cutout set design by Boris Kaplun, no-holds-barred performances, wonderfully goofy costuming (uncredited) and deft staging from director-choreographer Jimmy Phillips. The folks at Theater LaB deliver the goods -- and then some. Carolyn Johnson plays tough saloon owner Vienna, the gender-bending thorn in the townsfolk's side, with enough of Mommie Dearest's grand mannerisms and eyebrows to make you look twice. Mary Hooper, as rival Emma, who so hates Vienna that there's got to be more going on underneath that calico dress than even she lets on, belts out her songs and straps on her six-shooter with manly bravado. Jonathan McVay, as Johnny Guitar, Vienna's real love and former gunslinger, plays it cool, sings it hot and wears his own tight-fitting jeans; while Alex Stutler, as Johnny's rival the Dancin' Kid, is all burly posturing, with a lovely baritone to back it up. The sheriff and his posse of doo-wop singers, who keep popping up from behind the set, are nimbly handled by Craig Boucher, Josh Wright, John Berno and Luke Marsh. There's not a straight shooter in the house, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Through June 10. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

South PacificRichard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and Josh Logan's 1949 musical based on the WWII stories of James Michener is, perhaps, the most perfect musical. Since its premiere, the splendid score ("Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame," "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair," "Bali Ha'i") has become engrained in our very culture; but seeing the show live, especially in Masquerade Theatre's powerful and affecting production, brings out its sonic, literary beauties with fresh appreciation. If you have a soft spot for originals Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, rest assured that Kristin Hanka (hick nurse Nellie Forbush) and John Gremillion (sophisticated, mysterious French planter Emile de Becque) soar with their own special magic, as do all the other multifaceted characters (native and military) on this unnamed island in the south Pacific. Gremillion, though not in the same vocal league as legendary Pinza with his operatic basso profundo, is the right age to connect with Nellie, and their on-again/off-again love affair is much more believable. (The very mature Pinza paired with the dewy Martin always seemed a little creepy.) Especially appealing are Stephanie Bradow as that ultracapitalist Bloody Mary, who pimps out her daughter to Lieutenant Cable (a charming Braden Hunt), and Russell Freeman as scheming Seabee Luther Billis. The seductive qualities inherent in this R&H classic are much in evidence and supply a welcoming "enchanted evening" in the theater. Through June 4. Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525.

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