Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Nutcracker Despite competition this year from the fabled Rockettes, The Nutcracker is continuing to draw theatergoers this season. With its promise of sugary dancing treats, lavish Victorian-era sets, rich costumes by Desmond Heeley and a sparkling score that's one of Tchaikovsky's most recognizable, it's an annual holiday tradition. Opening night, there was not only a packed house of little ones in velvet suits and princess dresses, but also a flurry of balletomanes who had come to say goodbye to a local legend and hello to what may be Houston Ballet's future. The 41-year Lauren Anderson is ending her 24-year career in Houston performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy. (There are eight different casts, so check with the box office if you specifically want to see Anderson or another dancer.) Opening night, she was greeted with heavy applause when she appeared on stage, before she even took a step. But she didn't disappoint; she was the light and sparkling fairy whose classical steps -- delicate and sharp as Christmas bells -- enthralled her onstage court and Clara, as well as the audience. She is partnered in this run by 24-year-old Rolando Sarabia, who defected from Cuba last year and is making his debut as a principal dancer with HB in The Nutcracker. It's tempting to say that Sarabia might be the second coming of Carlos "Air" Acosta -- Anderson's legendary partner from the 1990s who was also Cuban-trained -- but that might be an understatement. It's hard to tell from the choreography for the Nutcracker Prince, which is not the most demanding in classical ballet, but Sarabia just might be the best male dancer HB has ever put on stage. Through December 27. Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas, 713-227-2787.

Poor Richard Poor Richard, everyone says in Jean Kerr's romantic comedy -- so talented, such a waste. The characters are talking about the best-selling poet Richard Ford (Kent Johnson), whose slim volume The Girl with a Velvet Ribbon has made Richard a very rich, famous writer. Unfortunately, the girl in question, his beautiful socialite wife, has died, leaving him bereft and guilt-ridden, finding solace in any liquor bottle at hand. Richard revels in being drunk as much as he does in being a wicked wit. He also suffers from monumental writer's block, much to the annoyance of publisher/editor Sydney (George Brock), who wants another literary cash cow as soon as possible. To facilitate Richard's output and keep him sober, Sydney sends in his ace assistant -- and fiancťe -- Catherine (Shannon Emerick) to be his secretary. The three main characters are extremely well-drawn, involving and likable. Richard's raffish, loveable rogue is hard to beat, and Johnson wears his world-weary attitude as if it's Armani. He almost twinkles when he savors Kerr's numerous witticisms. Emerick gives no-nonsense Catherine a freshness that pairs beautifully with Richard's edges. She dilutes his alcohol with dew. Brock transforms publisher Sydney's ordinariness into virtue. But the heartbreak within Kerr's comedy is deep and affecting, too, especially when Meghan Hakes, as Richard's fashionable sister-in-law, reveals the cracks in his personal foundation, infusing her brief scene with chilling propriety. Through December 23. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706.

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