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Stage Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Coppélia Houston Ballet's current run of the beloved classic Coppéliawill delight fans of big-spectacle, happy story-ballets. This 1870 three-act tells the story of a boy and girl in a small town (in this version, Desmond Heeley's sets and costumes invoke early Bavaria) who are betrothed. But problems start when the town's eccentric Doctor Coppélius unveils his mechanical doll, Coppélia — the fickle lad, Franz, thinks the doll is real and tries to court it. Later the girl, Swanilda, pretends to be the doll. In the end, though, all works out and the two marry. The ballet has a lot — probably too much, by modern standards — of comic miming, but it also has wonderful ensemble dances featuring folk steps from mazurkas to czardas and the typical (of the time) grand wedding pas and celebration divertissements (strange diversion dances that have nothing to do with the plot). It's funny — some of the dancing is exceptional, and the score by Léo Delibes is danceable, if not hummable. Kids love the mechanical dolls and the toymaker's workshop, and grown-ups will enjoy the ensemble dances and classic wedding scene. HB's dancers alternate the lead roles, but with this kind of ballet, who's dancing doesn't matter so much as the dancing itself (though the firecracker called Leticia Oliveira turns in a feisty and flirty Swanilda whose en pointe balances are spot on). The costumes are gorgeous, the company looks like it's really having fun and the orchestra relishes the music. It's a fun time for all. Through June 17. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave., 713-227-2787. — MG

Fiddler on the Roof In 1964, Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Joseph Stein (book) created this brilliant Broadway show starring the irrepressible Zero Mostel as poor milkman Tevye, who's struggling to hold his family together with "tradition" in the face of inevitable change. But it was director/choreographer Jerome Robbins who made it a beloved classic. There's no good way to stage this musical play without a healthy dose of Robbins's staging — it's such an integral part of the show's universal appeal that his work should be copyrighted. Playhouse 1960's production, under Manny and Tina Cafeo's direction and staging, hints at past glories, but a few more rehearsals would greatly sand down the roughness and give the chorus time to become acclimated to being onstage and remaining in character. Larry Ransberger makes a very sweet Tevye, chock full of humanity and earthy humor; Cindy Tippens is a formidable Golde; Leona Hoegsberg brings chattering matchmaker Yente to mischievous life; and Louis Crespo, Jr., embodies fiery revolutionary Perchik. The night I was there, Tevye's lovely daughters were plagued by microphone amplification problems, their voices cutting in and out, but the half that was clearly heard was very nice. (I assume these annoyances will be fixed for the remainder of the run.) Though the great musical set piece "The Dream," wherein Tevye convinces Golde that eldest daughter Tzeitel should marry the poor tailor she loves instead of the suitor chosen for her, was sloppy and unfocused, the show's overwhelming compassion and great heart always shined through. No matter what problems, the show ultimately survives — Fiddler's very theme. Through June 24. 6814 Gant, 281-587-8243. — DLG

Forever Hold Your Peace The singing Fertle Family is back with a story nothing short of hilarious. As the eve of Gwenda and Uncle Al's wedding approaches, guests are frantically trying to get to the wedding. Meanwhile, menopausal Justicena, who can't seem to understand her husband Pete's love, kicks him out. He's left to fend for himself, when none other than the Lord Himself provides him with guidance from up above. And the cold feet of the couple-to-be cause stress for every member of the wedding party. What about sex? Can an old man whose hip is out of place still manage to please his future wife? Radio Music Theatre's productions would be incomplete without music, and the musical stylings at Uncle Al's bachelor party effortlessly amuse the crowd. While the initial humor took a few scenes to settle into, after intermission there were no scenes which didn't call for at least a chuckle. Every character, played by actors Steve and Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills, had a distinctly different style, and even scenes that required more than three characters were flawlessly performed. The transitions from awkward girl to scandalous lady to singing nun by Vicki Farrell were impeccable. Steve Farrell's minister giving sex advice and senile old man caused lots of laughter. But Rich Mills's transitions from biker to menopausal woman to old man were, by far, the favorite. Through Sept. 1. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — IP

Parker Family Circus Tommy Parker's got problems. Big ones. Bounced from school for stripping naked, peeing all over the place and recklessly propositioning schoolmates, "slow" Tommy (Cory Grabenstein) finds sanctuary with Mamaw (Skip Blakely), widow of Tommy's idolized grandfather. Grandpa had been Tommy's only friend and confidant, a lifeline for his rootless existence. "What's to become of me?" Tommy wails. His parents (Helen Hurn and Revis Bell) are too busy with their careers and can't be bothered, his sassy sister (Melina Twyman) is thoroughly embarrassed by his very presence and valley girl Vesta (Laura Leigh Pavlica) is nice to him only to get her hands on his rare collection of comic books. He can have sex with her only one time in exchange for the comics. But Tommy only wants sex from Mamaw. Needless to say, this jaw-dropping revelation throws everyone into a gigantic tailspin. Jan Buttram's 2001 family comedy/drama has enough themes for several plays; unfortunately, they collide more than flow and ebb, making the play choppy and hesitant. The actors embody this problem subconsciously, and they dawdle and wait for cues instead of plunging ahead. Grabenstein handles this problem best, and his intensity overshadows the others — he's vividly alive and weird. That his emotional crack-up, so easily solved with a few family hugs, works as well as it does is testament to Grabenstein's striking presence. Would that the others followed his lead. Through June 30. Theatre Suburbia, 1410 W. 43rd St., 713-682-3525. — DLG

Treasure Island After sitting, slack-jawed and seething, through the Alley Theatre's world-premiere adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure novel, you might be tempted to rename it Ken Ludwig's Pirated Tale, or The Alley at Sea or Jim Hawkins in Drag. Whatever you call it, it isn't Treasure Island, and more's the pity. Stevenson's never-fail tale of young Jim on his hazardous voyage among rapacious buccaneers in search of buried treasure rivals Dickens in atmosphere, indelible characters, sweeping language, immediacy and plain old fun. If there ever was a novel that deserves grand theatrical treatment, it's this one. But instead of bracing sea air, the Alley's production gives off an undeniable whiff of dry rot. The whole thing weighs a ton, and the fun's been keelhauled. What happened to Stevenson? Forty lashes to playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon over Buffalo) for his ballast-heavy adaptation. He loads on large swaths of his own exposition that becalm the tale or take it way off course. Where Stevenson suggests, Ludwig bludgeons. And whose bright idea was it to have Jim played by a woman? What the hell is this loopy English pantomime doing in Treasure Island? What's next, Dame Edna as Long John Silver? Through June 17. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421. — DLG

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