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Stage Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

 Always...Patsy Cline Ted Swindley, former founding director of Houston's Stages Repertory Theatre, created this ultimate country-fried jukebox musical in 1988 as a tribute to the late, great Patsy Cline. Even with its meager story line pegged to Louise (Lyndsay Sweeney), a Cline groupie who meets her favorite star for one night, the show's been Angus prime beef ever since, drawing in appreciative audiences who revel in the 27 Cline classics, like "Back in Baby's Arms," "I Fall to Pieces," "Crazy" and "Sweet Dreams." This singularly unimaginative premise — it's really a staged concert — wouldn't work at all without a singer who's able to channel Cline's star power, girl-next-door persona, pipes of platinum and unmistakable vocal mannerisms. As the old movie advertisements used to proclaim, Julia Kay Laskowski is Patsy Cline. She has the voice, the styling and the very moves of this most distinctive, beloved country/pop singer. Her uncanny impersonation goes way beyond mere mimicry: This is acting of the highest order. Even though she barely says more than a few lines of dialogue — unfortunately, Louise never shuts up — Laskowski is splendidly phenomenal. If you love the songs and sound of Patsy Cline, this mega-concert must not be missed. Through July 29. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573. — DLG

Dark Matter: Five Gothic Tales of Horror Movies, TV and radio have just about killed the art of storytelling. But once upon a time, evenings must have been rich with clever tales that could inspire outrageous flights of imaginative fancy. Dark Matter: Five Gothic Tales of Horror by Don Nigro harkens back to that all but forgotten tradition — this latest production from Mildred's Umbrella is basically an evening of storytelling at its best. The gory tales focus on love and lots of blood and guts. But whether the narrative at hand is about a girl scared of losing at love ("Darkness Like a Dream" with Amy Warren), a midwife who abuses her helpers ("The Malefactor's Bloody Register") or a teenager who writes dreadful gothic tales of woe ("Lucy and the Vine Encrusted Mansion" told by an effervescent Patricia Duran), the production, as directed by Jennifer Decker, makes a great case for bringing back the lost art of storytelling. Through July 21. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch, 832-418-0973. — LW

Pride and Prejudice Stitched from bracing wit, remarkable characters and enormous tenderness, Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice is one of the smartest and most entertaining social commentaries ever written. It's been turned into some terrific films featuring the English countryside, but a workable theatrical production presents its challenges — the cast of characters is enormous, and the vast number of settings would be enough to shake the confidence of even the most accomplished designer. The folks at A.D. Players are clearly up to the task. Their production of Austin's story (adapted by James Maxwell and revised by Alan Stanford) handles multiple settings, along with a stage full of young people falling in love, with grace and surprising beauty. Most impressive is Mark A. Lewis's deceptively simple set. The unadorned bright-blue walls turn from country living room to cloud-flecked sky in moments. When the lovers walk through bucolic gardens, the effect created from a scrim and lighting is utterly convincing. Director Lee Walkers keeps the characters moving; even the ballroom scenes, which can be so slow with all those characters and all that dancing, are amusing. And while this Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Dean) and Mr. Darcy (Jeffrey McMorrough) are not the most passionate couple, they do suit each other; it somehow feels absolutely right when they find each other at the end. In fact, the entire cast is persuasive and often funny enough to satisfy any Austin fan needing a fix this summer. Through August 26. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — LW

Side Show Here's the real thing: an actual cult musical that's worth every accolade the underground Broadway Babies give it. Opened in 1997 to acclaim from the New York critics, the show closed 91 performances later, unable to find an audience for its unseemly topic — the real-life Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, an English song-and-dance team during the '20s and '30s. The subject is weird, for sure, but not salacious or tawdry in composer Henry Krieger's masterful musical setting. (He wrote Dreamgirls, after all, so he clearly knows what he's doing.) Side Show has just about the best score for a musical in the last ten years. There are vaudeville and Follies numbers; inevitable, yearning duets for the sisters (Haley Dyes and Natalie Arneson); and soul-searching ballads for the two men (Kregg Alan Dailey and Christopher Zelko), who, first, manage their career, then fall in love with them, until the novelty wears thin. In this glorified concert staging — the first production in Houston by Arneson Productions, and, we hope, not the last — the splendid cast is pushed right to the forefront where they belong. Wait until you experience the booming bass of Tommy Ajai George, as the freak show's "Cannibal King," who loves Violet from afar. While the duo's staged numbers don't have the peculiar energy they should (the Hiltons danced simultaneously with two partners), Dyes and Arneson fully embody the sisters' ironic plight. Joined at the hip, they just want to be "like everybody else," they plaintively sing early on. Their unattainable dreams power this sensational musical. Now it can be one of your cult favorites, too. Through July 22. Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin, 713-718-6570. — DLG

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