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Stage Capsule Reviews: The Daughter of the Regiment, Dracula, Fools, Rough Night at the Remo Room

The Daughter of the Regiment Been a while since you laughed out loud at the opera? Then Houston Grand Opera's The Daughter of the Regiment is just the ticket. The two-act (short) comic opera has been updated by director Emilio Sagi, reset at the end of WWII. The U.S. 21st Regiment has a peculiar member – an adopted daughter. When the regiment liberates a small French village, adopted daughter in tow, the town's reigning socialite — the Marquise of Berkenfield, sung hilariously by Polish contralto Ewa Podles — realizes the girl is her long-lost illegitimate child and whisks her away to the chateau, much to the heartbreak of the American soldiers who have reared her and young Frenchman Tonio (an extremely height-challenged Barry Banks in his HGO debut), who has joined the regiment to be near his true love. But in Act II, the Marquise finds she cannot force the girl, Marie, to marry a young noble and blesses her union to Tonio. Frankly, it's not much of a plot, and there are no real hummable arias by Donizetti, but this production is still a hoot. Of course, it helps that world-famous coloratura soprano Laura Claycomb plays the flame-haired lead, but it's less her stellar voice than her comic timing that really soars here. Her salute-snap-and-smile is right out of Legally Blonde. Tenor Banks hams it up as well, making the most of his short stature but big voice. The well-fed bass-baritone Bruno Praticò delivers as the sergeant of the regiment, and the entire cast is in fine voice and having loads of fun. Don't miss Act II's nonsinging manservant, who swills drinks and prances about during Marie's singing lesson, then rips the furs off arriving guests and tosses them off stage. The show features little nods to Houston, such as the names of some characters (the Ladies of Montrose) and the Marquise erroneously launching into an aria from A Masked Ball, the HGO opener that Podles also appeared in. This opera is so much fun, even conductor Riccardo Frizza is entertaining to watch. Oh, and the orchestra sounds wonderful, too. Through November 9. Wortham Center, 550 Prairie, 713-228-6737. — MG

Dracula Halloween has come and gone, but the best spook fest in the city is still going on at The Texas Repertory Theatre Company. Adapted here by Steven Dietz, Bram Stoker's Dracula makes for some wicked and campy theater. It's full of blood and guts and pretty girls who love to lay bare their soft white throats. Director Steven Fenley has put together a handsome cast, including Kregg Alan Dailey as the seductively grinning Count. Freeman Williams makes a fine Professor Van Helsing, who steps into the story to save the day with a black bag full of vampire-killing paraphernalia. A very pretty Crystal O'Brien plays Mina; wearing garlic and gossamer gowns, she's the young woman every man adores. And Jessica Shearer Wilson makes a spunky Lucy Westenra, the girl doomed to vampire love. All the drama happens against Eric Marsh's dappled, dark lighting and Meghan C. Hakes's impressive set, which is filled with flowing drapes. The whole thing runs about a half hour too long, but the production is surprisingly persuasive, coming, as it does, from a relatively new company that resides in strip-mall office space on the northern edge of town. Through November 11. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — LW

Fools Community theater gets a bad rap, but Theatre Southwest proves it can be wonderfully charming with its latest production of Fools by Neil Simon. The "comic fable" takes place in a cursed Ukrainian village. The whole town has been made up of fools since long ago, when a count got angry and made everyone stupid. One girl can't remember her name; another woman sells flowers and calls them fish; the prettiest girl in town, Sophia Zubritsky (Candyce Prince), is having trouble learning how to sit down. Into this terrible state of affairs comes Leon Tolchinsky (Sean Ferratt), a teacher who has just one day to make Sophia smarter. If he achieves his goal, the curse will be lifted. Of course, he takes one look at the lovely Sophia and falls madly in love. The trouble is, the only other way for the curse to be lifted is for Sophia to marry a relation of the count who cursed the village. The new Count Gregor Youskevitch (Brian Heaton) shows up every day asking the pretty girl to marry him. Silly as all this sounds, the script is full of Simon's famous wit, and the cast does a fabulous job with the jokes, especially Mack Hays and Carolyn Montgomery, who play Sophia's daffy parents. And directors J. Eric Dunlap and Amanda Ferratt make the most of their cast's talents. At $15 a ticket, this show is worth every penny and more. Through November 17. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — LW

Rough Night at the Remo Room Things are hopping over at Radio Music Theatre, where Texas-style sketch comedy reigns supreme. Ever since Steve and Vicki Farrell created RMT more than 20 years ago, it has been home to the Fertle Family of Dumpster, Texas, a handful of oddball, small-town characters born from the imaginations of the Farrells and their sidekick Rich Mills. In Dumpster, the ladies have big hair and the men are just a little bit slow. But that's all right. Nothing much happens in the tiny town, even though it seems like everyone is always getting themselves in a whole pack of trouble. In the current story, Rough Night at the Remo Room, everybody in town has their knickers in a twist over a new Vegas-style bar moving in. There's a suspicious fire and some Baptist preaching, and the Fertle Family Singers have to change their act from country-gospel to fiery Latin in just one day. Zany as it might sound, this production is not the knee-slapper that many of the RMT scripts have been (the annual Christmas show is the best in town), but the relaxed venue and the cocktail service still make RMT a great place to take the in-laws. Through November 17. 2623 Col­quitt, 713-522-7722. — LW

 
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