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Capsule Stage Reviews: "Hello, Dolly!," "Lady," "Last Acts," "Regrets Only"

Hello, Dolly! So who stuck a pin into Jerry Herman's buoyant classic 1964 musical and let all the air out? You recognize the music — almost all the songs in Hello, Dolly! have become Broadway standards — and you certainly recognize that sumptuous Victorian red dress Dolly Levi wears as she sashays down the Harmonia Gardens staircase, a scene opener that gets applause because it always has. You might even recognize some of the lines, such as "You go your way, and I'll go mine." But that's about all you'll recognize in this limp, undernourished revival from Theatre Under the Stars. Even piquant Leslie Uggams seems underwhelming, although she belts out a fine torch song, "Love, Look in my Window." Somehow, she doesn't relax into the role, maybe because Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder, the blustery half-a-millionaire Dolly sets out to entrap, keeps yelling. There's no cohesive tone or style to this production — everyone plays by themselves. If they coalesce, fine; if not, that's fine, too. Director Lee Roy Reams's blasé attitude and Randy Slovacek's anemic choreography don't do justice to original director/choreographer Gower Champion's powerful production. It's rather insulting. (The only performer who impresses in a big showbiz way is Kevin Early, with his magnificently sung Cornelius Hackl.) Knockoffs are for bargain basements, not the stage. If producers can't be bothered to spruce a show up a bit, especially when reviving a Tony Award-winner, we'd rather just see the movie. Through March 9. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887. — DLG

Lady One of the best things about Stages Repertory Theatre's haunting new production of Craig Wright's Lady is actor Philip Lehl's deeply moving performance as a bighearted pothead who has to deal with some tough problems — despite his attempts to smoke himself into oblivion. Wright's story, directed with big emotion by Leslie Swackhamer, tells what happens when three high school buddies grow up to discover they don't have all that much in common anymore. While hunting in the Southern Illinois woods, made nicely real by John Gow's tree-covered set, Dyson (Timothy Hyland), Graham (James Cowan) and Kenny (Lehl's heartbreaking pot-smoker) argue about the war in Iraq — an argument that's especially meaningful to Dyson. The bombastic lefty's got a son who's about to enlist in the Marines. Dyson blames Graham for the boy's decision. Both men are armed for hunting, so there's supposed to be lots of tension when the argument heats up. Unfortunately, although Hyland's Dyson is convincingly passionate, Cowan is fairly stiff and clumsy as the voice of the neo-con right. As a result, the rage between the two men, who represent opposing political positions, never catches fire the way it should. And then there's Lehl's Kenny, standing in the background and watching his ex-high school buddies argue through the rose-colored glasses of the totally stoned. His shining performance turns what should not work into a surprising theatrical high. Through March 16. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — LW

Last Acts If only brother and sister Charlie and Bea (Keith Phares and Kristin Clayton) would remain up on the Golden Gate Bridge walkway in Jake Heggie's world premiere chamber opera, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera. While the two are up on the bridge, the cold, rarefied air seems to revive everyone — composer included. The duo discusses their muddled personal lives, their long-dead father and their egomaniacal mother, theater diva Madeline Mitchell (the great mezzo Frederica von Stade). The orchestration is simple and clean, and the siblings' cleansing duet cuts right to the heart of this meandering work. But unfortunately, they all too quickly return to earth, where the soap opera takes over. Every backstage showbiz cliché gets the once-over in Gene Scheer's adaptation of Terrence McNally's short play. Gay Charlie's upset because Mom hasn't come to terms with his partner, who's dying of AIDS, while Bea drinks way too much and never lets go of dead dad's heroic memory. In the grand tradition of sacred monsters such as Norma Desmond and Joan Crawford, Madeline only comes alive while performing; needless to say, she's a lousy mom. Even Charlie's gayness is clichéd: he knows how to dress up his sister and is down with the essential accessories, like Manolo Blahniks. Baritone Phares breathes sympathy and depth into maudlin Charlie, and, naturally, von Stade feasts upon Madeline, while the audience dotes upon her. Madeline can destroy her children nine ways to Sunday and we couldn't care less, because with von Stade center stage — looking and singing like a million bucks — we root for her, not her annoying, whiny children. It's ironic that this opera, so redolent of memory, should be forged with music so forgettable. Although sumptuously scored for chamber orchestra, Heggie's palette has no passion and little distinction. Through March 15. 501 Texas, 713-228-6737. — DLG

Regrets Only After seeing Paul Rudnick's torn-from-the-headlines social satire about gay marriage, you'll know one thing for sure: Never get into a bitch-slap contest with him, because you will lose big-time. Whatever the occasion, he'll jab you in the eye with a politically incorrect barb, bon mot, epigram, put-down, or witticism — no matter if it stops the dramatic flow cold, comes out of left field or, Oscar Wilde forbid, is inappropriate for the character. And while the zinger is effortlessly lobbed, the rest of the cast sits around mixing martinis and being witchy. Household-name fashion designer Hank Hadley (John Kaiser) has wafted through life somewhat like Oz's Glinda, oblivious in his little gay bubble. When his high-society best friends (Bonnie Hewett, Carl Masterson and Elizabeth Marshall) don't object strenuously enough to a proposed constitutional amendment that would solely define marriage as a heterosexual contract, he suddenly becomes all huffy and rallies the city's gays to go on strike for a day. As you can well imagine, the entire world panics, since there are no florists, caterers, hairdressers, shrinks, doormen or even politicians to do any work. Rudnick's fantasy carries loads of potential but not much bite, since his Noël Coward-lite people have the substance of tissue paper. But you'd never know it from the brilliantly efficient ensemble cast at Theatre Southwest, who take Rudnick's chiffon and make out of it a Balenciaga. There are plenty of laughs, but the sentimental tears are crocodile — and faux, to boot. Through March 15. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

Capsule reviews by D.L.Groover and Lee Williams

 
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