Panto Cinderella Though it runs three hours long, all the children at the opening of Stages Repertory Theatre's charming production of Panto Cinderella were enthralled up until the very end. That's because this retelling of the Cinderella story by Kate Hawley and Gregg Coffin is chock-full of the sort of shenanigans that kids adore (the grownups were laughing too). As directed by Kenn McLaughlin, the fun never really stops. Talking back to the characters onstage is encouraged by the actors. The ugly stepsisters are a scream as played by Dwight Clark and Rutherford Cravens, and, yes, they are truly ugly with their wild hair and outrageous costumes by Tiffani Fuller. As the evil stepmother, Carolyn Johnson steals every scene she's in. Patrick Marley is perfect as Cinderella's much-abused father. And both Cinderella (Chelsea R. McCurdy) and Prince Charming (Chris Zelko) are sweet and lovely to look at. The singing isn't so fabulous, but that hardly seems to matter. The point of this show isn't perfection, but rather rowdy good fun for children and grownups alike. Through December 28. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW

Santaland Diaries Ah, hell, pass the joint, Crumpet the elf might say about the Alley's Santaland Diaries. This tweak-your-nose one-elf show by humorist David Sedaris re-creates his excruciating job as one of Santa's gay little helpers at Macy's in New York City, complete with retching children, pissed-off Santas and the sight of actor Todd Waite in full elf regalia — thank you, designer Blair Gulledge. Waite is befuddled, exasperated, bitchy and ideal. Who knew an elf had to take a drug test? The lively monologue lasts only as long as Houston snow, but the laughs are constant and Christmas doesn't get more joyous. Through December 28. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

Spirits to Enforce Ever the contrarians, the folks at The Catastrophic Theatre are running Mickle Maher's Spirits to Enforce, a show that has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays other than the true joy it will bring to all lovers of the avant-garde. Maher imagines a world in which superheroes with names like The Intoxicator (Mikelle Johnson) and Memory Lass (Charlesanne Rabensburg) decide to abandon their duties as the Fathom Town Enforcers and put on a show. We watch as they spend the entire one-act sitting at a phone bank trying to raise money for, or sell tickets to, what promises to be a disastrous production of The Tempest. The smart conceit of having the characters talk into phones allows Maher to bead together a series of poetic monologues that focus on the anxieties of making theater. Everything from creating art with zero dollars to working with a difficult group of actors (one is off looking for a cat when the show actually opens) gets examined. Director Jason Nodler creates an extraordinary energy that starts out high and manages to get almost frenetic before a sort of postmodern epiphany (does such a thing exist?) occurs when a character named Ariel (Walt Zipprian) talks about all the mistakes he made. The ensemble is terrific, but the standouts are Tek Wilson, with her ethereal aqua eyes and porcelain skin, as The Page, along with Zipprian and Johnson (who's hysterical in her big shades and gray hoodie). This production is a savory treat in a season awash in sugar. Through December 20. Barnevelder Movement/Arts, 2201 Preston, 713-880-5216. — LW

Twelve Ways of Christmas Carlton Leake's old-fashioned, family-friendly musical revue Twelve Ways of Christmas at the Ensemble Theatre is gorgeously packaged with sassy choreography by Patdro Harris, music by the best orchestra in town, inventive stage design, startling costumes in vivid candy hues and a cast of seven exceptional musical talents. Familiar aspects of the holiday season — squabbling tots, shopping, separated military families — are depicted in skit and song. Some segments work better than others, but you can't beat the musical's infectious zip or the actors' sheer will to entertain, especially Andrew Jackson and Melanie Finley. Through December 28. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — DLG

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