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Capsule Stage Reviews: Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Phantom of the Opera, Reckless, The Wiz

Best Little Whorehouse in Texas If Country Playhouse listens to its audience, the theater will cancel the rest of the season and play this 1978 musical nonstop. There's real appreciative whoopin' and hollerin' goin' on — a recent packed house didn't want to leave. This Tony Award-winning musical, created by an all-Texas team, isn't shy, keeping the raunchy scenes of bordello life and its accompanying salty language front and center, yet it's still all-American and crowd-pleasing. And the absolutely rip-roaring dance numbers choreographed by husband-wife combo Alex and Victoria Arizpe have rousing boot-scootin' flair (supplied on Broadway by Tommy Tune). But Whorehouse, as typical musical comedy fare, is really a downer: The bad guys win, closing Miss Mona's establishment and scattering the girls. Director Bobby Linhart supplies pro pacing and knows enough to get everyone out of the way when the dancing and singing start. The cast is uniformly good, with the high-stepping youngsters even better. Among Miss Mona's girls, the standouts are Megan Stanke and Nina Garcia, as Shy and Angel, although their characters, meagerly written, get short shrift as the show progresses. Powerhouse Stephanie Jones, as Jewel, stops everything with her searing rendition of "Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'," while Jim Salners plays blustery Sheriff Ed Earl with real depth and conviction. Their performances are true Broadway-caliber. Manny Mones, in the cameo role of Governor, and Kelly Harkins, as the Marvin Zindler-esque Melvin P. Thorpe, supply the cartoon antics that spice up the show. Bandleader Michael Moore keeps the spice hot. Cowboy hats in the air over at Country Playhouse. Through August 2. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

The Phantom of the Opera It's so cheesy it belongs in a can, but that doesn't stop the Broadway Across America production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera from being a whole lot of fun. The story follows the rise of a lovely singer named Christine Daaé (Trista Moldovan) as she moves from the ranks of simple chorine to star at a Paris opera house. That the silly and oh-so-gothic story has her owing all her success to a brilliant madman with a disfigured face and a dark soul — that would be the Phantom — is only half the naughty theatrical indulgence. There's also all the singable sort-of-rock-sort-of-opera music that only Webber could create, not to mention the gorgeously baroque set pieces — the whole thing takes place in a 19th-century Parisian theater gilded with golden angels and miles and miles of velvet. And, oh yes, there's the Phantom's secret hideaway underneath the opera house. It's full of creepy dolls, a booming organ and hundreds of burning candles. Think romance meets horror, and you've got the teen-dream essence of this drama. The cast, under Harold Prince's direction, is charming. Tim Martin Gleason's Phantom practically chews the scenery with over-the-top emotion, but it works in this show and he sings brilliantly. Moldovan's Christine is very sweet, and as her true love Raoul, Sean MacLaughlin is drop-dead sexy. Through August 2. The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-629-3700. — LW

Reckless Although her louse of a husband has just confessed to hiring a hit man to kill her — on Christmas Eve, no less — unconquerably happy Rachel (Jennifer Wood) puts on the smiley face of Doris Day as she flees into the snowy night in her robe and slippers to travel the country. For the rest of her shaggy dog tale, dexterously told at Company OnStage, she will not be deterred from the joy that she reckons comes from life itself, no matter how many times her optimism is tested. She also keeps on her robe and slippers, which should tell you we're not in Kansas anymore. Using a series of blackout sketches that get bleaker and more surreal with each punch line, playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, Dying Gaul, Light in the Piazza) is fiercely intent on deflating Rachel, if not slapping her back into reality. No one is quite what they seem, an intriguing theme that keeps recurring through Rachel's odyssey. Befriended by physical therapist Lloyd (Casey Coale) and his paraplegic deaf wife Pooty (Danitra Luers), Rachel discovers that these paragons of selfless devotion are also liars and cheats, but only for the most altruistic of reasons. It's Rachel in Wonderland as her story devolves into mayhem, tacky game shows, feel-good therapy (Mary McAtee as all six Doctors is showstoppingly good) and poisoned champagne. At the end, her trek through all 50 states and every town named Springfield ends on a sweet note of mission accomplished, as her dream of a life comes full circle. "The holidays can be rough," Rachel says with dubious goodwill. They can also be mighty fine theater. Through July 25. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

The Wiz The Ensemble Theatre's production of The Wiz, the Tony Award-winning musical remake of L. Frank Baum's novel about a girl who learns there's no place like home, is entertaining. But the space presents a problem. This is a big show, and on the Ensemble's modest-size proscenium stage, the large cast, dancing through hefty numbers like the most recognizable tune, "Ease on Down the Road," looks a bit crowded. James V. Thomas's set features two stairways that add dimension, but they also shrink the playing area down even more, so director Patdro Harris must find a place to put his larger-than-life characters, including Scarecrow (Gary E. Vincent), Lion (Anthony Boggess-Glover) and Tin Man (Tommie Harper). They generally end up squished down center or traveling up and down the stairs over and over. Still, Vincent, Boggess-Glover and Harper are uniformly wonderful in their roles. All three can both sing and dance, and they are charmers. And as sweet Dorothy, Melanie Finley brings down the house with her soulful version of "Home." The theater has extended the run, and tickets are going fast. So if you need some reminding in this heat that home really is the best place to be, get your tickets fast. Through July 26. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — LW

 
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