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Capsule Stage Reviews: Andrews Brothers, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Phantom of the Opera, Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners

Andrews Brothers If there's a king of jukebox musicals, surely it's Roger Bean from Milwaukee Rep, who's created at least nine compilation theater pieces for his home company. The premise is simple, if not altogether easy to do — gather tunes from the past that everyone knows or will fondly remember, then fit them into a script so they make sense. Once you obtain the rights to the songs, at least you don't have to worry about the quality of the music; you already know that. This musical from 2005 is his tribute to the '40s that uses the music of the Andrews Sisters. Bean sets his jukebox on a South Pacific military base during WWII, where the Andrews Sisters are set to appear for a performance. Second headliner Peggy Jones, a national pinup (Holland Vavra Peters), arrives to rehearse the backup singers, who she thinks are USO troopers. But of course, they aren't pros; they're three stagehand brothers (Casey Burden, Ross Chitwood, Charles Swan). In the grand tradition of musical comedy, they sing and dance, know all the routines and, in spite of natural reservations — one's a klutz, one's so nervous he hyperventilates at the least provocation, one's blind as a bat without his glasses — they go on, in very bad drag, for the indisposed sister act. Somehow they don't cause a riot in the testosterone-laden audience, but much manic mayhem ensues on stage, à la the Ritz Brothers, but the trio overcomes the strained antics, and sexy girl-next-door Peters catches the '40s momentum as if channeling Betty Hutton and Betty Grable. Through August 30. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — DLG

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 things takes place in a nineteenth-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

Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners Given anyone the middle-finger salute on the freeway recently? Bought coffee at Starbucks while chatting on your cell phone? Eaten dinner with your elbows on the table? Oh, you naughty, naughty Houstonians — Main Street Theater has a show for you. Indeed, Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners, a world-premiere family musical by Steve Garfinkel, featuring tunes by Trout Fishing in America, has a message for us all. Shaped like a radio show along the lines of A Prairie Home Companion, Garfinkel's story follows what happens one night both on and off the air of a radio broadcast program, also named Ps and Qs: the ABCs of Manners. Starring the diva-like Jillian Ledbetter (Shondra Marie), the show moves through several segments as it covers everything from the repercussions of being tardy to the history of table manners. Characters include "The Late Great Nate McTate" (Micah Stinson), who is so important to the show he's got a song named after him. "The Manners Police" stop an "audience member" who dares to chat on his phone during the show. And the history of table manners moves from the Renaissance (learn why we place a knife facing the eater!) to Victorian England. Under Mark Adams's direction, Ps and Qs works as the family show it's supposed to be. With a wink and a nod toward the grownups, the characters go about delighting the children in the audience. In the end we learn that, of course, the most important rule is the golden one. Following it will help make sure that your heart's in the right place, even if your elbows aren't. Through August 9. Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — LW

 
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