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The Marvelous Wonderettes Okay, kids, let's write a second-rate musical that has no chance of ever seeing the lights of Broadway. Judging from Roger Bean's creation from 1999, it's not too difficult. First we need music — not original music, that's too iffy. How about great tunes from the '50s? Every­body likes "Mr. Sandman," "Lipstick on Your Collar" and "Secret Love". Then we need to put these oldies-but-goodies in context with a story, but not much of one. A prom, we'll set it at a prom, where a girl group can sing the songs. And these four? One's a slut, one's a butch, one's a nerd, one's a dope. The butch and the slut have the same boyfriend and hate each other. The nerd's in love with her music teacher, and the dopey blond loves a greaser. That's enough plot, except there's Act II. All right, we can do it. Remember, no thinking. Got it! Act II takes place ten years later at the high school reunion. How brilliant is that? (Well, it's expedient, anyway.) Keep it simple. The slut and the butch still hate each other, the nerd's about to marry her teacher and the dumb blond is pregnant with marital problems. Nothing else has changed. Quickly wrap up any loose ends in a song, with everybody best friends at the end. And there you have it: an instantly forgettable new musical fit for Sunday matinees. Stage all this with utmost professionalism in lighting, dance moves and over-the-top prom dresses (although, the'60s mod minis in Act II are extremely unflattering on all concerned). Finally, cast four likable singing actresses who can put this tripe over with ease (Rachael Logue, Chelsea McCurdy, Christina Stroup and Holland Vavra Peters). Voilà! It's a musical that will run through summer, delight the nostalgia buffs and break all box-office records. Aren't you proud? Through October 17. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0220. — DLG

Rent This is one of Masquerade's finest renditions in memory, and that's saying something, for this exceptional company has been on a real roll this season. Jonathan Larson's rock adaptation of Puccini's La bohème, set in NYC's grunge East Village, is probably the best musical in the last two decades. The ultimate irony is that Larson died on the eve of its premiere and never knew what a powerhouse work he'd created — it's a cultural icon for many and object of veneration for the rest. Posthumously, he won a Tony, a Drama Desk, an Obie and a Pulitzer Prize for this remarkable creation. It deserves them all. Masquerade brings out Rent's liveliness (the actors climb all over Amanda McBee's steel tinker-toy set), its deep humanity, its kinky humor and, best of all, its musical glories, with an apocalyptic fervor. Director Phillip Duggins, with his exemplary cast, fills the stage with telling little details that color in the spaces with that thrilling vie de bohème they live so ardently. And thrilling is the word to describe the vocals: Luther Chakurian with a deep growl as Roger, who is infected with AIDS; Michael J. Ross with an edgy belt as Mark, the filmmaker who keeps everyone at bay with his constant camera; Libby Evans with rockstar wail as smack-addled Mimi; Michael Dickens with a soft, sexy rasp as gay Tom Collins; Rebekah Dahl and Beth Lazarou, whose voices blend dramatically as warring couple Maureen and Joanne; and Dylan Godwin, who is just amazingly effective as tranny Angel, the real heart of the show. He prances, he preens, he suffers, he loves, he teaches the other friends to live "Today 4 U." We must also mention smooth Kendrick Mitchell as sellout Benjamin, as well as soloist Stephanie Jones, who imbues "Seasons of Love" with enough hefty jubilation to raise the roof. Larson's musical is a hymn to life and love in all its forms. It's a glorious work, full of youth and youthful smartass attitude, full of promise and dreams. Masquerade takes all this and weaves its own glorious dream. A dream not to be missed. Through August 1. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-861-7045. — DLG

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