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Capsule Stage Reviews: The Drowsy Chaperone, The Little Dog Laughed, Three Bags Full

The Drowsy Chaperone I don't think there's been another musical comedy in the last decade that's as inventive, melodious and witty as this multiple Tony Award winner from 2006. Masquerade Theatre's rousing production knocks it out of the park. The show is a grand spoof of silly '20s musicals, the type that Rodgers and Hammerstein would rebel against and turn all serious and grown-up. These shows were mainstays on Broadway (and in Hollywood), with their inane plots, musical numbers for no reason and the sheer joy the actors conveyed at putting on a show. The product was inconsequential, something that you might accurately say had no redeeming social value whatsoever, except to entertain. With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, Chaperone is the perfect deconstruction of a Broadway show, a heartfelt and glorious homage, dripping with irony, to the power of musicals to "take us away...and disappear for a while." It's an utterly infectious piece of joy from beginning to end. The show queen narrator, the Man in Chair (Luther Chakurian), leads us into his special world of musical theater by playing — on his record player! — one of his favorite shows, Gable and Stein's The Drowsy Chaperone from 1928. Remember? Suddenly, his drab little apartment comes alive as the show takes over, and he comments wryly on the behind-the-scenes minutiae and the legendary, mostly forgotten, performers who were in it. There's the Broadway star torn between fame and marriage (Laura Gray in a truly starmaking performance), her perky husband-to-be (Michael J. Ross), producer Feldzieg (Evan Tessier) and girlfriend Kitty (Libby Evans), two song-and-dance gangsters (Brad Scarborough and Kendrick Mitchell), a Latin lothario (Luke Wrobel, in hilarious scene-stealing mode), Trix the aviatrix (Allison Sumrall), best man George (Adam Delka), ditsy matron and exasperated butler (Rebekah Dahl and Eric Edwards), and last, but certainly not least, the drowsy chaperone (Kristina Sullivan, in spirited dead-pan as she lurches through Prohibition with highball permanently attached to her hand). Broad and way over the top, the show is grand testament to why musicals have such a hold on our psyche. When a show's this good — thank you, director Phillip Duggins and your superb team — it haunts and never lets go. Through November 27. Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. 713-868-9696. — DLG

The Little Dog Laughed I wish to nominate Douglas Carter Beane's scintillating comedy for Best Gay Fantasy. If you have any questions about gay life you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask, Beane — and the superb rendering that his sparkling comedy receives at Theater LaB — will be only too thrilled to answer them, and maybe tempt you to ask a few more. This madcap fairy tale about Hollywood, its hypocrisy and its fleeting visions of fame and fortune, revolves around a quartet of lost, lonely and unscrupulous characters all out for a buck. So what if there's "a little deception" involved, a lie here, a broken heart there? They're out to reinvent themselves. But love has a wicked way of tripping them up. Closeted actor Mitchell (Nate Suurmeyer) is on the cusp of major stardom. However, he's fallen for one of his many tricks, young hustler Alex (Bryan Kaplun), who's fallen hard, too. This predicament doesn't sit well with Mitchell's agent, Diane (Mary Hooper), who's part Professor Marvel, part Medusa, or with Alex's girlfriend (Rebekah Stevens). Mitchell, in thrall, is ready to come out, which sends Diane into a tailspin. No gay actor — no star — has ever come out and been successful, she warns with acid-laced, iced-martini wit, unless they're British and knighted. Fortunately, for us, nobody keeps his mouth shut, and they purr out Beane's catty rejoinders with Wilde abandon as the complications mount. In the New York production, this was Diane's show. Here, it's much more balanced, and everybody gets the star turn. Under the spot-on direction of Jimmy Phillips, all four actors shine as bright as a rhinestone reflection. It's so much better the Theater LaB way. With its salty tongue ready and eager to lick all sorts of places, Little Dog's an adult show, no doubt about it. Now go and see it. Good boy. Through December 11. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG

Three Bags Full When Jerome Chodorov's sex farce, based upon a 1958 French play by Claude Magnier, opened on Broadway in 1966, it had already gone through seven title changes. That should have been a warning. The comedy ran only 33 performances, even with the star turn of rumpled Paul Ford in the lead. Chodorov's best days lay behind him, mostly in the '40s, when he co-wrote the hit play My Sister Eileen, which he would adapt in 1953 as the iconographic hit musical Wonderful Town, with Leonard Bernstein's music and a Tony-winning performance by Rosalind Russell. As a farce, Bags is lame and forced, although everyone runs around frantically, dropping sexy secrets whenever they come through a door. It's convoluted when it should be simple, and simple when it should be complex, exactly the opposite of what a great farce should be. Only a few of the performers at Company OnStage get into the knockabout spirit, but it's difficult to be carefree when the play erects its own boundaries, which the actors, through no fault of their own, so effortlessly crash into. It's 1905, and successful NY merchant Bascom Barlow (Keith Lindloff) is blackmailed by his clerk (Louis Crespo), who thinks he's fallen in love with Barlow's daughter. There are three valises that play a major part in the exceedingly interwoven plot; one contains diamonds, one cash and one, ladies' underwear. You can tell where this is heading without further explanation. This type of silliness needs a certain style that is difficult to achieve even for classic Feydeau — a believable yet light exasperation, which must change every minute as another revelation makes its intrusion. Crespo has the nonstop, razzle-dazzle delivery, but nobody to play against. Molly Sapp, as Barlow's "other" daughter, the emancipated, George Bernard Shaw-reading one, has the style, too, but her character isn't really developed by Chodorov, who seems to forget about her halfway through the comedy. As Barlow's business rival, Houston stage veteran Carl Masterson, who could recite the Houston Yellow Pages with sublime conviction, tosses off the comedy as if flicking away pesky mosquitoes. In his minor role, he blasts open the play, but it's all too much, too late — the bag's already empty. Through December 18. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

 
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