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Capsule Stage Reviews: Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood, A Christmas Carol, Cinderella, A Fertle Holiday, The Nutcracker, Reckless, Santaland Diaries

 Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood Catastrophic Theatre's magnificent world-premiere production, written and directed by Jason Nodler and featuring a blistering performance by Matt Kelly in the title role, could easily be the next smash hit on Broadway. It's got dysfunction in spades since it's based on the life of Dutch musician/painter Herman Brood, a walking — when he could manage — billboard of how not to live your life. He was, and still is, revered as a demigod in the Netherlands, that country's one true rock star, a lethal combination of Cobain, Morrison and other egotistical fuckups. The worst of all possible role models, he attained mythic status after his suicide when, at age 54, he threw himself off the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton. When he died in 2001, while his work was having a resurgence, his body was in complete meltdown. When the dope quit having an effect, he knew it was time to go. It's to Bluefinger and Kelly's great credit that we fall under his anarchic spell. But we never plow into Brood too deeply. That's the only buzz kill in this cleverly structured and expressionistically written show. He's fucked up when we meet him, and he remains an unrepentant screw-up throughout. If there's a moral center to be found in this hedonistic portrait, if only by default, it's Koos, Brood's childhood friend and exasperated agent. Adroitly played by Troy Schulze, Koos is the ultimate enabler, assisting in the debaucheries because he's too cowed by Brood's talent to stop him. Though the work is not strictly chronological, Jason Nodler embroiders all the high points (or low points, if you will) of Brood's untamed life, helping us with background projections of dates and place names. Like a dream rush, Brood comes at us in oblique little scenes, with music the binding tie. Inspired by Charles Thompson's 2007 concept album about Brood, Bluefinger, Nodler flies off in truly exceptional riffs. As author and director, Nodler rejuvenates this tortured artist, but it's Matt Kelly as Herman Brood who dissects him with a medical precision that takes our breath away. His performance is overpoweringly physical, and, without question, absolutely starmaking. Through December 18. Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks Art Space, 1117 East Freeway, 713-522-2723. — DLG

A Christmas Carol Although the Alley's holiday extravaganza is tinged more Halloween than Christmas — those dancing ghosts are awful — there's plenty of Charles Dickens to go around in A Christmas Carol. Michael Wilson's adaptation is Victorian bleak, played against a scaffold-and-brick design that screams Sweeney Todd. Christmas Past and Christmas Present resemble John Leech's original 1843 etchings, while the ominous Christmas Yet to Come peddles a fantastic gothic tricycle and the cross-dressing housekeeper (not a good idea) pawns Scrooge's bedclothes in one of Dickens's most creepy scenes. As miser Scrooge, Alley pro Jeffrey Bean is as definitive as they come. Through December 27. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-228-8421. — DLG

Cinderella In past productions, Patdro Harris (director/choreographer) and Carlton Leake (composer) have always brought unparalleled sass to Ensemble Theatre's musicals — until now. Credited to San Francisco's African-American Shakespeare Company, the book for Cinderella is surprisingly flat and without magic. The cast flounders, except for the phenomenal Teacake Ferguson, the most charming Cinderella with a blow-you-away voice. Roc Living, as Prince Charming, has a granite presence but not a twinge of chemistry with Cinderella. The wicked stepsisters, Roenia Thompson and Tamara Harper, are deliciously over-the-top, but everyone else strains. Leake's lackluster score is redeemed by a Dreamgirls-esque ballad, "I'm Going On," that Ferguson hits out of the park. Through December 26. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — DLG

A Fertle Holiday In the mood for a big wedge of Mildred's butter pie? A Fertle Holiday is Radio Music Theatre's penultimate show before its final farewell begins in January. If you've never tasted this talented trio of inspired lunatics, it's time. Holiday never stales. It's the epitome of Christmas spirit, since it's all about dysfunctional families, and no family's more messed up — and hilarious — than the Fertles of Dumpster, Texas. Author Steve Farrell keeps his universe craftily insane. Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills play all the characters, and always astonish and amuse. Through January 15. Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

The Nutcracker It just wouldn't be the holiday season without Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker, now would it? Once again the company has begun its mega-run of this Christmas classic created by HB Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson in 1987. And both the charming, family-style choreography and Desmond Heeley's sets and costumes still look as fresh and as filling as chestnuts roasting on an open fire. (Feel free to sing along.) Part of the beauty of this ballet is the joy Houston Ballet Orchestra brings to Tchaikovsky's incredibly danceable score, and the rest lies in the fantasy elements: Toys come alive, the Christmas tree grows to dizzying heights, mice attack, snow falls onstage, pastry chefs fly. It's just magical. And the little ones in the audience — dressed in their holiday finest with their eyes all aglow — just love it. Dancing? Oh yes, there's plenty of that as well. Because there are so many roles and so many, many performances, the cast rotates, which means you might see stars and stars-in-the-making. The corps de ballet performs solos, and even the assistant conductors take a turn with the baton. You might get to see new principal Jun Shuang Huang dancing his first Nutcracker Prince (there is no Christmas celebration, let alone Nutcracker, in China) or see corps member Jordan Reed in her first Arabian solo. Last Sunday, demi soloist Jessica Collado turned in a pristine Snow Queen performance partnered by Linnar Looris as the Prince, but it was corps member Elise Judson who truly charmed as Clara. Still, this ballet is less about who's dancing what and more about the entire ensemble performing a Houston holiday classic. From the mimed overture to the coda where all the sweets and the Sugar Plum Fairy dance with joy, you'll feel the holiday spirit move you. Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker is the best holiday stress reliever. It's doubtful even the Grinch could watch this ballet without feeling all warm and tingly. Through December 26. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — MG

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