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Capsule Stage Reviews: Opening the Box, Raising the Barre, The Threesome

Opening the Box Five veteran performers from Masquerade Theatre, Houston's repository of Broadway musicals, have left that company to form their own: Music Box Theater. The five artists — Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor and Colton Berry — use the cabaret format to showcase their formidable talents, and they plan to produce four original shows each year. The music's an assortment of Broadway, the great American songbook, Hollywood, and contemporary pop and rock. As musical performers, these artists are unimpeachable. With diverse talents, they fit so comfortably together when all of them harmonize that they're an ideal boy/girl group. Since they no longer have fictional characters to play, the five play themselves, or some persona they want us to believe them to be. Inevitably, they overplay. Even solo cabaret acts can get bogged down in personal patter, but since this is the troupe's first original show, and details must be worked out, they are forgiven — this time. More singing, less talk. Dahl, a Houston treasure and ultimate Broadway baby, has given us indelible performances in Sweeney Todd, Guys and Dolls and Gypsy. She's completely comfortable onstage, and she happily satisfies our craving when, Valkyrie-like, she rides joyously through Wicked's powerhouse anthem "Defying Gravity." Easygoing with charm to spare, Scarborough proves it with his crooner's smooth rendition of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby." He's a comic foil for dramatically dark Wrobel, who oozes intensity. His idiosyncratic, affecting take on "Over the Rainbow" is reason enough to see this show. Taylor belies her stature with a ringing, rich soprano and piquant humor. Singing a cappella, she floats above McCartney's "Blackbird," accompanied by the other four. Berry has a lively, hipster's presence with a knockout wail of a voice, used to superb effect on Aerosmith's "Dream On." Using richly colorful arrangements, the musical direction under Glenn Sharp (keyboard), with Mark McCain (lead guitar), Long Le (bass guitar) and Donald Pain (percussion), is a cool, jazzy earful. As a first romp without the spine of a book musical to buoy them, Music Box Theater delivers the vocal goods with inspiring results. Keep the intros short, the songbook as varied, and the future, as Momma Rose belts in Gypsy, will be comin' up roses. Through August 7. Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. 713-522-7722. — DLG

Raising the Barre The first work in this spring mixed-repertory program from Houston Ballet, ONE/end/ONE, is a world premiere by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo. Every move is arresting and absolutely unpredictable. A soloist will swoop down after an attitude turn, swan diving to pat the floor with her hands; another will swing acrobatically from a fish to a shoulder sit in a second flat. Both technically and innovatively, the piece shines. The show standout is Christopher Bruce's American premiere of Grinning in Your Face. It's a work that captures the desperation, racism and hope of the Great Depression, all set to the banjo and slide guitar music of Martin Simpson. Bruce's choreography doesn't romanticize the era. On stumbles a swaggering male dancer in a wifebeater and jeans, who turns the pas de deux into a showcase of brute male strength. She fights him with her fists, but he sweeps her into a violent turn and leads her by kicking the back of her knees. Unfazed, the other women look on wearily. Rush is the program's final work, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. He creates incredible formations with 16 dancers, structural marvels that are constantly shifting throughout the piece. But the real meat of Rush is the dark and lovely pas de deux. Go see Raising the Barre — you'll thank us later. Thruogh June 5. Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — MO

The Threesome The ambitious and scrappy Company OnStage, long a valued Houston fixture, brings a classic French farce to humorous life in The Threesome as a young man continues an affair with the wife of a friend, the friend seeks the favors of a female employee and past indiscretions arise to plague the philandering men while acquiescent women flirt with impunity. The tone is lighthearted, and there are far more attempts at trysts than successes. Plot complications need not be taken seriously, but they involve an off-stage taxi driver prone to blackmail and a note placed in an ingeniously concealed wall safe. The pace is kept brisk by director Patti Lindloff, who permits the talented veteran performers to create memorable characters. Casey Coale plays Alphonse Marjavel with blustering charm and a lascivious itch, and his attractive wandering wife is portrayed with Gallic coquetry by Aneela Qureshi. Danny Uddin, making his Company OnStage debut, is excellent as the seducer, and his acting strength helps anchor the whirlwind of slamming doors that ensues. L. Robert Westeen plays an Alsatian employee, and comes close to stealing the show with an increasingly inspired comic performance. His attractive wife, played by Natasha Sollenne, lets us see why men pursue her — and her gratitude for being given an orange is wonderful indeed. In a minor role, Molly Sapp is effective as an attractive maiden. Marlo Blue has the important role of the maid, with the usual thankless job of exposition, but is perhaps too serious for the general tone. Jim Allman plays an aristocratic older man but doesn't project the authority of the other cast members. The costumes by Grace Galloway are attractive and colorful and the scenic design is handsome, with necessary set changes handled deftly during intermissions. After a somewhat less successful Act I — the wife is a bit too perky and too given to panic, not providing a varied performance — the action and humor ramp up in Acts II and III, and pleasure pours from the cornucopia of Gallic amusement at the foibles and follies of men — whether high or low — as they pursue the eternal chase. The Threesome, translated by Neil Vivian Bartlett, is a mid-19th century comedy by Eugène Marin Labiche, and Company OnStage is to be commended for resurrecting this most enjoyable heirloom in its regional premiere. Through June 11. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — JT

 
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