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Capsule Art Reviews: Hairspray, Spring Awakening, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Don Juan in Hell

Hairspray Pick a color, any color, and before too long it'll appear somewhere onstage, in costume or set design, during Country Playhouse's kaleidoscopic, exuberantly exciting production, the first in its 55th season! This vibe — so right, so ersatz, so '60s — extends through the whole show and exudes from the sprightly cast, from principals to chorus, as if everyone sprouts rainbows. The knockoff score by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics co-written by Scott Wittman, and book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, is lovingly, safely adapted from the much more chintzy 1988 John Waters movie that apotheosized Baltimore, Maryland, and mainlined drag queen extraordinaire Divine squarely into America's consciousness. Broadway sanitized the muddy Waters and made it safe for matinee ladies to bop along to the Madison, the Mashed Potato and the Frug, while swallowing the cheery message of integration and acceptance. The musical ran on Broadway for six and a half years and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It's easy to see why in CP's flawlessly performed show — okay, the wireless mikes aren't flawless, and the lighting needs fine tuning and subtlety — but this thing moves! The kids on the Corny Collins Show (think American Bandstand) just want to dance, and why shouldn't everyone dance together, says innocent, ample-sized Tracy Turnblad (Kalin Coates, a fireplug of energy and voice), who knows a thing or two about being the butt of high school jokes. In this feel-good world, she gets her guy (smooth Aaron Boudreaux, a real-life Broadway musical star in the making); sees agoraphobic mom Edna (Danny Seibert, whose basso voice and wry comic timing fill out that 54 EEE brassiere) blossom into her own Macy's Thanksgiving Day float; and helps goofy friend Penny (Hayley Beiermeister, a wily scene stealer) and beyond-the-tracks Seaweed (Donté Wright, slick and boneless) find color-blind love. The ensemble is pitch perfect, with extra-fine support from Brad Zimmerman, Tamar Siler, Riley Branning, Pamela Moore and those three wailing Supremes-like Dynamites: Miatta Lebile, Lani Boykai and Sarah Kalala. Under Ron Jones's expert, laser-sharp direction, the flavorful choreography by Daria James and Erin Roleto, the crisp sets by Carl Russell, the amazing costumes by Reba Kochersperger and Linda Clark (with those towering, wraparound wigs that have their own particular character), and the foot-tapping, finger-snapping musical direction by Stephen Jones, Country Playhouse's Hairspray is teased and coiffed to perfection. Like the song says, "Big, Blonde & Beautiful." Through July 30. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG

Spring Awakening, winner of eight Tony awards, is the ultimate ensemble musical. It has moments when its talented leads step forward to break your heart or fill your soul with excitement, but the real stars are the quicksilver movements of the young straining at their shackles, the mood lighting that seems to strike just the right note, the simple set that serves so well a multiplicity of purposes, the special sound effects, the unobtrusive, talented band and of course the glorious rock music by Duncan Sheik. It all comes together in a triumphant kaleidoscope of talent. The story, based on an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, depicts the torturous stirrings of sexuality among the young. Book and lyrics are by Steven Sater, who captures the anguish of confused youth under the boot of authority. The romantic lead is the good-looking intellectual Melchior, played by Corey Hartzog, who looks the part and creates an authentic characterization as he moves from warmth and camaraderie to educator, to swain and finally to rebel. His rendition of "Totally Fucked," aided by dazzling choreography, music and, yes, even the lyrics, is one of the highlights of the show. Tyce Green plays Moritz, an ill-fated student struggling in class, who has possibly — and deliberately — the worst haircut ever seen onstage. His energy and body language surge across the stage like a tornado, and they etch an indelible portrait. The love interest is Wendla, portrayed by Stephanie Styles, who handles convincingly a difficult, complex role. Andy Ingalls brings great comic timing to a moment of self-gratification. Philip Lehl plays several adult men, and imprints his skilled stamp on each, and Kristin Warren does equally well with the adult women. The graveside staging of the poignant "Left Behind" is moving. George Brock's brilliant direction involves us from the opening song, "Mama Who Bore Me," and seals the deal with an electric staging of a Latin lesson. The choreography by Kristin Warren contributes so much that her name should go above the title. It is a joy simply to immerse oneself in the recreated world of tormented youth with a compelling tale to tell. Don't miss the limited run, and bring friends – they will be grateful. Through July 31 in repertory with Art, so verify which is on. Generations Theatre at Hamman Hall, Rice University, 6100 Main St., 832-326-1045. — JJT

Location Info

Map

Queensbury Theatre

12802 Queensbury
Houston, TX 77024

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Outer Loop - NW

Hamman Hall

Rice University
Houston, TX 77005

Category: Community Venues

Region: Kirby-West U

Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

800 Bagby St.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Music Venues

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Midtown Art Center

1423 Holman
Houston, TX 77004

Category: Community Venues

Region: Third Ward

Thoroughly Modern Millie Bob your hair, roll your stockings below the knee, pile into a Roadster and Charleston over to Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for a thoroughly delightful time. It's the bee's knees! Adapted from the Academy Award-winning Ross Hunter musical (1967) that starred Julie Andrews, Carol Channing and Mary Tyler Moore, this tuneful '20s tribute, a multiple-Tony winner, including the award for Best Musical (2002), is the happiest of shows. Fresh from her one-horse Kansas town, "modern" Millie (Laura Gray, as fresh and winning as they come) arrives in cold-hearted New York determined to find a rich husband, love be damned. During her gold-digging adventures, she meets poor but refined orphan Miss Dorothy (Libby Evans), smart-alecky Jimmy (Michael J. Ross), suitable husband-to-be Mr. Graydon (Adam W. Delka), society entertainer Muzzy Van Hossmere (Kristina Sullivan) and hotel proprietress Mrs. Meers (Allison Sumrall), who, on the side, runs a white slavery ring with her uncooperative servants, Ching Ho (Troy D. Menn) and Bun Foo (Eric Edward Schell). It's madcap and silly, joyous and fun, thanks to the ever-lively music, lyrics and book from Jeanine Tesori, Dick Scanlan and Richard Morris, who poke fun at '20s stereotypes and pay their respects, too. The cast outdoes itself, dancing up a storm in Michelle Macicek and Laura Gray's exceptionally vibrant tap numbers, or just belting their songs like the troupers they are. Gray is perfectly cast as Millie, innocent in love, yet striving to be hard, with a shining Broadway voice that raises the rafters. Ross is what one might call a real Broadway baby, smooth and polished to perfection, a trifecta of singing, acting and dancing; and Sumrall nails Mrs. Meers with her pro's timing, sure-fire comic reactions and drop-dead voice. Everyone radiates. From speakeasy to skyscraper ledge, the simple but effective sets by Amanda McBee keep the show moving, and the beaded costumes by Libby Evans are sparkly and shimmering. Maestro Dominique Royem leads a very feisty orchestra with plenty of saxophone. As one of Masquerade's finest productions – and that's saying something! – Millie accomplishes what any old-fashioned musical wants to do: completely entertain. You can't stop grinning. In Broadway terms, that's real gold diggin'. Through July 31. 800 Bagby, 713-861-7045. – DLG

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