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Capsule Stage Reviews: Damaged Divas of the Decades, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oliver Twist, There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, Zombie Prom

 Damaged Divas of the Decades A particularly high style of cabaret is in performance through November at Music Box Theater. This second production from the newly minted troupe is called Damaged Divas of the Decades, and if that title alone doesn't propel you to Colquitt and Kirby, what kind of theater queen are you? As the only cabaret in the Bayou City, Music Box is like a classy Manhattan nightclub of yore, intimate and boozy, sophisticated and in-the-know. The troupe's five performers, all locally known and highly respected in the musical theater world (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel and Colton Berry) have musical talent to spare and intriguing personalities to blend together when necessary and to cause sparks when needed. It's a bracing mix and, vocally, is unchallenged anywhere in town. As pros, they know through instinct and training how to put across a song. They also know how to entertain. As a tribute to music's self-suffering icons, from jazz's Etta James and Billie Holiday, to rock's Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks, to pop's Barbra Steisand and Mama Cass, the entire evening is solidly entertaining. The musical spectrum is rich and varied: a Jim Beam-infused rendering from Dahl of "Me and Bobby McGee," Scarborough's patented falsetto in "Big Girls Don't Cry," Taylor's spot-on Streisand in "Get Happy," Wrobel's heartfelt "La Vie en Rose," and Berry's absolutely wickedly hilarious take on Liza or his simpatico treatment of Cline's "Crazy." Guest host John Gremillion plays a William Shatner emcee and an assortment of crafty personae to lead us through the evening. While the divas may be damaged, the show is without blemish and first-class all the way, with formidable talent on display. As the Kander and Ebb song says, if life is a cabaret, then I love a cabaret, especially this one. Cabaret just doesn't get any better. Through November 13. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

A Midsummer Night's Dream Here William Shakespeare's most popular play is re-set in The Roaring Twenties and is tackled by a teenage cast. The plot is that the young lovers are in love with the wrong person, and the magical adults Oberon and Titania are having a marital spat. The costuming by Copper Paradiso is excellent, especially the flapper sheaths and those for the winged fairies. The set by Lisa Garza of soaring columns and fabrics of rich colors echoes the richness of imagery and vocabulary that the Bard provides. Ryan Jacobs plays Bottom, an amateur actor eager to play all the roles in Pyramus and Thisbe, the-play-within-the-play, and embodies him with rich humor and considerable style. Austin Jacobs plays both Oberon and Theseus, and is admirable as a Rudolph Valentino-type Oberon. Jonathan Lammey plays Demetrius and creates an interesting character. These all speak the words "trippingly on the tongue" as intended. Connor Heaton plays the other wooer, and his actions and body language are entertaining, but mastering the rhythm of Shakespeare lies in his future, as it does for most of the actors. The distaff side, Helena and Hermia, lack dignity as played, but Anna Conover and Annabelle Cousins show pluck and energy. The best moments come near the end (the play has been shortened) when Pyramus and Thisbe is performed for Theseus. The strength of this production lies in physical humor, and director Ilich Guardiola is inventive, enriching the production with levity of movement and lightness of approach. Many of the flapper-age updates are witty. The result is colorful, lighthearted entertainment. While not what one might expect from this comedy, it is an entertaining romp in the pastures of Shakespeare, with flashes of brilliance. Through November 6. Houston Family Arts Center (Teen Actors Guild), Garza Main Stage, 10760 Grant Rd., 281-685-6374. — JJT

Oliver Twist Charles Dickens's classic tale of orphan Oliver and his most adventurous "progress" in the underworld of Victorian London gets a faithful retelling in Neil Bartlett's ultra-theatrical adaptation at Theatre Southwest. Bartlett decides to go all "theatrical" in his retelling, as if plain old dramatizing weren't enough for this 1837 masterpiece. Here, he overlays scenes with tableaux vivants, a device from the Victorian stage where the action freezes in a well-composed picture. This hoary convention might still work, but not when it happens in the middle of a scene. It stops the action deader than a door nail. Dickens's mighty work is rich with incident and overflowing with iconic portraits that have become firmly etched in the world's consciousness. Who doesn't know Oliver's plea for another bowl of gruel, "Please, sir, I want some more"? Who isn't familiar with the perverse machinations of Fagin, master of his ragamuffin army of hooligans and petty street criminals, led by the Artful Dodger, prince of pickpockets? And what about slut Nancy with her psychotic attraction to Bill Sikes, one of literature's most sadistic villains? With his face "like an angel," little Caleb Ortega is the very picture of Oliver and is most sympathetic. He must constantly react to all manner of situations, none too pleasant, and he acquits himself like a trooper. John Stevens eats up Fagin, crouching over like a crooked spider to work his evil ways. In his worn greatcoat, he insinuates himself with false modesty and gentlemanly pretense. Liz King, as Nancy, is handsome enough for a Cockney beauty gone to seed, and her misguided love for Bill is plain to all. What a fantastic horror Adan Inteuz makes as Sikes, amoral and threatening, solid and moving like a shark. Avery Stinson, as the Artful Dodger, moves like he could pick a pocket or two and gives this street kid a very cool reading. The subsidiary characters are handled with authentic finesse by Carolyn Montgomery, Monica Passley, Michel Stevens, Casey Coale and Bruce Blifford. All of them would've been granted a nod of approval by Dickens. The tribe of lost boys, however, needs tightening up to be a more effective gang. These kids aren't playing at the arcade after school; it's life or death on the mean streets of London in 1837. Make it real. The tale is timeless, and Theatre Southwest's telling, under David Holloway's direction, is eminently watchable. Through November 30. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

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