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Capsule Stage Reviews: Happily Ever at the Box, KOOZA, Leading Ladies, Next Fall, Our Town

Happily Ever at the Box Fairy-tale archetypes get a scrumptious musical makeover from our favorite cabaret troupe, The Music Box Theater. In the tradition of their former shows, Music Box interlaces a little plot — here a mélange of fairy-tale types: princess, prince, wicked queen, godmother, narrator — with a wide array of songs to augment the story or delve deeper into the sketch-like characters. It's silly and fun, and when they open their mouths to sing we're blown away, as usual, with the polish and precision that these fabulous pros happily supply to any song. They sail through jazz, pop, and rock and roll with equal finesse and an unfailing theatrical style that is one-of-a-kind. Since this is a group effort, everybody gets to shine. It's a rare, wonderful display of musical and dramatic talent. The best news about MBT's latest show is the arrival of the delectable Kristina Sullivan, who joins the ultra-talented quartet already in place (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel). A recent émigré from the duly lamented Masquerade Theatre, from where the founding Music Box four have hailed, she brings her radiant soprano, irrepressible comic chops and unalloyed stage presence to round out the mix. She's like the butter added into the béarnaise to give it sheen and body. All five actors are performers of the highest caliber, and it's difficult to beat their infectious camaraderie. Pulling it all together is the jazzy quartet led by music director Glenn Sharp, lead guitarist Mark McCain, bass guitarist Long Le and percussionist Donald Payne. These guys swing, too. From the musical sampler that includes such disparate works by Sara Bareilles ("Fairytale"), Queen ("Somebody to Love"), Dion ("Runaround Sue"), Disney ("Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo"), The Rolling Stones ("You Can't Always Get What You Want") and the Beatles ("Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-da"), the fab five at Music Box Theater weave a quilt whose quality is unparalleled. Wrap yourself up in it; you won't want to let go. Through October 13. 2623 Colquitt. 713-522-7722. — DLG

KOOZA In KOOZA's loose narrative, a shy, foppish character known as The Innocent discovers a world of magic, acrobatics and illusion. He's not only awed by the fantastic, but also finds a sense of self and purpose. If that story doesn't sound compelling, that's because it's really not. There has only ever been one reason to go to a Cirque du Soleil engagement, and that is to be thrilled by the feats of strength, flexibility and athleticism on display. The primary appeal of the performers at Cirque has never been what the human body can emote but what it can do. And these bodies can do quite a bit. The Innocent's journey to self-discovery is marked by a series of circus acts, some more jaw-dropping than others. The first real crowd-pleaser of the first act is the trio of contortionists dressed in skintight gold-leaf costumes. They move with a lithe energy that can only be described as feline. The choreography showcases their hyperextended backs as they fold themselves in ways that suggest their spines are really made of Play-Doh rather than bone. Equally stunning is a balancing act that sees a performer hold himself on one hand 23 feet in the air. The rest of the show is just as entertaining and features a solo trapeze performance, a unicycle routine, charivari, hoops manipulation, a teeterboard act that is not to be missed and a couple of funny, if not obscene, comedy acts. The Wheel of Death in Act II is not for the faint of heart, but is so thrilling, it has to be seen to be believed. KOOZA is at its best when it's not trying to be an emotional journey. When there's this much showmanship and exoticism on display, any attempt at creating a personal trajectory is pointless. Cirque du Soleil is a circus, after all, and KOOZA is another entertaining entry in its long list of spectacles. Through September 9. Sam Houston Race Park, 7575 North Sam Houston Pkwy., 281-807-8700. — AC

Leading Ladies In Leading Ladies, two down-on-their luck Shakespearean actors seek to impersonate the heirs to an estate, and follow through even when they discover that the heirs were actually heiresses. Texas Rep's artistic director, Steve Fenley, portrays Shakespearean actor Leo, and also Maxine, with verve and style, but there is no pretense of persuasive gender impersonation. Jeffrey S. Lane plays Jack, Leo's stalwart acting sidekick, and also Stephanie, and matches Fenley's rich portrayal. Playwright Ken Ludwig has chosen the route of broad physical humor and simple misunderstandings, and hasn't bothered to spike the goings-on with wit. Fenley carries the show on his talented shoulders, but it's a bit like Atlas holding the world — a heavy burden. He is helped enormously by a strong supporting cast: attractive Lauren Dolk is a sparkling Audrey — her entrance on roller skates is hilarious — and Mischa Hutchins portrays Meg, caregiver for the wealthy, dying Florence, with beauty and warmth. Don Hampton plays the family doctor with humor and distinction, and David Walker captures the avaricious curate Duncan. Kyle Cameron is excellent in minor roles, and Marcy Bannor plays the dying Florence with enough zest and pizzazz to raise the Titanic; she lights up the stage on her entrances. Director Rachel Mattox keeps the pace brisk, and there is a captivating brief dance in Act Two. The set by Trey Otis is handsome and versatile. Playwright Ludwig has won numerous awards, but all the lipstick worn by Leo and Jack can't disguise the fact this vehicle was shopworn before its premiere, and all the theatrical grace of Fenley can't hide its cumbersome construction. Bu this pedestrian farce is enlivened by strong performances by the principals and an excellent supporting cast, who find voluminous laughs in well-worn material. Through September 16. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — JJT

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