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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

Next Fall A gay male relationship sails through the reefs of an age gap and polarized religious views in this off-B'way comedy hit, which moved to B'way for a respectable run. Young Luke (Zach Lewis) likes older men and makes an instant play for Adam (Brad Goertz). Luke is closeted to his domineering father, Butch (Bob Boudreaux); meanwhile, Luke's mother, Arlene (Tek Wilson), chatters like a magpie. Adam has a friend, Holly (Daria Allen), and Luke has a close friend, Brandon (Matt Benton). We meet them in a hospital waiting room, with the five-year relationship between Luke and Adam told in flashbacks. The repartee is witty, often in fresh, unexpected ways, and the situations are comic, but varying views of religion, God, an after-life, the Rapture and redemption hover in the air like storm clouds. The acting is uniformly excellent, with Wilson's vivacious charm a standout. Lewis and Goertz generate a sense of play and competitiveness that authenticates their relationship. Benton has admirable controlled power, Allen is interesting and persuasive throughout, and Boudreaux, compelled to be the heavy, does that well. Ron Jones as director has transformed Obsidian Art Space with a handsome, flexible set, by Craig Allen, that works wonderfully. The pace is quick but Jones also knows just how effective a pause can be. The result is a polished production even more sophisticated than the script. Playwright Geoffrey Nauffts delivers priceless witty surprises and comic situations, but the payoff, while effective in both dramatic and emotional terms, may test your suspension of disbelief. Compelling acting and sparkling repartee enliven an unusual gay love story, with dramatic moments and an emotional payoff adding to the splendor of this new, fresh and engaging comedic drama. Through September 15. Celebration Theatre at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Dr., 832-303-4758. — JJT

Our Town Thornton Wilder's great masterpiece about life in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, at the beginning of the 20th century glorifies the mundane: the scent of heliotropes in the moonlight, strawberry phosphates at the drug store, shelling green beans with a neighbor, the grief at a funeral. The town is life, and life, according to Wilder, is the mind of God. Daily life (Act I) leads into love and marriage (Act II), which skips right to the graveyard (Act III). The Stage Manager lays it all out, first, as tour guide to the town's undistinguished history; soon, he takes a part in the play as an annoyed lady on the street or the understanding drugstore owner; then he's back as omniscient narrator, showing us the layout of the high mountain cemetery before he guides Emily back into the past, where Wilder's darker themes hit home. The play is swept of clutter; Wilder banishes sets and most props, leaving the whole play to our imagination. Houston Family Arts Center gets a lot of Wilder right. Patrick Barton's Stage Manager is folksy yet brutally clear-eyed; Sarah McQueen's questioning Emily has an innocent laugh; Matt Hudson's Professor Willard proclaims his dry geology statistics with pomp; J. Blanchard's town drunk Simon Stimson doesn't play for comedy but keeps his character sour and uncompromising; Whitney Zangarine's Mrs. Gibbs is no-nonsense but conveys the disappointment of dreams unfulfilled; and Rita Hughes's Mrs. Webb shows dignity in a marriage that has settled into rote. Most of the characters, though, aren't completely lived in, the actors still finding their way into their roles. Some of the minor ones seem to have been cast yesterday and are still catching up. Director Liza Garza keeps a steady pace throughout, and the minimal production is enhanced by an effective use of sound effects — the nostalgic glass clink of milk bottles zooms us to a time long past. But the idea to costume this period play in contemporary garb doesn't sit well. The intent, published in the playbill, was to keep these characters relevant to today's audience. Considering Wilder fills his play with milkmen, the first automobiles and such arcane tasks as chopping wood for the kitchen stove, how relevant is a tank top? Through September 9. Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Rd., 281-685-6374. — DLG

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