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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

Life Could Be a Dream Another jukebox musical — the time is the '60s and the music is doo-wop — delivers nostalgia, charm and warm good feelings, but this time with a plot as well. The setting is a basement rec room where the slacker kids hang out, and, yes, "Get a Job" is amusingly staged, with the unseen mother chiming in on an intercom system. Denny (Adam Gibbs) is leader of the singing group, and he's the one with some show-business polish. Eugene (Mark Ivy) is a stereotypical nerd, and friend Wally (Dylan Godwin) drops in and joins the Denny and the Dreamers group; his trademark signature is enthusiasm. The group expands to include Skip (Cameron Bautsch), a mechanic from the wrong part of town; his trademark is to look hunky, which doesn't go unnoticed by Lois (Rebekah Stevens), whose uptight dad is a snob. The suspense is whether the group can get its act together to win a local contest being held the coming Saturday. Director and choreographer Mitchell Greco keeps the pace clipping along, and the voices are pleasant enough to carry the 20-plus songs, such as "A Sunday Kind of Love" and "Unchained Melody." Godwin has the greatest range, most intelligent rendition and impeccable phrasing. There are a lot of physical comedy and broad reactions, and these are appropriate and work well. The finale has a Chorus Line moment that lets us escape the basement and the irritating mother on the intercom. All this is created by Roger Bean, who wrote the long-running hit The Marvelous Wonderettes. This musical, intended for light summer fare, delivers on its promise, providing humor and nostalgia and letting us again relive the tuneful melodies of the '60s. Through October 14. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — 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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