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Capsule Stage Reviews: 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, Girls Only — the Secret Comedy of Women, Happily Ever at the Box, Leading Ladies, Life Could Be a Dream, Next Fall, Superior Donuts

 2 Pianos, 4 Hands Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra, both talented Canadian pianists and actors trained for careers as classical musicians, have created a play with music that defies description. It uses humor, musical ability and insightful memories of childhood piano lessons to delineate a world of ambition, frustrations, hard work, and responsibilities shared or shirked, all recollected and described with unflagging energy. Tom Frey plays one of the creators, Ted, and Jeffrey Rockwell plays the other, Richard, and both actors are skilled pianists themselves. They alternate playing tutor, student and parents in a series of vignettes of piano lessons, painful at the time but amusing in recollection. My favorite teacher, played by Frey, is an elderly maestro who teaches while supine on the floor, and advises the 17-year-old student that playing an arpeggio with one hand will get him chicks because they find it manly. Frey is not only an excellent actor, he is also a deft mime — his facial expressions and eloquent gestures enhance the humor enormously, and Rockwell matches Trey in musical ability and acting proficiency. This is a comedy, with some poignant moments: We meet a seriously unhip classical musician whose dream is to be a jazz pianist, a child of ten who doesn't want to practice and a musical nerd of 17 who doesn't want to stop. Even if you've personally never endured the rigors of piano lessons, you will still savor the earnest drive of youth, the stardust in the eyes of young performers and the agony of rejection. This musical pastiche, a huge success in Canada, the U.S. and around the world, is receiving its regional premiere here, and it's directed with pace and split-second timing by the actor playing Ted, Tom Frey. Adroit writing, skilled performers and an inventive recollection of childhood and adult musical travails merge into a fresh and invigorating comedy, laced with insights and delivering a rich comedic and emotional experience. Through October 28. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — JJT

Girls Only — the Secret Comedy of Women Two gifted female improv actors in Denver, Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, discovered a golden lode of material in their high-school diaries and mined it into scripted vignettes of what it's like to be young and female. The resulting comedy is having its regional premiere after extended runs in major U.S. cities. The set is a pink teenage bedroom, frilly without being fussy. As the audience is seated, on stage are two local female actors, Tracy Ahern and Keri Henson, dressed in bra and panties, who mime conversations and laughter. Both Ahern and Henson are excellent comediennes with great timing. They discuss diaries, valentines, including those returned, the first crush, breast-feeding and other topics. This comedy is intended for a female audience, but this may be too restrictive — these are babes, goodlooking, fit, with outgoing personalities and a great sense of humor. They're good sports, they tell jokes well and they like men. What male wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes in their company? I especially liked the skit about sex education, as the actors play counselors so inept that they never get to the subject. The overall tone never strays far from sweet and amusing, although there is a hint of anger in a video section on restrictions on public breast-feeding. The event ends with a hilarious ballet to music as the ladies struggle to don pantyhose. The comedy is directed by Luanne Nunes de Char; this is her seventh time directing the work and her experience pays off brilliantly, with pace and exuberance. These vignettes will warm your heart while convulsing you with laughter. Through October 14. Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — JJT

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

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