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Capsule Stage Reviews: Company, Broadway at the Box, Man of Destiny and Dark Lady of the Sonnets

 Company Bracing and potent as a vodka stinger, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's mordant, multiple Tony Award-winning "musical comedy" on marriage, commitment and New York City is the ultimate That '70s Show. The musical (1970), dry and abrasive as sandpaper, ushered in the decade and ushered in Sondheim as possible king of Broadway. He had to wait, though, until the following year, when Follies finally bestowed the crown upon him. Texas Repertory Theatre supplies plenty of grit, visual polish and a well-rounded cast to keep this classic show spiky and full of attitude. Perpetual bachelor Bobby (Brandon Grimes, a smooth song-and-dance man), best friend of five conflicted married couples, refuses to settle down. He's so close to his married friends that when they burn, he gets seared. Harry and Sarah (John Dunn and Lendsey Kersey) compete literally in a man-versus-woman karate duel; Peter and Susan (Andrew Ruthven and Lauren Dolk), seen by Robert as loving and perfect together, are getting a divorce; David and Jenny (David Walker and Jennifer Stewart) believe they're too staid to be swinging and youthful; Paul and Amy (Zach Varela and Katie Harrison), living together for two years, are finally getting married, prompting the show's comic highlight, Amy's neurotic patter song "Getting Married Today"; Larry and Joanne (Steven Fenley and Judy Frow) are older, richer and much married, giving the hard-drinking Joanne the caustic showstopper "The Ladies Who Lunch," which Frow spits out in a stinging, acid rage. Bobby's girlfriends are a triptych of '70s stereotypes: April, the clueless airline stewardess (Haley Hussey, in a beautifully shaded performance); sweet Kathy (Amy Garner Buchanan), who can wait no longer for vacillating Bobby to make up his mind; and downtown grunge girl Marta (Christina Stroup), who lives for a good time. Bobby sees only the faults and not the pleasures in wedded bliss. He makes lame excuses for his lack of commitment, he expects a future wife to be an amalgam of his women friends, and he sleeps around and can't remember his bedmates' names; he's probably gay. It's either/or for "Bobby baby, Bobby bubi," but there's not much positive reinforcement from the couples, yet his "Being Alive" epiphany is as much of a happy ending as anything you'll find in a Sondheim show. Although you'd never call a Sondheim score rough, this one about the joys (!) of modern marriage can scour your skin off with its velvety tunes. George Furth's book is a bitchy blowtorch, and Sondheim's disco-era music and ironic lyrics are incomparable: "Being Alive," "Another Hundred People," "The Ladies Who Lunch," "The Little Things You Do Together." Sondheim and Furth's biting and funny X-ray of modern marriage, a classic of grown-up Broadway, is a show not to be missed. Under Texas Rep's adroit handling, this is Company you want to spend your time with. Through April 7. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Steubner Airline, 281-583-7573. — DLG

Broadway at the Box The Music Box Theater is a repertory group of three women and two men — they sing, they dance, they act, they reminisce about their childhoods, they do solos and they do ensemble numbers, all this with such a sense of togetherness, of fun, of personal enjoyment that their talent and enthusiasm cascade into the audience and wrap it in a warm embrace. Luke Wrobel handles a large section of the evening as Tevye singing "I Wish I Were a Rich Man" and as Don Quixote singing "The Impossible Dream," and in between logs time in a hilarious impersonation of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and as an amusingly brutal casting director, and shares a duet of "There's Nothing like a Dame" with Brad Scarborough, the other male member. Scarborough sings "Till There Was You" and "Walk Like a Man" and leads an entertaining skit about a theater critic who reviews a performance before it occurs thanks to time travel. Rebekah Dahl shines as lead singer in "The Age of Aquarius," and Kristina Sullivan provides an intelligent, subtle and compelling rendition of "Send in the Clowns." Cay Taylor nails the haunting "I Dreamed a Dream," and received one of the evening's several standing ovations. The band (Donald Payne, Mark McCain, Long Le and Glenn Sharp) is a rich contributor to the overall success of the show. The Music Box is a cabaret theater, so drinks are available. Through April 6. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — JJT

Man of Destiny and Dark Lady of the Sonnets Shaw is noted for his delight in paradoxes and for his wit in deflating pretensions, and these virtues are very much alive in these two one-acts, Man of Destiny and Dark Lady of the Sonnets. In the first, General Napoleon Bonaparte trades witticisms with a woman posing as a military lieutenant, and in the second, William Shakespeare exchanges ripostes with Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Michael Geiger is excellent as an innkeeper serving dinner to the witty, sophisticated Napoleon, unfortunately played by Brandon Hobratschk as a man without subtlety, who barks orders like a parade-ground sergeant. Brian Heaton is excellent as a lieutenant, gullible and dense yet imbued with a sense of his own importance. Dani Luers plays both a lady and the same lady masquerading as a male lieutenant, but Luers made no attempt to deepen her voice or affect a swagger as the lieutenant, certainly a lost opportunity for humor. The second play delivers in spades as Brian Heaton plays a ribald Shakespeare, on the prowl, who accosts a sleep-walking Queen Elizabeth. Will here is largely bereft of vocabulary, is quick to appropriate the apt phrasing of another character, and has a bad memory and no sense of rhythm, adding to the fun. Heaton's portrayal is amusing and delightful. Michelle James plays the intended amour of Will, and is beautiful enough for us to see why Will would brave the darkness and bribe the warder (Michael Geiger) for her. Dani Luers plays the Queen, but fails to find her regal authority. Jim Allman directed, and might have improved the performances of Hobratschk and Luers. Company OnStage is to be commended for reviving two witty treasures from a theatrical master, well worth seeing despite some flawed performances along with some masterful ones. Through April 13. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — JJT

 
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