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
Getting Sara Married It's no surprise Sara has TV written all over it — playwright Sam Bobrick is a former master craftsman of the family comedy. He's had his hand in The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, Get Smart and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, among many other classic shows, so he knows all about the technique for writing comedy. The basic hook is whimsy itself. Workaholic Sara (Sarah Jean Bircher), a lawyer in Manhattan, insists she doesn't have time for romance, doesn't want romance, doesn't "need" romance. Her yenta Aunt Martha (Jan Searson McSwain) has other ideas, and, before you can say "old maid," has taken matters into her own hands and dropped off a potential suitor — literally. Knocked unconscious, Brandon (Ozzy Tirmizi) is wheeled in on a freight dolly by teamster Noogie (Ainsley Furgason) and dropped at Sara's feet. Emerging from his amnesiac haze, Brandon comically reveals he has a fiancée (Sabrina Rosales). Cut to his moony eyes and then Sara's surprised face. Go to commercial. We're in sitcom land with a vengeance, where this type of genre demands finesse and a deftness of playing that belies the gravity-less situations. Although she's an attractive performer, Bircher's tone is off. She gives Sara a lot more brittle edges than the character needs. If you let these paper-thin people start to think and have real feelings, you'll collapse their house of cards. Tirmizi fares better, with a sweet, lighthearted approach to Brandon, probably due to those multiple knocks on the head from Noogie. He's young and reedy, barely filling out the three-piece suit, but he's light without being lightweight. When he warms to Sara, there's that glint in his eye. Wacky sitcom sidekicks were invented to give comic relief, and Bobrick invents two good ones in Aunt Martha and Noogie. When McSwain and Furgason are onstage, the play feels right. Martha's an airhead with a heart of gold who kidnaps Brandon for the purest of reasons. McSwain lands her punch lines with a pro's swagger, delivering the gems by the bagful. Furgason barrels in like a Bronx Yosemite Sam, one of those countless delivery men or telephone repairmen made famous by Neil Simon. You know, the guys who have the timing down to the second and the quip even faster. After a while, you start thinking: What if Aunt Martha and Noogie got together? What a play that would be! Through October 13. Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr., 713-682-3525. — DLG
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 December 2. Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — JJT
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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
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
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure Steven Dietz's 2006 "adaptation" of William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle's 1899 play is rather false advertising, as it's technically a rewrite of two Holmes adventure stories, A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem, with some of the old play's dialogue used as spackle to join the two stories together, which doesn't do much justice to the original. There's a tantalizing hint of steampunk gothic in the setting by Mark A. Lewis with brickwork at the back and up the sides, wooden scaffolding and metal Erector-set pylons , but that doesn't last long, for the atmosphere is quickly dispelled by rudimentary lighting that washes over Holmes's bleak London like fluorescence. Lit up, even the subterranean gasworks are as bright and cheery as a diner. This doesn't help the antique sheen, although Donna Southern Schmidt supplies sumptuous period costumes. In a whirligig plot afoot with whiz-bang action and Holmesean dialogue, Holmes (Chip Simmons) and his "one fixed point," his dearest friend Dr. Watson (Blake Weir), are off on near-death adventures that include multiple disguises, a damsel in distress (Katherine Hatcher), a scoundrel (Marty Blair), blackmail, ransom, abduction, possible asphyxiation, a Cockney safecracker (Brad Zimmerman), the future King of Bohemia (Craig Griffin), sleuthing of the highest kind and shady parlor maids (Leslie Reese), all ending in a final, thunderous confrontation with evil Professor Moriarty (Jeff McMorrough) atop Switzerland's treacherous Reichenbach Falls. Fortunately, the ensemble cast plays the hell out of it, staying one step away from the precipice. They keep a knife-edge distance between parody and reverence, never actually winking at us, although we know they dearly want to. Simmons plays Holmes like an effete cat with a catnip dash of Noël Coward as he springs about with deft tread or suddenly turns to pounce on a point well made. He's odd, like some alien dropped into polite society, which in fact he is, as he unleashes his unworldly powers of observation and deduction. He's perfectly matched with Weir as a handsome, debonair Dr. Watson, who's always one step behind. Although the new play creaks, the crack ensemble cast keeps it well oiled. Through October 7. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama. 713-526-2721. — DLG
Superior Donuts In this play, the taciturn owner of a donut shop in Chicago with few customers hires an African-American male to assist him, and they develop a prickly relationship. Playwright Tracy Letts tackles a multiplicity of themes: racism, the gangster underworld, addiction, the rise of Starbucks and Vietnam-era draft evasion. We meet first the owner of an adjacent shop (Scott Holmes) and two police officers, investigating vandalism. Holmes delivers an interesting and credible characterization, and Osbie Shephard as the male officer is commanding and authentic. The female officer, played by Vicky McCormick, is courting Arthur, the donut shop's owner (John William Stevens), but McCormick seems to be still searching for her character, so the play includes an unconvincing romance. Stevens is a powerful actor, but the script unfortunately calls for him to change his mood and motivation almost capriciously. Sam Flash plays Franco, the young African-American, and is brash as required, but the chemistry between him and Arthur never quite materializes. Flash and Stevens anchor the play and nail some eloquent moments. There is considerable humor in the form of one-liners. A lot happens in Act Two, most of it implausible, and the comedy turns ugly toward the end, but playwright Letts tugs at our heartstrings, so there are rays of light in the midst of cowardice, brutality and penury. The play reeks of nostalgia for a bygone Chicago — that may have been the appeal in writing it. Directed by Trevor B. Cone, the work has a slow pace that creates a sense of naturalism. Through September 29. Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT