Capsule Stage Reviews: 9 to 5, The Good Body, The Little Dog Laughed, To Cross the Face of the Moon

9 to 5 Dolly Parton's musical adaptation of Patricia Resnick's hit movie (1980) received such a drubbing from the New York press when the show opened on Broadway in 2009 — and closed five months later — that I went to Theatre Under the Stars' touring production with what might charitably be called trepidation. Lo and behold, what did I discover but fun, laughs and the hope that Parton writes more shows. She's quite a find, but I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, knowing her remarkably steady career and sunny rapport with audiences. The show's been overhauled and revamped; all the smut and smarmy parts that so put the critics into a swoon have been banished, songs have been rearranged and the dialogue scenes edited. The best idea was to put Parton into the show. She now appears, like Glinda from Wicked, as a projection in her clock bubble above the proscenium to introduce the show and later to give us a cozy farewell. It's an inspired choice, and immediately puts us in a forgiving mood. The show's a knockoff of the movie — three overworked secretaries take revenge on their chauvinist pig of a boss — but Parton's efficient and tuneful score sets the whole thing rocking to a warm country beat, delineating the characters and setting the '70s scene at the beginning of the women's movement. Adroitly directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, this new production dances with fleet assurance. It never stops moving. Sets glide in or drop smoothly from the flies with a synchronization that makes a marvelous eyeful for a touring show. The disarming cast is pitch-perfect: Dee Hoty (Broadway vet) as take-charge Violet, Mamie Parris (best voice) as newly liberated Judy and Diana DeGarmo (loveable Parton look-and-sound-alike) as sexy Doralee, with costars Joseph Mahowald and Kristine Zbornik as the office bad guys. After you see this revised show, you almost want to go to work — now that's an inspiring musical. Through November 21. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887. — DLG

The Good Body Eve Ensler's The Good Body, adapted from her nonfiction book and given a spirited production by Pandora Theatre, is full of smart, touching and comic stories of how women look at their bodies and what they'll do to change what they see. There were patches of humor in Ensler's best work, The Vagina Monologues, her eye-opening tour of the female netherworld. But she was on the warpath and mostly stayed earnest; humor was far below her radar. Body has passages that are like the best comedy club routine, with payoffs and punch lines any comic would be proud to have in her repertoire. Also, this being Ensler, there are passages of sudden heartbreak, dramatic revelations that kick you in the gut, used not to titillate, but to show just how serious the consequences can be when you let your body get the best of you. "Eve" (a nicely rumpled, perplexed Nicole Chelly) introduces herself and the theme "I want to be good." But that soon morphs into the larger question, "How can I be good when I hate my body?" And then she zeros in: "I hate my stomach." The play is off and running. Soon, two other "Women" (Melissa Mumper and Abby Esparza) join Eve on her mission for perfection as she travels the globe, only to discover that nobody's happy inside their bodies. There's always one part that needs attention, fixing, eliminating. The feminist message Ensler proposes in The Good Body flies straight across gender lines: Be yourself. It's not the most original theme, but Ensler's stories are mighty persuasive when they're reflected through Pandora Theatre's faceted prism of actors. Through November 20. Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch, 713-304-4656. — DLG

The Little Dog Laughed I wish to nominate Douglas Carter Beane's scintillating comedy for Best Gay Fantasy. If you have any questions about gay life you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask, Beane — and the superb rendering that his sparkling comedy receives at Theater LaB — will be only too thrilled to answer them, and maybe tempt you to ask a few more. This madcap fairy tale about Hollywood, its hypocrisy and its fleeting visions of fame and fortune, revolves around a quartet of lost, lonely and unscrupulous characters all out for a buck. So what if there's "a little deception" involved, a lie here, a broken heart there? They're out to reinvent themselves. But love has a wicked way of tripping them up. Closeted actor Mitchell (Nate Suurmeyer) is on the cusp of major stardom. However, he's fallen for one of his many tricks, young hustler Alex (Bryan Kaplun), who's fallen hard, too. This predicament doesn't sit well with Mitchell's agent, Diane (Mary Hooper), who's part Professor Marvel, part Medusa, or with Alex's girlfriend (Rebekah Stevens). Mitchell, in thrall, is ready to come out, which sends Diane into a tailspin. No gay actor — no star — has ever come out and been successful, she warns with acid-laced, iced-martini wit, unless they're British and knighted. Fortunately, for us, nobody keeps his mouth shut, and they purr out Beane's catty rejoinders with Wilde abandon as the complications mount. In the New York production, this was Diane's show. Here, it's much more balanced, and everybody gets the star turn. Under the spot-on direction of Jimmy Phillips, all four actors shine as bright as a rhinestone reflection. It's so much better the Theater LaB way. With its salty tongue ready and eager to lick all sorts of places, Little Dog's an adult show, no doubt about it. Now go and see it. Good boy. Through December 11. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG

To Cross the Face of the Moon Houston Grand Opera labels Jose Pepe Martinez and Leonard Foglia's pleasant song cycle as the "world's first mariachi opera." You can also call my Aunt Sally "Elizabeth Taylor," but that won't make her so. What we have here is a tuneful gimmick, a variety of lovely mariachi songs loosely stitched onto a sketchy plot. In ­present-day Houston, addled old Laurentino (Octavio Moreno) surprises his American-born son Mark (Brian Shircliffe) by calling out the name of his Mexican-born son Rafael (David Guzman). Granddaughter Diana (Brittany Wheeler) wants to find mysterious Rafael and reunite him with Dad before Laurentino dies. We learn that after Laurentino went off to America to make his living, wife Renata (Cecilia Duarte) followed but died during the journey. Adult Rafael, raised in Mexico, hates his father for the abandonment, but by story's end, the family is reunited after way too many butterfly migration metaphors. Played with spirit by one of the world's renowned ensembles, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, and sung by an appealing cast, the songs are individually attractive and lilting, but they have the same orchestration throughout and their musical shapes blend together. The strings embroider the melody, the horns jazz it up, the guitars add rhythm, the harp gives spice and filigree. The songs are danceable, and even the sad ones have a bounce and rhythm that belie the drama. This is opera, we're told. Where are the big emotions, the grand passions? Although each one's a charmer, the tunes don't have the heft to cover such emotional territory as losing one's identity and the search for homeland, to say nothing about the heated border-fence debate this work completely ignores. This one-night world-premiere original — HGO's 41st, an impressive number for any company — is the concert version, with a fully staged production to arrive in December at Talento Bilingüe de Houston with UTPA Mariachi. The question haunts: How will the drama be filled out where there's now vast empty space? Characters have nothing to do, and the music, while lively, supplies no action. There's no punch to the dialogue scenes, and it's only the infectious music and the polished singing that keep our interest. We're still waiting for the opera. The full staged production will run December 3-5. TBH Center, 333 S. Jensen Rd. 713-222-1213. — DLG


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