A Chorus Line It may be a warhorse, but A Chorus Line still has game. The Broadway Across America production spinning across the boards at the Hobby Center proves it. Using Michael Bennett's original award-winning choreography and direction, Bob Avian and Baayork Lee fill the musical about a group of dancers auditioning for a Broadway show with high-octane energy. This much-loved show (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban) once again captures the heartache and the thrill of showbiz. First, there's the music, which features favorites like "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" about a dancer who buys herself "tits and ass" to get jobs, and "What I Did for Love," about the eventual loss that all dancers will feel when they have to hang up their shoes. Then there's the dance, especially that glorious golden chorus line that ends the show in a line of uniform high kicks. But most of all, there are all the powerful stories about how each performer came to be a dancer. Some are told in song, but one is an entire dramatic monologue without any music. It's spoken by the shy Paul (Nicky Venditti) and focuses on his teenage days dancing in drag at the "Jewel Box Revue," which he calls "the asshole of show business." Even though RuPaul's Drag Race has changed our collective thinking about performing in drag, the monologue is moving, and made all the more interesting by the fact that it reveals changes in attitude, even among showbiz folks, in the last 35 years. Politics might change, but great Broadway tunes keep going forever. A Chorus Line proves that every time it returns. Through January 17. 800 Bagby, 713-622-7469. — LW
Rent Paper globe moon, graffiti-covered brick wall, chain-link fence, industrial pipes, corner phone booth: There's only one great show with all these elements, Jonathan Larson's hip, evergreen cultural phenomenon from 1996. Winner of the Tony, Drama Desk, Obie and a Pulitzer Prize, Rent is so full of life and such an exuberant rock paean to unconventional bohemianism that it always comes as a shock to recall that creator Larson (music, lyrics, book) died on the eve of the premiere and never witnessed its huge success. Even with this horribly ironic baggage, Rent is one of the great Broadway works, an instant classic, and Country Playhouse imbues this show with a tremendously winning, affecting production. It's one of the company's best shows ever, and that's saying something, for CP's been very hot recently. Director O'Dell Hutchison infuses this Manhattan East Village updating of Puccini's classic opera La Bohème with sexy energy, theatrical pizzazz and an immense heart, and the entire company goes the distance and makes his work look effortless. The talented young cast brings this wondrous show to life: Brad Goertz (AIDS-infected musician Roger), Christopher Patton (videographer Mark), Erich Polley (drag queen Angel), Julia Hester (drug-addicted Mimi), Jessica Janes (lesbian performance artist Maureen), Michael Alexander (Tom Collins, Angel's lover), Kyle Ezer (sellout Benny), Rikki Conner (Joanne, Maureen's lover) and chorus soloist Johanna Bonno are all standouts. The problems of mike balance (the orchestra's too loud and often drowns out the singers) and lighting (it sometimes misses the space where the actors stand) are minor annoyances and easily fixed, and they in no way harm the wonders of this work. Rent is a milestone in musical theater. Go to Country Playhouse and see why. Through January 30. 12802 Queensbury Lane, 713-467-4497. — DLG
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Wonder of the World David Lindsay-Abaire, the playwright who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for the domestic drama Rabbit Hole, developed his chops writing comedies such as Wonder of the World, a play full of goofy characters and strange happenings now running at Theatre Southwest. The popular script (Pandora Theatre Company also ran a production last fall) focuses on Cass (Stacy A. Spaeth), a ready-for-anything kind of gal who leaves her husband Kip (James Reed) when she discovers his very, very strange sexual fetish. She winds up in Niagara Falls, where she proceeds to mark off things on a to-do list for life, which includes getting a sidekick and wearing a wig. She meets a slew of oddballs such as Lois (Ananka Kohnitz), an alcoholic hell-bent on going over the falls in a barrel; Captain Mike (Brian Heaton), a lonely widower who turns out to be the closest to normal this show gets; and a therapist (Cheryl Tanner) who gets her clients to play a hostile round of the Newlywed Game as a get-to-know-you exercise. The script is full of clever moments, one of which finds the characters actually floating toward the falls. And this production, directed with lots of vivacity and good humor by David Holloway, is energetic. Spaeth's Cass is amusing but a little too snide and ironic to elicit much sympathy — the story opens with her calmly packing to leave her marriage, and she maintains that levelheadedness throughout, even when she witnesses a shooting. In fact, all the performances are emotionally distant. But even without deep engagement from the actors, Lindsay-Abaire's script is so original and his characters so imaginative, the production is worthwhile — if only to get an introduction to one of theater's freshest new voices. Through January 23. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — LW