Capsule Stage Reviews: Ain't Misbehavin', Electile Dysfunction, Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming, Snoopy, The Tamarie Cooper Show
Ain't Misbehavin' By day, Thomas "Fats" Waller sold beboppy tunes on Tin Pan Alley. Come nighttime, when all the cool cats were out on the prowl, the jazz great traveled uptown to take part in the Harlem Renaissance. Lucky for us, many of those delicious toe-tapping tunes have been tied up together into a simmering musical revue called Ain't Misbehavin'. The 1978 Tony Award-winning show, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr., works as a sort of homage to the jazz greats of a bygone era. But as played by the charmed cast at The Ensemble Theatre, everything about Waller and his cohorts feels completely fresh and alive and new. The whole thing opens with a rousing rendition of Waller's 1929 "Ain't Misbehavin'," a head-boppin', tongue-in-cheek song about trying to stay true when your love's not around. The big sounds of this formidable cast all but blow you out of your seat right from the get-go. And then there's the limber, easy dancing, which feels completely organic to the music. Nothing here is tacked on or flashy, but all of it surprises and delights. Ain't Misbehavin' is moving, funny and energetic enough to pull you to the edge of your seat, clapping your hands to the beat. Through July 20. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — LW
Electile Dysfunction Radio Music Theatre has tackled the wild and wacky political season with this funny play, which is full of characters as kooky as the past few months have been. Writer/director Steve Farrell knows just how to put things into perspective. His silly show features the Jones family from Precious Trees, "the most planned planned community" in Houston. Mom, Dad and Junior all support different candidates. The Spy Eye News team finds out about the argument and decides to feature the family as a human interest story. The actors present the newscast complete with commercials; the funniest features a very familiar furniture salesman named Uncle Dan (played by a hysterical Farrell), who sells a "political leaning chair" that leans to the left or the right depending on your preference and a recliner that shoots bullets. Back on the show, Damn Mad (Rich Mills) rants about politics, and the biggest story of the week focuses on the pastor of the biggest church in Texas — it's so big it used to be a whole ranch. Nothing is actually settled during the show, but lots of fun is had as the politics of the hour get chewed over. Through November 15. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — LW
Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming If you like your gospel music tinged with Sunday school, this sequel to the successful Smoke on the Mountain and Sanders Family Christmas franchise will entertain, enlighten and set your boots a-tappin'. The singing Sanders Family — somewhat akin to the von Trapps, only without those annoying children — have scheduled a reunion at the North Carolina home base of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. One of their own is leaving to go to Texas with her preacher husband, and the family wants to sing together one last time. There's Mom and Dad, Vera and Burl (Karen Hodgin and Gerry Poland); the twins, Denise and Dennis (Abby Bergstrom and Jason Hatcher); and daughter June (Katharine Weatherly), who's married to Pastor Oglethorpe (Stephen Hurst). The black sheep of the family, Uncle Stanley (Craig Griffin), has suddenly arrived after being spotted at the Blue Nose Bar. Because he's the last one to "witness," you know he has a secret that's soon to be revealed. Everything works out swell at the end, because that's the type of musical this is — faith-based and good — which is a refreshing change of pace for sure. The harmonies the cast members spin are luscious, and they're all fine performers and musicians — they play mandolin, harmonica, bass fiddle, piano, ukulele, guitar, washboard, spoons, you name it — and June signs for the deaf, too. The knotty pine church interior is perfect, as are the '40s day dresses and seamed silk stockings. If you've recently been naughty, go get smacked upside the head with a Sanders rendition of "I'll Never Die" or "Children Talk to Angels"; it'll do you a world of good. Through August 31. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG
Snoopy Snoopy, Charles M. Schulz's musical version of his cartoon strip, isn't great theater by any means. But as directed by Janet Hansen at Company OnStage, it provides a reasonable summer distraction for families. With songs about what bothers Snoopy the dog (L. Robert Westeen) and his kid cohorts, the show, while not officially children's theater, mostly will appeal well to youngsters. The night I saw the show, when Snoopy sung "The Big Bow-Wow," the kids in the audience giggled out loud. And they cracked up every time Snoopy said something snide to Charlie Brown (James Wetuski). But the show has something for adults, too. "Edgar Allan Poe," about the drudgery of schoolwork and the fear of being called upon by the teacher, is charming enough for everyone. And for the most part, the cast sings well. The lone piano accompaniment, by Gary Gillispie, gives the whole thing a decidedly underdeveloped feeling, and the taped-together flats with cartoon scenery painted on them look like they might fall over at any minute. But the rug-rats in the audience didn't seem to mind, and all the parents looked relieved to have found something to do with the kids on a summer Saturday night. Through August 2. Company Onstage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — LW
The Tamarie Cooper Show The Tamarie Cooper Show has arrived at Stages Repertory Theatre, and what a tangy tonic it is. The story focuses on Cooper's real-life new marriage and all the domestic difficulties involved. Her real husband doesn't appear in her musical; instead, the "talented furniture maker" is played by Kyle Sturdivant, who makes an excellent clown as he stares wide-eyed at a hammer that's intended to make him look more butch. Cooper's new family includes a Jack Russell terrier played by Walt Zipprian, who is also very funny playing the insulted actor, lowering himself to bark like a dog. The songs that follow take us through Cooper's new life. She sings about shopping at Target, exercising and diamonds. There are a few missteps, including way too many jokes about Cooper's rear end, especially since she's such an attractive woman. But the good outweighs the not-so-great here. Jodi Bobrovsky's TV-inspired set design is yummy and glamorous. Cooper's cast, including Jennifer Mathieu, Karen Schlag, Karina Pal-Montano Bowers and Cary Winscott, seem to be having the time of their lives. And Cooper is back to doing what she does best. Through July 19. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW
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