Capsule Stage Reviews: Ain't Misbehavin', Snoopy, The Tamarie Cooper Show, War of the Roses

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

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 sang "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


Ain't Misbehavin'

War of the Roses Audacity, thy name is Nova Arts Project. For its epic cycle of Shakespearean history plays War of the Roses, this feisty young theater company might also be called daring or innovative – certainly, downright fun. Nova has taken the eight most famous Shakespeare histories, given them to eight different director/adapters and bade them stage each of these problematic plays in 25 minutes or less. The same 11 actors appear throughout, and the same stark settings apply across the boards. Group A (Thursdays and Saturdays) includes Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. Group B (Fridays and Saturdays) includes Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part 3 and Richard III. That's a library full of English history to plow through. Any one of these complex dramas is complicated enough, with murderous fathers, sons, uncles, brothers, wives and cousins all conspiring for top dog. That the enterprise works at all is some sort of theatrical miracle. Think of Nova's cycle as Elizabethan cabaret. The eight directors have conjured a little bit of everything and something for everyone. Yes, it's uneven, and a pair of editing shears should be employed, but the evening holds together. That, of course, has a lot to do with Shakespeare. No matter how you slice and dice him, the Bard remains supreme. Just to hear snippets is pleasure enough. How often have you seen any part of Henry VI? Through July 19. Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, 713-623-4033. — DLG


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