Capsule Stage Reviews: Always...Patsy Cline, Baby with the Bathwater, Electile Dysfunction, In the Middle of the Ocean, Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming

Always...Patsy Cline Stages Repertory Theatre's favorite cash cow is back and as much fun as ever. Created by Ted Swindley, the Stages founding artistic director, 20 years ago, Always...Patsy Cline is one of the theater's biggest crowd pleasers. With the current two-woman cast, which includes the hilarious Susan O. Koozin as Louise Seger, Patsy's biggest fan, it's easy to understand why the show sells out every time Stages brings it back. There's also all that terrific country music, sung with smooth Patsy style, by Melodie Smith, who plays the country-singing queen. The show, told from Louise's point of view, tells how she first fell in love with Patsy's music hearing it on TV one morning, and then one night, got to meet the star when she came to Houston to sing at a honky tonk. The two women kept up their friendship through letters and phone calls until Patsy died in a plane crash in 1963. As directed by Kenn McLaughlin, Koozin is big and brassy as the Texas fan. With a big wig and lots of swagger, Koozin creates a charmingly plain-talking Louise. Smith covers such fabulous tunes as "Back in Baby's Arms," "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy," to name just a few, with crooning style. All the great music, plus the fun performances, take the audience on a fun trip through bygone days when stars were just like regular folk and Texans sounded like...well...Texans. Through November 9. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW

Baby with the Bathwater Poor baby. It's got a psycho for a nanny (Jay Menchaca) and parents (Julie Thornley and John Lloyd Clingman) who are so inept, they can't even figure out whether it's a boy or a girl. That's the opening premise of Christopher Durang's beautifully bizarre comedy Baby with the Bathwater, now running at Country Playhouse. The tightly written script follows the strange and terrifying childhood of Baby, showing us how children manage to survive all the damage that neurotic grownups inflict upon them. Both funny and horrifying, the smart story even survives the vague performances coming from John Mitsakis's cast. The most interesting is Menchaca's Nanny in drag, though the interpretation is so campy that it detracts from Durang's story. Suzanne King is good as the self-involved Ms. Willoughby, who thinks Baby's self-destructive school paper sounds like great art: She's so interested in her own ideas, she can't recognize a cry for help when she hears one. Mitsakis keeps the show moving quickly, but most importantly, he gives Houstonians a chance to see one of the most important and original scripts of Durang's career. Through September 6. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — 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

In the Middle of the Ocean If the Greek bards ever come back to earth to tell their tales of gods and mortals, they'd be just as likely to appear as punk rockers as anyone else. This one-man song cycle, written by musician Chris Alonzo and presented by Melusine Theatre Company, is a far cry from the advertised "rock opera" (best left for The Who's Tommy), but it's not quite a musical either — there's not much staging going on. Basically it's a concert performance, subtly directed by Brandon Dinklage, who doubles as clever set designer. Devin Andrew Collins sings and narrates this neo-goth transposition of the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice with appropriate sleaze and erotic tension, akin to Cabaret's Master of Ceremonies (and he plays a mean lick on guitar and piano when called upon). Why his character is called Twitchy the Clown is anyone's guess, but he wears a battered fedora, tennis shoes and white clown face, as if this explains it. In this saltwater version, ancient Eurydice is now called Camilla, and she's the one to go to underwater hell to rescue the "hung like a Christmas stocking" pirate lover she's never actually seen. It all ends badly, like most Greek myths, but the music, seemingly influenced by Kurt Weill, is always interesting if not too varied, and the lyrics are even better. The backup band is very good indeed — Teofilo Bijarro (bass), Taylor Tobias (drums) and Andrew Fortson (guitar) get into the salty spirit of the piece and amp up the noise when necessary. Through September 6. DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Freeway, 1-800-838-3006. — DLG

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

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