Capsule Stage Reviews: Barefoot in the Park, La Bohème, Speech and Debate

Barefoot in the Park A revival of Neil Simon's 1963 whipped cream of a play, Barefoot in the Park certainly sounds delicious. After all, the 1967 film version still buzzes with the comedic zing that Simon and his one-liners are famous for, chronicling the struggles of two newlyweds in New York City: Robert Redford as young fuddy-duddy lawyer Paul, and Jane Fonda as his sexy new bride Corie. But under Steven Fenley's direction, the production at Texas Repertory Theatre Co. isn't fresh enough to appeal to us all over again. Casting is a problem with Fenley's well-intentioned production. Beth Hopp plays Corie, an original young woman who is nonetheless delighted to be Mrs. Paul Bratter; her husband is played by Stephen Myers. Hopp is a perfectly appealing actress, but her Corie comes off more like a hardworking lawyer herself than like the slightly dingy, effervescent wife who wants, more than anything, to loosen up her "stuffed shirt" of a husband. Myers is more believable as the carefully measured Paul, but the two characters don't strike up much in the way of sparks, since neither is that different from the other. Without sexual chemistry, their fights don't mean much, so it's hard to care whether or not they make up. One of the best things about the show is the fabulous old tunes. Songs like "What the World Needs Now" and "The Game of Love" (both of which actually came out two years after Simon's play is set) capture the spirit this production is going for. But the show itself is too tame to be sexy, too measured to be zany and too tired to bring anything new to Simon's Hallmark card of a comedy. Through April 11. 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573. — LW

La Bohème Giacomo Puccini's evergreen opera, perhaps the world's favorite musical work, receives a loving revival from Opera in the Heights — so loving, it borders on reverential, and you want to kick-start maestro William Weibel to get the whole thing moving. He conducts this most buoyant, springtime work as if it's Parsifal, all monumental and full of gravity instead of impetuous and full of life and love. He saps the energy right out of this masterful story of penniless bohemians. Fortunately, you can harm Puccini only so long until his astonishing music takes over and, no matter at what glacial pace he's played, those sublime tunes sing out and carry us away. OH is blessed with a roster of accomplished young artists who do Puccini's lovers proud. Three of the leads in the emerald cast (there's an alternate ruby cast) were making their OH debuts, and we eagerly await seeing them in the future. Tenor David Guzman sang ardently as lovesick Rodolfo, falling head over worn-down heels at first glance for sickly Mimi. Soprano Daniella Carvalho, as ailing Mimi, brought needed fire to one of opera's most bedraggled heroines. Her voice is wine-dark and expressive — and those Hepburn cheekbones make her an unforgettable stage presence. Baritone Charles Stanton, as lovelorn Marcello, who's smitten with flirty Musetta, acted as impressively as he sang, and he sang magnificently, as did soprano Alyssa Bowlby as the lovely thorn in his side. The other two bohemians who share the rooftop garret were ably performed by baritone Keir Murray (a complex De Bretigny in last season's Manon) and bass Nathan Resika (a spirited Figaro for OH in 2007). Under the adept direction of Brian Byrnes, the staging is one of OH's most accomplished in simplicity and effectiveness. Byrnes acquits himself equally well as scenic designer in his imaginative, adaptable unit set, which functions as garret, cafe and gatehouse. If you're new to opera, Bohème is the perfect introduction. If you're an old opera queen, Bohème, mighty familiar, is the one face you always love to see. Through April 10. 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5303. — DLG

Speech and Debate Shocking grownups is a teenager's duty, and in Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate, running at Stages Repertory Theatre, three lonely adolescents work hard to make the old folks in their lives squirm. As these outcasts struggle to find their own voices — Solomon (Michael McClure), who longs to be a journalist; Diwata (Ashtyn Sonner), the drama queen; and Howie (Garret Storms), the out gay guy who also longs to be out of high school — they deal with teachers who like young boys, parents who send them to antigay camp and other teenagers who make their lives miserable. Along the way, they create their school's first speech and debate team. Directed by Kenn McLaughlin, the sweet tale of kids coping with adolescent angst is told through an intimate series of scenes that starts with the kids online — chatting, blogging and trying to find someone to connect with in cyberspace. The story then follows them to school, where Diwata has managed to talk the boys into helping her start a speech club, her last chance at performing, since the theater department won't cast her in any major roles. We learn about Howie's past problems in Boy Scouts and Solomon's secrets, which slowly get revealed over the course of the play. Running at close to two hours without an intermission, the show could use a trim. There's a lot of time spent on the kids' bad music, but the story eventually pulls the audience in as the characters figure out how they will exact their revenge on the big bad world out there. The ending is smart and real and will leave you rooting for the geeky kid inside us all. Through April 11. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW


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