Capsule Stage Reviews: Beehive, Black Coffee, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Lion King, Tamarie Cooper's DOOMSDAY REVUE (the greatest musical ever), Travelsty

Beehive From bubble gum to Southern Comfort, the women of '60s pop had a radical musical transformation. Whether their music exactly mirrored those changing times as easily as Beehive's creator Larry Gallagher would like us to think is another matter, and, anyway, we really shouldn't be thinking such deep thoughts when buffeted by the nostalgic rush. The old memories and toxic flashbacks that this revue inspires aren't just dredged up, they bowl us over. This harmless little show, imaginatively produced at Texas Repertory Theatre and adroitly sung by a sprightly sextet, bewigged and costumed to Aqua Net perfection, is meant to be bopped to, not thought through. The audience does the show's heavy lifting, swaying to their collective remembered youth with contented smiles as if hit on the head by a bong. There's no book to this revue, which is a refreshing change, so there are no characters to develop, no conflict, no drama. There are some vocal impersonations — some mighty fine ones, too — but Beehive's more interested in getting us high on the music. Like America, the music grows up as the decade progresses. We start out with Lesley Gore puppy love, pass through Motown, get sidetracked by the British invasion, take a wild, sweaty-thigh ride with Tina Turner, wail soulfully with Aretha and end with Janis Joplin swigging from her bottle — an apt metaphorical journey for that decade that ran from Sandra Dee to STDs. The serious stuff (the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, civil rights marches) gets covered under a few chord changes during "The Beat Goes On." Naturally, this type of show depends on the performers, and Tex Rep has wrangled itself six talented women hefty on the vocals: Lori Michelle Callaway, Rikki Conner, LaKiaya Evans, Lendsey Kersey, Kim Truncale and Christina Stroup. Each gets a specialty number, but particular goosebumps come from Callaway's physical Tina Turner ("Proud Mary"), Kersey's woeful Janis Ian ("Society's Child") and Truncale's boozy Joplin ("Bobby McGee"). The six work together in harmony, not just when they sing but when they interact. They're having a great time onstage, and their joy is infectious. Only good vibes here. Through July 22. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd. 281-583-7573. — DLG

Black Coffee Agatha Christie's first play, Black Coffee, from 1930, introduced the Belgian crime-solver Hercule Poirot, and the Alley brings it to life for the annual Summer Chills tradition of mystery plays. Sir Claude has invented a weapon of mass destruction, but the formula has been pilfered, and he has asked M. Poirot to solve the theft. Poirot arrives too late, as Sir Claude has drunk the coffee served him and gone to his heavenly reward. James Black plays M. Poirot and is excellent, creating a memorable characterization filled with dry humor and conveying a keen sense of a brilliant mind seething with energy. Sir Claude's daughter-in-law, Lucia, is played by Laura E. Campbell, who is blond and beautiful and wears clothes like a supermodel; she is warm and appealing. Todd Waite as Arthur Hastings, Poirot's assistant, turns what might have been a caricature into a warm, interesting human being. The director, Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd, certainly steers these actors toward compelling performances. Alley stalwart Jeffrey Bean portrays Dr. Carelli, but has little to do except look slightly sinister. Jay Sullivan plays Sir Claude's son, who must look anxious and be a bit of a hothead, and he does that well. Sir Claude's sister is played by Jennifer Harmon, who adds a poised stage presence and some delightful tipsy humor, while Josie de Guzman, as Sir Claude's niece, generates sex appeal and adds humor and interest. Alley veteran James Belcher creates a vivid Inspector Japp, as well as playing Sir Claude. Scenic design by Linda Buchanan and costume design by Tricia Barsamian are effective and attractive. A mystery play hoary with age is given fresh, triumphant life in a vibrant production as gifted actors carry it on their talented shoulders. Through August 5. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — JJT

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson The Houston premiere of this award-winning rock musical is a rousing take-no-prisoners production that captures the raw vitality of our seventh president, portrayed by Kregg Dailey in a performance so riveting it made me believe Elvis was in the building. He dominates the stage, creating a portrait of an ambitious, earthy populist, a superb salesman who deeply believes in his wares — himself — a tyrant who rides roughshod over opponents, and a human being capable of love and vulnerable to the core. Luis Quintero is excellent as Cherokee chief Black Fox, and Grant Brown plays a sexually ambiguous Martin Van Buren most amusingly, joined by three other "aristocrats": Tyce Green as John C. Calhoun, Billy Cohen as James Monroe and Graham Baker as Henry Clay; all are admirable. The production team makes the events come alive with dramatic lighting, special sound effects, a warm, detailed set, striking costumes and a superb band. Director George Brock marshaled all this into seamless excitement. The book, by Alex Timbers, takes irreverence to a new level and revels in truth-telling about just how avaricious, conniving and self-serving humankind is, all with enormous good humor, replete with delightful stagecraft and a writing hand so deft that, even as the stage is strewn with dead bodies, those deaths leave us in stitches. The music and lyrics by Michael Friedman are compelling, from the early "Populism, Yea, Yea!" to the incisive and poignant "Ten Little Indians" to the cynical "Crisis Averted," perfectly capturing the spirit of political chicanery. Brilliant creativity from all participants creates a musical masterwork, refreshingly original and brimming with humor and truth. Through July 29. Generations Theatre at Hamman Hall, Rice University, entrance 21 off Rice Blvd., 832-326-1045. — JJT


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The Lion King Courtesy of Galexa Energy Broadway, Disney's The Lion King roars into town with its menagerie of spectacle, stagecraft and human emotions grafted onto a pride of lions, showcasing what inventive minds can accomplish with unlimited funds and unlimited imaginations. Animal puppetry is brought to exciting life by human actors. The giraffes and the elephants are remarkably realistic, while others, such as the prancing oryxes and the menacing and seductive cheetah, convince through movement. There are singers and tom-tom drummers in the loges, birds fluttering in the sky, and the animals parade down the aisle and enter to crowd the stage with delight. The plot is old lion/young lion, but the drama comes from the love between the boy lion Simba and Mufasa, his father and ruler. His uncle, Scar, is crippled with envy, and he has the hyenas on his side, a marvel of fascination — evil, adroit, brilliantly imagined and crafted, and all too human. A young lioness, Nala, is a pal to Simba in the first Act, and becomes more in Act II, when the lions have grown to maturity. An amusing hornbill, Zazu, watches over Simba, and Simba is befriended by a meerkat, Timon, and a warthog, Pumbaa; they are eminently likable and amusing. This musical is also a ballet, and the choreography by Garth Fagan is striking and hugely important. The songs are wonderful, especially the exuberant "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," the evil "Chow Down" and the haunting "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" The music and lyrics are by Elton John and Tim Rice, the direction and costume design are by Julie Taymor, and she and Michael Curry designed the entrancing masks and puppets. A brilliant collaboration of theatrical geniuses has created an awesome blockbuster of overwhelming pleasure. Through August 12. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 800-952-6560. — JJT

Tamarie Cooper's DOOMSDAY REVUE (the greatest musical ever) Tamarie Cooper, co-founder of The Catastrophic Theatre, brings her annual musical comedy revue to DiverseWorks in a colorful, splashy production. The set, designed by Kirk Markley, is a handsome, elegant skyline of skyscrapers, soon overtaken by bedlam as Cooper enters to start the merry antics — she not only holds the stage, she owns it with a vengeance, and doesn't leave it for 90 minutes of uninterrupted frivolity. This revue is ostensibly about the end of the world, but is really about energy and enthusiasm and irreverence for all the graven images of our culture. The witty costumes, by Kelly Switzer, are part of the unrelenting fun, especially The Dancing Cupcake and the multi-limbed giant roaches. Tamarie's plans for a blockbuster musical are interrupted by forecasts of imminent doom, and every doomsday prediction from the Mayan calendar to the Rapture comes in for skewering. There is an inspired sequence involving Barbie dolls, including Prostitute Barbie. A brilliant sequence nails the teenage angst of being the outsider; the wit here is incisive, gentle and sweet. And who knew there was so much humor in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Musical theater is there to rebuild the world, with zombies from Cabaret, Into the Woods, Phantom of the Opera, Annie, Hair and Fiddler on the Roof. All the very talented actors play multiple roles and sing and dance. Tamarie can do no wrong, and her skill and professionalism shape this motley bag of concepts into a cohesive whole. A large, triumphant cast brings to life a revue of great humor, considerable wit and inspired foolishness, guaranteeing an evening of delightful enjoyment. Through August 25. Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Fwy., 713-522-2723. — JJT

Travelsty Two couples travel around the country, singing about various states or cities, and through the alchemy of talent and showmanship turn this slight material into a totally entertaining two hours of pure pleasure. The setting is cabaret, with the talented four-piece band G Sharp and the MBT 3, and refreshments are available. The concept is minor, but the skits that bridge the songs — all original writing — range from merely pleasant to absolutely hilarious. Three of the skits had punch lines that seemed to come out of the blue but paid off so well I was blown away. The gifted performers are Rebekah Dahl and Brad Scarborough, married in real life and founders of The Music Box Theater, and Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel, and after journeying cross-country with them, I'm calling them by their given names. All are attractive and work well together in harmony and in the choreography supporting the songs. Rebekah is tall and blond, Cay is medium height and dark, Luke looks like an American David Niven, and Brad has movie star looks but excels here as a comedic actor. He plays briefly several singers in a skit about Record #17 of Tony Bennett's Duets — it's fast-paced and huge fun. A recurring thread has them all in a car, Luke driving and Brad in the passenger seat, with the ladies behind. They also travel by rail and, hilariously, by plane. Videos accompany the opening and closing songs and add fun, but the show's triumph is the ensemble acting that creates a sense of friends off on a madcap odyssey. Four strong performers and a witty script weave familiar pop hits into a thoroughly pleasurable evening, a must-see for cabaret aficionados and for music lovers of any stripe. Through August 5. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — JJT

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