Capsule Stage Reviews: Beehive, Large Animal Games, Alice in Wonderland: the Musical Queen, Black Coffee

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

Large Animal Games An upscale lingerie shop serves as a focal point in Steve Yockey's comedic play about — well, finding out what it's about is part of the fun, so let's just say it chronicles the needs, aspirations and foibles of semi-affluent would-be sophisticates in their thirties, give or take a few years. The proprietor, Jimmy (Ron Jones), has an "I'm smarter than you are" air of knowing something you don't, perhaps because he knows what the play is about. For me, it's like reading a book with vivid characters but with pages missing. Airhead shopaholic Alicia (Crystal O'Brien) is engaged to Stan (Bobby Haworth), who seems like the boy next door, except with more money. His attempt to increase intimacy by sharing a secret with Alicia backfires, though this is remedied by Jimmy, who dispenses wisdom. Lyndsay Sweeney portrays Rose, who has been to a bullfight in Spain and returned home with Miguel (Kalid Puentes), who seems to speak no English but exudes smoldering sexuality, so it's no surprise that he catches the eye of Rose's best friend, Nicole (Autumn Clack). Rose's roommate is Valerie (Brittny Bush), vacationing in Africa not to find roots but for a holiday. The intriguing, elegant set is by John Dunn. Director Matt Huff has done well in bringing this souffle to life, as has Mildred's Umbrella in continuing to bring the unusual to Houston stages. More of a lark than a play, it offers up some surprises and some vivid characters, and keeps you on your toes puzzling it out. Through July 14. Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring St., 832-463-0409. — JJT

Alice in Wonderland: the Musical Queen Theatre brings us a new version of a classic, this time with some music, delivered by a cascade of children and a few adults. This version uses film on a large screen to show Alice before the rabbit-hole, then the projection eddies into a purple spiral and Alice hurtles down to meet, on stage, the beloved White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Dormouse, Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar and the other familiar characters. As Alice, Riley Branning serves the production well, with a professional polish and stage presence. Carter Shults as the Caterpillar carves out a sense of command that's fresh and amusing. The White Rabbit (Virginia Mayo) and the Mad Hatter (Scott Florence) are pleasant and likable, but not much more. The costumes by director Katie Harrison are colorful and varied. The choreography by Erika Waldorf is spirited. There are some songs, but this is not a musical in the usual sense. The producing company, Queen Theatre, is an educational organization, and the very large cast provides an opportunity for children and young adults to get their feet wet on stage. This production is an admirably ambitious undertaking; the videography by Erika Waldorf is totally professional, and some of the projections are elegant and beautifully complement the action on stage. There is a lot of screeching and a lot of running in aisles, and this is less amusing than intended. Writing and direction are by Katie Harrison, and need tightening, though she marshals scores of children adroitly. This new take on a classic should appeal to those who delight in seeing children cavort on stage, though perhaps of less interest to those who prefer more sophisticated theatrical fare. Through July 14. Queen Theatre at the HBU Dunham Theatre, 7502 Fondren, 888-695-0888. -JJT

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 blonde and beautiful and wears clothes like a super-model; 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. 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 St., 713-220-5700. -JJT


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