Capsule Stage Reviews: Blue, Jeannette Clift George Onstage, Musical of Musicals, the Musical! and Sordid Lives

Blue Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright creates an indomitable character in his black family drama from 2001. Elegant Peggy Clark (Detria Marie Ward), a former supermodel, doesn't belong in the small mill town of Kent, South Carolina, where she moved with her husband many years ago. Successful, upper-middle-class and well-off, they're the first black entrepreneurs in town; husband Sam (Byron Jacquet) runs the family funeral home. But still Peggy is not happy. She has enough disposable income to buy two mink coats to spite the redneck salesgirl; she pretends to cook exotic dinners but orders her Italian or Japanese from the best restaurants; and she steers her family with a strong will and a very short leash. What gives her contentment and calm are the songs of jazz singer Blue Williams (Norman Davis), who appears onstage every time she plays his records. She wants art and the finer things and demands that life be "divine." Her rebellious older son Sam (Kendrick Brown) and musically gifted younger son Reuben (Jonathan Thibeaux and, later and older, Le Darrin Johnson-Taite) are afterthoughts in Peggy's quest to keep everything "fine." Ghosts and dark secrets abound throughout the Clark home, and Randolph-Wright keeps events on the slow boil until the satisfying conclusion. Peggy's a sacred monster, a "life force" to her placid husband and a constant nettle to her sons and feisty mother-in-law (Shirley Marks Whitmore). She's a marvelous character for any play, and Blue does her proud. Through October 21. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — DLG

Jeannette Clift George Onstage If Houston stage veteran Jeannette Clift George decided to read from the Yellow Pages, she could imbue it with drama to spare. She's that good. Her one-woman show ushers in the 41st season of A.D. Players – where she is founder and artistic director – and her wry, warm humor, compassionate humanity and unsurpassed stage presence shine forth with rare radiance. She regales us with her lively biography in Act I, as if we're cozying up to her on a summer porch swing. We get beguiling snippets of Dolly Levi from The Matchmaker, an all-too-brief sketch of Mrs. Malaprop from The Rivals and a longer interlude from her own work, Four Women in Love, as she plays a haughty actress who bestows a visit upon her less-fortunate (so she thinks) old school chums. Mesmerized as a small child by traveling theater companies, George either "wanted to be in that" or to be a trapeze artist in the circus. Blessed by having legendary Maude Adams (Barrie's original Peter Pan) as teacher during her formative years, George followed her heart and has been a "working actor" ever since. Act II showcases George in her other role, that of religious speaker and instructor. While her personal "remembering" of Ruth Graham (Rev. Billy Graham's wife) and Dutch Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom (whom George portrayed in The Hiding Place) is deeply touching, it just doesn't possess the drama of Act I. Give us Carrie Watts, Amanda Wingfield, Miss Daisy or Lady Bracknell. Through October 14. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Musical of Musicals, the Musical! If you're a fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb, then the ultra-fabulous Musical of Musicals, the Musical!, now blowing the roof off of Theater LaB, is just the song-and-dance fix for you. This hilarious parody by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart appropriates the style of the above-mentioned Broadway tunesmiths and creates five mini shows, all with the same plot. Naive, sweet June (or Jeune, Junie Faye, Junita, Juny), in love with Big Willy (Billy, William, Bill, Villy), can't pay the rent. The lascivious landlord Jidder (Jitter, Mr. Jitters, Phantom Jitter, Jütter) offers her marriage in lieu of payment. Her best friend and confidante Mother Abby (Abby, Auntie Abby, Abigail Von Schtarr, Fräulein Abby) offers advice and uplifting anthems. The show is both loving tribute and peerless screwing of the composers' most recognizable, idiosyncratic features. Musical isn't for novices. If you haven't seen a musical in 50 years, none of this spoof's sublime shenanigans will seem the least bit funny; the references come too fast and furious. But if you're a real show queen, you won't stop laughing, not least, of course, because the music knockoffs are so first-rate. Under Jimmy Phillips's fast-paced direction and spot-on choreography, the goofy cast throws itself at the material with brazen chutzpah. The scenery isn't chewed so much as savored like fine cuisine, and Theater LaB's shoebox space explodes with devilish glee. Through October 14. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG



Sordid Lives If you melded Steel Magnolias with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and added a great big handful of Thelma and Louise, you might wind up with Del Shores's rambunctious comedy/drama, now running in an uneven, yet fun, rendition from Unhinged Productions. It's a bumpy cut-and-paste job with some fascinating characters who come and go during the short scenes; unfortunately, they never stay around quite long enough for us to get to know them beyond their obvious sitcom features. You might remember the cult movie adaptation with Delta Burke, Olivia Newton-John and Leslie Jordan, as transvestite Brother Boy, which wasn't any smoother than the original 1996 play. The family matriarch's funeral is the catalyst around which the Southern gothic/trailer trash gather to bitch, console, carouse, confess or be dehomosexualized — unsuccessfully, as it turns out for Brother Boy (Darryl H. Thompson), who shows up at the funeral in his best Lana Turner drag. The entire neighborhood may be nuts, but there's a sweetness underneath the hard surface that melts in your brain. For all the sordidness and seven deadly sins these characters seem to live by, they'll be just fine after the curtain falls. Ellen Perez, Steven Bullitt and Sedrick Keeler add little touches to their characters that eluded the playwright, and that immeasurably jump-start the proceedings. Through October 20. Silver House Theatre, 1107 Chartres, 713-547-012. — DLG


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