Capsule Stage Reviews: Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood, The Little Dog Laughed, The Nutcracker

Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood Catastrophic Theatre's magnificent world-premiere production, written and directed by Jason Nodler and featuring a blistering performance by Matt Kelly in the title role, could easily be the next smash hit on Broadway. It's got dysfunction in spades since it's based on the life of Dutch musician/painter Herman Brood, a walking — when he could manage — billboard of how not to live your life. He was, and still is, revered as a demigod in the Netherlands, that country's one true rock star, a lethal combination of Cobain, Morrison and other egotistical fuckups. The worst of all possible role models, he attained mythic status after his suicide when, at age 54, he threw himself off the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton. When he died in 2001, while his work was having a resurgence, his body was in complete meltdown. When the dope quit having an effect, he knew it was time to go. It's to Bluefinger and Kelly's great credit that we fall under his anarchic spell. But we never plow into Brood too deeply. That's the only buzz kill in this cleverly structured and expressionistically written show. He's fucked up when we meet him, and he remains an unrepentant screw-up throughout. If there's a moral center to be found in this hedonistic portrait, if only by default, it's Koos, Brood's childhood friend and exasperated agent. Adroitly played by Troy Schulze, Koos is the ultimate enabler, assisting in the debaucheries because he's too cowed by Brood's talent to stop him. Though the work is not strictly chronological, Jason Nodler embroiders all the high points (or low points, if you will) of Brood's untamed life, helping us with background projections of dates and place names. Like a dream rush, Brood comes at us in oblique little scenes, with music the binding tie. Inspired by Charles Thompson's 2007 concept album about Brood, Bluefinger, Nodler flies off in truly exceptional riffs. As author and director, Nodler rejuvenates this tortured artist, but it's Matt Kelly as Herman Brood who dissects him with a medical precision that takes our breath away. His performance is overpoweringly physical, and, without question, absolutely starmaking. Through December 18. Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks Art Space, 1117 East Freeway, 713-522-2723. — DLG

The Little Dog Laughed I wish to nominate Douglas Carter Beane's scintillating comedy for Best Gay Fantasy. If you have any questions about gay life you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask, Beane — and the superb rendering that his sparkling comedy receives at Theater LaB — will be only too thrilled to answer them, and maybe tempt you to ask a few more. This madcap fairy tale about Hollywood, its hypocrisy and its fleeting visions of fame and fortune, revolves around a quartet of lost, lonely and unscrupulous characters all out for a buck. So what if there's "a little deception" involved, a lie here, a broken heart there? They're out to reinvent themselves. But love has a wicked way of tripping them up. Closeted actor Mitchell (Nate Suurmeyer) is on the cusp of major stardom. However, he's fallen for one of his many tricks, young hustler Alex (Bryan Kaplun), who's fallen hard, too. This predicament doesn't sit well with Mitchell's agent, Diane (Mary Hooper), who's part Professor Marvel, part Medusa, or with Alex's girlfriend (Rebekah Stevens). Mitchell, in thrall, is ready to come out, which sends Diane into a tailspin. No gay actor — no star — has ever come out and been successful, she warns with acid-laced, iced-martini wit, unless they're British and knighted. Fortunately, for us, nobody keeps his mouth shut, and they purr out Beane's catty rejoinders with Wilde abandon as the complications mount. In the New York production, this was Diane's show. Here, it's much more balanced, and everybody gets the star turn. Under the spot-on direction of Jimmy Phillips, all four actors shine as bright as a rhinestone reflection. It's so much better the Theater LaB way. With its salty tongue ready and eager to lick all sorts of places, Little Dog's an adult show, no doubt about it. Now go and see it. Good boy. Through December 11. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG

The Nutcracker It just wouldn't be the holiday season without Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker, now would it? Once again the company has begun its mega-run of this Christmas classic created by HB Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson in 1987. And both the charming, family-style choreography and Desmond Heeley's sets and costumes still look as fresh and as filling as chestnuts roasting on an open fire. (Feel free to sing along.) Part of the beauty of this ballet is the joy Houston Ballet Orchestra brings to Tchaikovsky's incredibly danceable score, and the rest lies in the fantasy elements: Toys come alive, the Christmas tree grows to dizzying heights, mice attack, snow falls onstage, pastry chefs fly. It's just magical. And the little ones in the audience — dressed in their holiday finest with their eyes all aglow — just love it. Dancing? Oh yes, there's plenty of that as well. Because there are so many roles and so many, many performances, the cast rotates, which means you might see stars and stars-in-the-making. The corps de ballet performs solos, and even the assistant conductors take a turn with the baton. You might get to see new principal Jun Shuang Huang dancing his first Nutcracker Prince (there is no Christmas celebration, let alone Nutcracker, in China) or see corps member Jordan Reed in her first Arabian solo. Last Sunday, demi soloist Jessica Collado turned in a pristine Snow Queen performance partnered by Linnar Looris as the Prince, but it was corps member Elise Judson who truly charmed as Clara. Still, this ballet is less about who's dancing what and more about the entire ensemble performing a Houston holiday classic. From the mimed overture to the coda where all the sweets and the Sugar Plum Fairy dance with joy, you'll feel the holiday spirit move you. Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker is the best holiday stress reliever. It's doubtful even the Grinch could watch this ballet without feeling all warm and tingly. Through December 26. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — MG


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