Capsule Stage Reviews: Broadway at the Box, Broke-ology, Company, Jersey Boys, Waiting for Godot

Broadway at the Box The Music Box Theater is a repertory group of three women and two men — they sing, they dance, they act, they reminisce about their childhoods, they do solos and they do ensemble numbers, all this with such a sense of togetherness, of fun, of personal enjoyment that their talent and enthusiasm cascade into the audience and wrap it in a warm embrace. Luke Wrobel handles a large section of the evening as Tevye singing "I Wish I Were a Rich Man" and as Don Quixote singing "The Impossible Dream," and in between logs time in a hilarious impersonation of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and as an amusingly brutal casting director, and shares a duet of "There's Nothing like a Dame" with Brad Scarborough, the other male member. Scarborough sings "Till There Was You" and "Walk Like a Man" and leads an entertaining skit about a theater critic who reviews a performance before it occurs thanks to time travel. Rebekah Dahl shines as lead singer in "The Age of Aquarius," and Kristina Sullivan provides an intelligent, subtle and compelling rendition of "Send in the Clowns." Cay Taylor nails the haunting "I Dreamed a Dream," and received one of the evening's several standing ovations. The band (Donald Payne, Mark McCain, Long Le and Glenn Sharp) is a rich contributor to the overall success of the show. The Music Box is a cabaret theater, so drinks are available. Through April 6. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — JJT

Broke-ology A father has medical problems, and two sons cope with his increasing need for care while pursuing their own lives and interests. Playwright Nathan Louis Jackson has created a family drama and filled it with humor and kitchen-sink realism. We first meet in the 1980s the father, William King, portrayed by Broderick "Brod J" Jones, along with his wife, Sonia, portrayed by Autumn Knight, and we see the genesis of a tightly knit, loving family and the vitality of William as a young man. The action leaps forward 26 years, with William now verging on decrepit but reluctant to admit his failings. His vitality has been inherited by his two sons, Malcolm and Ennis. Malcolm, played by Joe "Joe P" Palmore, is home from Connecticut for a visit, or perhaps longer. Ennis, portrayed by L.D. Green, is becoming a father by his girlfriend. Sonia died 15 years earlier. The actors playing the brothers create a real sense of family, and the camaraderie, competitiveness and bickering between these two are gripping. The pathos of the subject matter elicits a general feeling of empathy, and good feelings abound. A secondary theme is inserted episodically to justify the title — shortness of money leads to compromises and restricted choices. Jackson has substantial credits to his name and a true gift for comedic expression, but Broke-ology is poorly constructed and seems to go nowhere, except to a predictable, melodramatic and sentimental ending. Director Eileen J. Morris has showcased the inspired vitality of the sons and found the warmth in Sonia and the likability in William. The play itself is a frail craft but is paddled safely through shoals by the enormous vigor of two young and brilliant actors. Through April 14. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — JJT

Company Bracing and potent as a vodka stinger, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's mordant, multiple Tony Award-winning "musical comedy" on marriage, commitment and New York City is the ultimate That '70s Show. The musical (1970), dry and abrasive as sandpaper, ushered in the decade and ushered in Sondheim as possible king of Broadway. He had to wait, though, until the following year, when Follies finally bestowed the crown upon him. Texas Repertory Theatre supplies plenty of grit, visual polish and a well-rounded cast to keep this classic show spiky and full of attitude. Perpetual bachelor Bobby (Brandon Grimes, a smooth song-and-dance man), best friend of five conflicted married couples, refuses to settle down. He's so close to his married friends that when they burn, he gets seared. Harry and Sarah (John Dunn and Lendsey Kersey) compete literally in a man-versus-woman karate duel; Peter and Susan (Andrew Ruthven and Lauren Dolk), seen by Robert as loving and perfect together, are getting a divorce; David and Jenny (David Walker and Jennifer Stewart) believe they're too staid to be swinging and youthful; Paul and Amy (Zach Varela and Katie Harrison), living together for two years, are finally getting married, prompting the show's comic highlight, Amy's neurotic patter song "Getting Married Today"; Larry and Joanne (Steven Fenley and Judy Frow) are older, richer and much married, giving the hard-drinking Joanne the caustic showstopper "The Ladies Who Lunch," which Frow spits out in a stinging, acid rage. Bobby's girlfriends are a triptych of '70s stereotypes: April, the clueless airline stewardess (Haley Hussey, in a beautifully shaded performance); sweet Kathy (Amy Garner Buchanan), who can wait no longer for vacillating Bobby to make up his mind; and downtown grunge girl Marta (Christina Stroup), who lives for a good time. Bobby sees only the faults and not the pleasures in wedded bliss. He makes lame excuses for his lack of commitment, he expects a future wife to be an amalgam of his women friends, and he sleeps around and can't remember his bedmates' names; he's probably gay. It's either/or for "Bobby baby, Bobby bubi," but there's not much positive reinforcement from the couples, yet his "Being Alive" epiphany is as much of a happy ending as anything you'll find in a Sondheim show. Although you'd never call a Sondheim score rough, this one about the joys (!) of modern marriage can scour your skin off with its velvety tunes. George Furth's book is a bitchy blowtorch, and Sondheim's disco-era music and ironic lyrics are incomparable: "Being Alive," "Another Hundred People," "The Ladies Who Lunch," "The Little Things You Do Together." Sondheim and Furth's biting and funny X-ray of modern marriage, a classic of grown-up Broadway, is a show not to be missed. Under Texas Rep's adroit handling, this is Company you want to spend your time with. Through April 7. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Steubner Airline, 281-583-7573. — DLG

Jersey Boys If you're ever asked, "What's the best 'jukebox musical' ever?" here's a sure tip for all you theater junkies — Jersey Boys. You will not see a slicker musical. The music resonates. It's instant catnip for baby boomers. Boys is specially gifted because it has a whole raft of solid gold hits from which to glean: the entire Four Seasons catalog. You can't go wrong with "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" or "Walk Like a Man." With some poetic license from book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the songs fit chronologically in the order they were recorded and dovetail with the story of the guys' rise to fame. These petty hoods are so damned lovable, we root for their success right from the start. Standing on a street corner in rustbelt New Jersey, they love to sing, harmonizing like roughhouse angels, and they have a chance to make it if they can stay out of jail long enough to form a group. When Tommy (Colby Foytik), the most prickly of the four with unsavory mob ties, brings in young Frankie Valli (Brad Weinstock) with his amazing vocal range to join Tommy and modest musician friend Nick (Brandon Andrus) in their new band, the course is set. Later, when songwriter Bob Gaudio (Jason Kappus), who would pen their biggest hits with lyricist/producer Bob Crewe (Barry Anderson), is introduced to the trio, the new quartet coalesces with an unflagging rightness. All four guys narrate the story, adding pieces to each other's puzzle. Everyone gets his say, and this cohesion among the guys is an unwritten theme of the show, as are loyalty and keeping your word to your buddies. Excluding the great songs, these old-fashioned values go a long way in making Jersey Boys so appealing. In spite of the infighting, personal demons and obstacles to be overcome on the march to the top of the charts, this is a very "up" show — another of its many charms. The four Boys are outstanding: Foytik is all macho bluster as wayward petty gangster Tommy, titular head of the group; Andrus is lovingly low-key as unassuming Nick, the group's master arranger; Kappus supplies a charming steel to boyish hit-maker composer Bob; and Weinstock goes from not-quite-so-innocent adolescent to grown-up survivor — with splendid falsetto pipes — as Frankie. Director Des McAnuff, who's led the show since its 2004 inception at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse, keeps it spinning smartly with the sleekness of a top-40s DJ. This accomplished musical story of our own American Fab Four, still running on Broadway and breaking records on tour, amazes anew. When the four principals blend their voices in any of their classic songs — "Big Man in Town," "Dawn," "Working My Way Back to You," "Let's Hang On" — musical theater just doesn't get any better. Oh, what a night, indeed! Through March 31. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 800-982- 2787. — DLG

Waiting for Godot Following the acclaimed success last year of its production of Samuel Beckett's End Game, the Catastrophic Theatre dares greatly yet again, and has mounted the most famous and most produced of Beckett's plays. The two central characters are Estragon, who is dominant, and Vladimir, more nurturing, dressed in remnants of once respectable clothes. They are old friends, deeply committed to each other, and the symbiotic relationship, the mutual need, the rich co-dependency are palpable and brought to pulsing, vibrant life by two brilliant actors: Charlie Scott as Estragon and Greg Dean as Vladimir. They wait in a wasteland for an appointment with a Mr. Godot. Appointments are made, new acquaintances are met and re-met, a messenger adds an element of ambiguity, a man is blinded and a slave mistreated. The narrative is linear — essentially so, since Beckett dares us to face our own mortality, and has given us an example of how two men cope with this inconvenient truth. The acquaintances they make are Pozzo, wealthy, who's on his way to sell his slave, ironically named Lucky. Kyle Sturdivant plays Pozzo, etching a memorable portrait of smugness and vanity; Troy Schulze brings his rich talents to Lucky, creating a vivid characterization of an abused servant. In a cameo role, young Ty Doran is compelling as the messenger from Mr. Godot. The work is brilliantly directed by Jason Nodler, artistic director of the Catastrophic Theatre, who makes every moment interesting. The connection between the characters is dynamic — even Vladimir's brief interaction with the messenger sparks with need, hope and disillusion. A deep, intriguing, insightful play is brought to exciting life in a brilliant production — don't miss its breathtaking power and superb acting. Through April 13. 1119 East Fwy., 713-522-2723. — JJT


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