Capsule Stage Reviews: Broadway at the Box, The First Church of Texaco, Man of Destiny and Dark Lady of the Sonnets

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

The First Church of Texaco A corporate tycoon returns to his roots in an abandoned gas station in Blessing, Texas, and hires the local librarian to be his secretary, while fighting a hostile takeover of his corporation, and the librarian uses him as surrogate pastor for the community. The tycoon is a bully, browbeating a junior executive. Craig Griffin portrays Stanley Presley, the magnate, and is quite good, though the role is a caricature. Blake Weir plays the junior executive, Brad, capturing the requisite toadying without losing his dignity and conveying an appealing intelligence that's thrown to the winds in Act Two. Things perk up when librarian Alice Mann enters, pretty, with big hair, spunky and nice; Christy Watkins nails this role. Later, a 15-year old runaway girl, Emmi, wanders in to include a miraculous coincidence of contrived spirituality. In Act Two, a gun plays a large part — most of the characters get to brandish it — a $15,000 check is torn up, Stanley undergoes a Damoscene conversion, Brad allows ambition to supplant judgment and romance blossoms. The set is deliberately downscale, admirably suited to movement and far more authentic than the script. The lighting works well, but one event desperately needs the illusion of headlights. The acting throughout is first-rate, with great comic timing, and intern Bethany Eggleston is excellent as the waif, with great, darting movements. The playwright, Andrew William Librizzi, has written a comedy without including motivations. It is deftly directed by Jennifer Dean, who keeps the action moving and allows the comic timing of savvy actors to carry it. Gifted performers bring an inferior play to comic life, and gaping flaws seem not to interfere with huge audience enjoyment. Through March 17. A.D. Players at Grace Theater, 2710 W. Alabama. 713-526-2721. — JJT

Man of Destiny and Dark Lady of the Sonnets Shaw is noted for his delight in paradoxes and for his wit in deflating pretensions, and these virtues are very much alive in these two one-acts, Man of Destiny and Dark Lady of the Sonnets. In the first, General Napoleon Bonaparte trades witticisms with a woman posing as a military lieutenant, and in the second, William Shakespeare exchanges ripostes with Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Michael Geiger is excellent as an innkeeper serving dinner to the witty, sophisticated Napoleon, unfortunately played by Brandon Hobratschk as a man without subtlety, who barks orders like a parade-ground sergeant. Brian Heaton is excellent as a lieutenant, gullible and dense yet imbued with a sense of his own importance. Dani Luers plays both a lady and the same lady masquerading as a male lieutenant, but Luers made no attempt to deepen her voice or affect a swagger as the lieutenant, certainly a lost opportunity for humor. The second play delivers in spades as Brian Heaton plays a ribald Shakespeare, on the prowl, who accosts a sleep-walking Queen Elizabeth. Will here is largely bereft of vocabulary, is quick to appropriate the apt phrasing of another character, and has a bad memory and no sense of rhythm, adding to the fun. Heaton's portrayal is amusing and delightful. Michelle James plays the intended amour of Will, and is beautiful enough for us to see why Will would brave the darkness and bribe the warder (Michael Geiger) for her. Dani Luers plays the Queen, but fails to find her regal authority. Jim Allman directed, and might have improved the performances of Hobratschk and Luers. Company OnStage is to be commended for reviving two witty treasures from a theatrical master, well worth seeing despite some flawed performances along with some masterful ones. Through April 13. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — JJT

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