Capsule Stage Reviews: Cinderella, Pack of Lies, Regrets Only, Young and Fertle

Cinderella All those little girls obsessed with Disney princess culture should go watch Houston Ballet's Cinderella. Spoiler alert: Cinderella does not end up with the prince. Repeat, does not get the prince. That's because Artistic Director Stanton Welch didn't want her to get the prince; he wanted her to rely on her own power and get the guy that she really wants — in this case, the prince's secretary, Dandini. But is it really Cinderella if she doesn't get the prince? Yes, because her dreams do come true. She goes from child abuse to true love, and that's not a bad fairy tale. Welch pulls it off without being preachy, thanks to superb choreography; fabulous sets and costumes by the late, great Kristian Fredrikson; heavenly lighting by Lisa J. Pinkham; and enough humor to keep the whole thing moving. Cinderella is a pixie-haired tomboy berated by her stepmother and stepsisters, who are played, as so often is the case, by men in drag. She has no fairy godmother; instead, she gets a dead mommy and mummies — seriously, mummies. You gotta love a fairy tale with waltzing, bandage-trailing mummies. Mom and her graveyard entourage spin Cinderella a gossamer gown of cobwebs, and it's off to the ball, where the prince, though a rather vain airhead, is smitten. Much more to her liking is Stephen Colbert look-alike Dandini. Their romantic pas de deux is seamless and wonderful, but, of course, the clock strikes 12, the ghouls and Mommy come calling and, well, you know the rest — except that in the end, when the prince comes calling with that slipper, she turns him down. This is still a beautiful, sugary tale of true love. Casts rotate, but everyone danced superbly, from the mummies on up. Through March 16. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. — MG

Pack of Lies Let's say you're a typical English middle-class family: sweet, gentle, rather boring. What would you do if you were told that your oldest and best friends — your neighbors right across the street — were Russian spies, and that for the security of the country, you had to keep the friendship going and, naturally, your knowledge secret? How long could you keep up appearances? How long until the tension and the constant lying got to you? Could your marriage survive? These are the questions asked by playwright Hugh Whitemore, who's made a career out of English ordinariness and espionage (84 Charing Cross Road, Breaking the Code). While gnawing moral pain and guilt wrack wife Barbara (Karla Brandau), husband Bob (Casey Coale) doesn't react as violently to the emotional toll. But then, he's not around during the day when pseudo-spy Helen (Rose Trauschke) drops by for a chat or a spot of tea. Daughter Julie (young pro Alexandra Addison) is kept in the dark by her parents and by the mysterious government man Mr. Stewart (Glenn Dodson), who cavalierly informs the unsuspecting couple that the Reds have landed right across the way. Unfortunately, Whitemore intersperses short, "meaningful" monologues between the scenes that muddy up the drama, but Brandau is very good as she slowly unravels in front of our eyes and makes us aware that lying — even to a Commie — takes a bite out of the soul. Through April 12. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury, 713-726-1219. — DLG



Regrets Only After seeing Paul Rudnick's torn-from-the-headlines social satire about gay marriage, you'll know one thing for sure: Never get into a bitch-slap contest with him, because you will lose big-time. Whatever the occasion, he'll jab you in the eye with a politically incorrect barb, bon mot, epigram, put-down, or witticism — no matter if it stops the dramatic flow cold, comes out of left field or, Oscar Wilde forbid, is inappropriate for the character. And while the zinger is effortlessly lobbed, the rest of the cast sits around mixing martinis and being witchy. Household-name fashion designer Hank Hadley (John Kaiser) has wafted through life somewhat like Oz's Glinda, oblivious in his little gay bubble. When his high-society best friends (Bonnie Hewett, Carl Masterson and Elizabeth Marshall) don't object strenuously enough to a proposed constitutional amendment that would solely define marriage as a heterosexual contract, he suddenly becomes all huffy and rallies the city's gays to go on strike for a day. As you can well imagine, the entire world panics, since there are no florists, caterers, hairdressers, shrinks, doormen or even politicians to do any work. Rudnick's fantasy carries loads of potential but not much bite, since his Noël Coward-lite people have the substance of tissue paper. But you'd never know it from the brilliantly efficient ensemble cast at Theatre Southwest, who take Rudnick's chiffon and make out of it a Balenciaga. There are plenty of laughs, but the sentimental tears are crocodile — and faux, to boot. Through March 15. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

Young and Fertle If you think the goofy Fertle family of Dumpster, Texas, is hilarious enough in the present, you should see them back in the day. In this installment, the 20th Sentral High School Reunion sends the loons time-tripping into their past, which is just as screwy and dysfunctional as their lives today. If you're new to Radio Music Theatre — and just what has taken you so long? — you don't need to know the backstory to appreciate the nonstop nuttiness, since the witty script by Steve Farrell fills in the blanks. Of course, if you're already a committed Fertle Head, the extra details just make the show funnier. The three actors who play all the characters (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills) are at the top of their form, and their glee is as infectious as ever. In the old days, Justicena and Bridgette were already bitch-fighting; Lou was as clueless as ever; sweet, dumb Earl found a friend in sweet, dumb Special Ed; Doc Moore couldn't be understood any better than he is now; greaser Braxton Hix continued his mischief; fey Curtis Miller dreamed of wearing a uniform; and Michael (who's never seen) spent all his time in the boy's bathroom with Bruce Nelly, much to the chagrin of Justicena, who carried a torch for him that would light up west Texas. Well, it certainly would light up Clem, Texas, next door to Dumpster, because only Clem lived there. It doesn't get any funnier — or smarter — than the Fertle family and their bizarre neighbors. Through May 10. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG


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