Capsule Stage Reviews: Die Fledermaus, Vanities

Die Fledermaus (The Bat) Chocolate and champagne make a delicious combo, and Johann Strauss Jr.'s operetta is a musical bonbon with bubbly chaser. Ever since its premiere in 1874, this effervescent work has delineated the raffish charms of fin-de-siècle Vienna: insouciant romance, wayward husbands and equally wayward wives, fun for fun's sake, masquerade balls, a magnum or two of the best champagne, all set to the strains of those heavenly waltzes. Junior was known as "The Waltz King" ("The Blue Danube"), so it's no surprise that he could write a show whose tunes would bore into our conscience. A philandering husband and his wife flirt but go only so far with their lovers, yet far enough to cause outrage and stormy scenes. Since this is a droll comedy of manners, the storms are harmless and the outrage is good for a song or two. It's all delicious entertainment. The plot's inconsequential — it's the music that's immortal. Opera in the Heights imbues this froth with real animation, thanks to the brisk pace of maestro Linus Lerner (in the running to be OH's artistic director) and the wonderfully youthful cast, who, without visible effort or strain, come across as perfectly charming. You'd never guess that director Ben Spierman, who had to step in at the last of all possible moments for an indisposed singer, hadn't studied the role of Dr. Falke for weeks. His rhymed English adaptation of the German text, though, abetted by Ruth and Thomas Martin, is a dismal and clunky affair, shoehorned onto the German cadence with all the finesse of the Hindenburg docking in New Jersey. Heavy and lumpy, it has no Straussian charm and little wit. Ah, but no matter when the singers are so engaging. We especially enjoyed the comic allure of Alyssa Bowlby as maid Adele, the ease and grace of Marc Schreiner as comic foil Alfred, the androgynous and lovely alto of Anna Yelizarova as Prince Orlofsky, and the beauty and stylish acting of Elizabeth Andrews Roberts as Rosalinda (she just needs to sing a little louder to be absolutely A+, even in such a small house as OH). Through November 13. 1703 Heights Blvd. 713-861-5303. — DLG

Vanities When Jack Heifner's serio-comedy reigned off-Broadway from 1976-79, sisterhood was at its zenith. His three-woman show gave a distinctive voice to female baby boomers. The work, now playing at Theatre Southwest, follows lifelong friends Mary (Chelsea Curto), Joanne (Monica Lynn Passley) and Kathy (Kelly Walker) through high school, college and adult life. Friends forever, at least at the start as eager cheerleaders, the three share dreams and hopes until their life choices pull them apart. Mary the rebel can't wait to leave town; Joanne the conformist agonizes about not being popular; and Kathy the leader begins to show cracks in her A-type facade. The end of college brings a freewheeling trip to Europe for Mary, marriage plans for Joanne and an uninspiring teaching job for Kathy. In adulthood, Mary is sophisticated and bitchy as only a liberated New York porn-art gallery owner can be (and having an affair with Joanne's husband), Joanne is as happy-wappy as ever with her Stepford life in the suburbs, and Kathy, unsatisfied with herself and terribly lost, is being kept by a married man (Heifner insinuates that the sugar daddy is also Joanne's husband). They haven't seen each other in years, so why Kathy feels compelled to orchestrate this reunion is a mystery that's not answered. Laced with alcohol and years of regret and buried jealousy, the three estranged friends turn bitter and sour, as does the play after such an open-hearted beginning. Director Lisa Schofield sneaks in the tension and dark clouds until they're inevitable, which allows the three good actors plenty of room to explore and discover telling bits of business that go deeper than Heifner's surface observations. A wonderful touch is keeping the actors visible at their vanity tables throughout the intermissions, as they preen, study, daydream and don their characters, putting on wigs and costumes. Through November 13. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

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