Capsule Stage Reviews: Dracula, Flashdance The Musical, Malcolm and Teresa, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club

Dracula Fog swirls underfoot and Gregorian chant reverberates. Red light bathes two blanched, debauched brides wearing dusty wedding dresses. They perch on the stairs near the Gothic windows, watching with hungry anticipation. One pets a raven on her arm, the other hisses menacingly. An old crone sheathed in garlic and entangled in a bulky crucifix silently intones a benediction. A large bed with coverlets of red and black is to our left, a blighted jail cell to our right. Stacked in the bookcase at the foot of the bed are multiple volumes of Bram Stoker's novel, all with blood-red spines emblazoned with the title. This ride is gonna be fun. Via Theatre Southwest's deliciously creepy production of Steven Dietz's somewhat-faithful 1996 stage adaptation of Stoker's masterpiece of Victorian horror, Dracula, we're in the land of demonic dreams and nebulous nightmares, fog and crashing waves, howling wolves and unquenchable blood lust. The novel's Victorian-laced prose adds an antique flavor to the melodrama, but the playwright structures Act I with impressionistic flashbacks, a series of annoying detours that leap hither and yon in time. Dietz also adds a "young" and an "old" Dracula — the wizened old count, once infused with fresh new blood, morphs into a revitalized, virile presence. However, the "old" version, played with theatrical gusto by John Stevens, is so damned indelible, the "young" one (Scott McWhirter) doesn't stand a chance. Stevens's eyes blare forth from a face ashen and powdered with mold, and his gnarled hands end in black fingernails. Against his red medieval robe, his cascading white hair offsets his gaunt, icon-thin body; he's like a Chinese mandarin gone to seed. Stevens sinks his teeth into this part with demonic relish. However, the old ghoul disappears from the play faster than if he'd been hit by a sunbeam, and McWhirter, appearing from a neat revolving casket in the castle walls, must take his place. Dietz amends the story with an abundance of erotic undertones only hinted at in Stoker's original (not for nothing is the large bed a centerpiece of the set), yet McWhirter brings no sensuousness to the bloodsucker. Even with a mane of swashbuckling locks and leather trappings, he can't compete with the dread that Stevens imparts. In the transformation, young Dracula has lost his mojo. His boudoir manner needs a transfusion. Under the visually astute direction of Anaka Kohnitz — who also designed the set and, with Jim Allman, the play's evocative soundscape — the ensemble goes all hellfire, appropriately chewing up the scenery when not chewing on each other. Fog, gloom and doom scamper throughout Theatre Southwest. Abetted by J. Cameron Cooper's spooky lighting, it's a blood-curdling good time, never veering into camp but never straying too far from it either. The play is enriched with a full-blooded cast (Tyrrell Woolbert, Bryan Maynard, Autumn Woods, Sam Martinez, Kevin Bray, John Zipay, Julie Oliver, Liz King and Shannon Grave). It's enough to raise the dead — a bloody good show! Through June 22. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-861-9505. — DLG

Flashdance The Musical This U.S. stage version of the hit film is touring the country. The production is anchored in a blue-collar world, alternating among a factory, a seedy nightclub and a strip club. Alex (Jillian Mueller) is an 18-year-old welder aspiring to attend the Shipley Dance Academy. She dances after work at a strip club run by the affable Harry (Matthew Henerson). The factory owner is Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik), who falls for Alex and pursues her. Hydzik has a magnetic presence, and can hold the stage and sell a song — he's excellent. Mueller has the difficult job of adding charm and charisma to Alex, who is brusque, insecure and quick to take offense — she struggles manfully with the assignment, stopping short of success. Sergio Trujillo's direction and choreography capture energy and a driving force, and break-dancer Ryan Carlson enhances the dancing measurably. But the choreography seems turbocharged, and there's only so much one can do with pole-dancing. There's a subplot of a romance between Gloria and Jimmy, played by Kelly Felthous and David F. Gordon, and both find ways to make their characters memorable. Gloria shares the stage at Harry's club with exotic dancers Kiki (DeQuina Moore) and Tess (Katie Webber), both superb. "Manhunt," "Maniac" and "What a Feeling" retain their power and emotion, and I enjoyed the "Here and Now" duet of Alex and Nick. The arc of the play highlights the audition of Alex at the dance academy, supported by special effects and a plethora of backup dancers. Scene changes are handled smoothly with sliding panels and projections. This is a dance musical, and, while we admire the energy and drive of steelworkers, their athleticism doesn't deeply involve us. Through June 16. From TUTS (Theatre Under The Stars) at Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525. — JJT

Malcolm and Teresa If anyone put Mother Teresa on the international map, it was British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who interviewed the unknown "little nun from Calcutta" on the BBC in 1968. Prickly and iconoclastic, this former newspaper editor had been one of only two international journalists to document Stalin's genocide against the Kulaks of the Ukraine in the early '30s, which led to the deaths of millions by famine and brutal repression. The experience changed Muggeridge, a fervent supporter of communism, into a rabid anti-red and intensified his Anglican faith, although he practiced a very eccentric form of Christian spirituality. While the interview with humble, forthright and spiritual Teresa was a ratings bonanza, Muggeridge's 1969 TV documentary filmed in Calcutta, Something Beautiful for God, was a smash. Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity went prime-time. In her distinctive blue-edged sari, Mother Teresa was recognized everywhere. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she was beatified by the Vatican as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in 2003, the penultimate stage to sainthood. This is heady stuff, especially when larded with two such disparate personalities as sweet Teresa (Vicky McCormick) and somewhat sour Malcolm (Marty Blair) in A.D. Players' sharply acted production of this regional premiere. But playwright Cathal Gallagher trips over history and unwittingly removes all the drama. Mother Teresa takes a backseat so we can watch Muggeridge struggle with Communism's feet of clay. His scenes, set in 1932 Moscow and Manchester, are intercut with Teresa's '60s interviews. As testament to her unshakeable faith and abiding Christian love, these interviews, taken verbatim from the actual transcripts, thud loudly when used as dialogue. We might as well be reading a book. Gallagher doesn't connect themes; he cuts and pastes. Juxtaposing Muggeridge's past Russian history against Teresa's present falls flat, giving us two pale plays. Neither one satisfies. As Teresa, McCormick is appropriately shy and retiring with an underlying backbone of burnished metal when it comes to faith; and Blair, as Muggeridge, with clipped upper-crust demeanor and voice, supplies a lot more thoughtful verve than does the playwright. Christy Watkins exudes a radiant naturalness as wife Kitty; Patty Tuel Bailey gives socialist firebrand Aunt Bo more charm than she deserves; Craig Griffin is solidly understated as Anglican theologian Vidler; and Blake Weir provides warm comic relief as the harried TV producer who can't see any value in interviewing "a nun." After decades of ceaseless devotion in the slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa is a saint, whether officially recognized by the church or not. Gallagher's play won't get her into that pantheon anytime soon. Through June 23. 2710 Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club Playwright Jeffrey Archer has borrowed Sherlock Holmes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a plot from a thriller by Robert Louis Stevenson, to create this theater mystery, set in London in 1914. Holmes learns of a "suicide club," where members draw billiard balls; the white one's a pass, the black one selects the victim and the red one determines who is to be executioner, for the would-be suicide does not die by his own hand. This intriguing premise is given a polished production by the Alley, and the narrative begins strongly, with Todd Waite as Holmes in a striking performance. Josie de Guzman plays the Club Secretary and contributes a compelling performance and some surprises in Act Two. Sidney Williams plays Dr. John Watson with the requisite hero worship and naiveté. Jay Sullivan portrays convincingly Nikita Starlov, a Russian prince, while his fiancée, Christiane (Elizabeth Bunch), wears stunning costumes by Alejo Vietti. James Black plays Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother, and finds both humor and power. Alley stalwarts Jeffrey Bean and James Belcher are excellent in double roles. The effort is directed by Mark Shanahan and Geoffrey Boyd, who have found a delightful mixture of dry wit and understated gravitas, though charm dissipates with too many meetings under bridges, too many corpses and too much international plotting. There are scenes in a chemist shop and in a cemetery, magic acts take center stage, all to obscure the fact that Holmes has neither an antagonist worthy of his stature nor a real paradox to resolve. But Archer means to entertain us rather than to mystify us, and thanks to this deft, fast-paced, amusing production, he has succeeded. Through June 23 at the Hubbard Stage of Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — JJT


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