Capsule Stage Reviews: Fiddler on the Roof, From My Hometown, The Hollow, Scriptwriters/Houston 23rd Annual 10x10 Showcase 2013, Sweeney Todd (Generations Theatre), Sweeney Todd (Stage Door, Inc.)

Fiddler on the Roof Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964, running for 3,242 performances and winning nine Tony awards. Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, it portrays the life of a Jewish farmer with five daughters. Houston Family Arts Center wisely stages it in the 456-seat auditorium at the Berry Center — its huge stage provides epic sweep. Set in 1905 in a small Russian village, Fiddler chronicles the village as well as the family. HFAC uses 64 actors to capture the humanity and love, sometimes contentious, that infused the community. Director Ilich Guardiola has heroically marshaled hordes of skilled actors into a cohesive whole, and Jeffrey Baldwin as Tevye strikes just the right note, whether arguing with his wife or reminding God that it wouldn't hurt to send a little money his way. Nora Hahn as his wife Golde lets matriarchal strength and family love emerge from under a stern demeanor — she is excellent. The Fiddler (Erik Olmos Tristan) has a sprightly manner and amusing body language. The marriage-age daughters, and their suitors, are all great. David Armstrong is authentic as the well-off butcher, and Cecil Davis amusing as an elderly rabbi out of his depth. The music is superb: "Tradition," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Sunrise, Sunset," among many others. Baldwin's resonant voice delivers the songs with the wit and the humor required; his performance is delightful, insightful, intelligent and brilliant. There's wonderful group dancing, choreography by Luke Hamilton and colorful costumes designed by Lisa Garza. The lighting by Ron Putterman is excellent, adding haunting ambience. A breathtakingly entertaining production captures the brilliance, warmth, humor, charm and compelling music of a show-business masterpiece. Through July 28. 8877 Barker Cypress Rd., 281-685-6374. — JJT

From My Hometown Three male performers, known by their hometowns, meet on the way to callback auditions at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. Act One introduces them, and Act Two does more of the same, before skyrocketing them to success as a trio. Their story is told in dialogue and music, some original, and some R&B's greatest hits. "Memphis" is played by Anthony Boggess-Glover, a 25-year veteran of the Ensemble Theatre, who has an imposing stage presence, an engaging smile, and can dance up a storm. His charm anchors the evening. "Detroit" is portrayed by Jobari Parker-Namdar, younger and with some of the poise and flash of a young Sinatra and the dance authority of Michael Jackson. His character is edgy, with an overtone of arrogance, but invariably interesting. Ron Jonson plays "Philly" — written as a bit of a bumbler, and compelled by the script to be less adroit as a dancer, though he has the moves when needed. He is naive, eminently likable, and completes the triumvirate of vastly different performers having one thing in common — the dream of success. These are talented singers, and skilled actors as well — their rich performances bring to life a predictable script largely devoid of surprises, as seamless rhythms carry us along on waves of pleasure. "Working in a Coal Mine" and "Chain Gang" strike a serious note, while "Walkin' the Dog" and "I'm Your Puppet" hit exuberant themes. Much of the music consists of original songs by the multitalented Lee Summers, who conceived the show and brought in his collaborators, Ty Stephens and Robert Rawlings Jr. The show is brilliantly directed by Ensemble's Patdro Harris. With a better Act Two, what is already more than good could be great. Don't miss it. Through July 28. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — JJT

The Hollow The Alley has had 21 prior productions of Agatha Christie's plays, with The Hollow its 22nd. The set, designed by Linda Buchanan, is magnificent, the garden room of an imposing estate. The owner, Sir Henry Angkatell (James Black), is respectable but without warmth or charm. His wife, Lucy (Josie de Guzman), is absentminded, a bit dotty, bringing a delightful joie de vivre to the party. An actress, Veronica Craye (Laura E. Campbell), is played with fervor and an exaggerated style. Edward (Jay Sullivan) is a wealthy twit who proposes in the course of the play to two women and attempts suicide. Henrietta (Elizabeth Bunch) is an abstract sculptor, serious and glum. Midge Harvey (Emily Neves) is a poor-relation cousin too proud to accept financial aid from her very wealthy relatives, preferring to grumble about her uninteresting job. The butler, Gudgeon (Todd Waite), is angry throughout and speaks loudly. Diandra Langenbach as Doris, the maid, is persuasive. Guests are Dr. John Cristow (Mark Shanahan) and his wife Gerda (Melissa Pritchett); the plot revolves around them. Cristow appeals to the opposite sex, but he is brusque and stolid, and we don't see why. Gerda is clumsy, with no poise — Pritchett found the character and is irritating. Inspector Colquhoun (Lee Sellars) is a role with no relish, and David Matranga overplays the comic role of his assistant. The acting style is old-fashioned British: "Hit the mark and say your lines," and I kept searching — in vain, except for de Guzman — for signs that the actors believed for a minute what they were saying. This is a so-so script, without flair, intrigue or suspense, and a so-so production, except for a magnificent set and an exciting performance by Josie de Guzman. Through August 4. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — JJT

Scriptwriters/Houston 23rd Annual 10x10 Showcase 2013 Scriptwriters/Houston holds a monthly meeting to hear successful writers share secrets. For more than two decades, it has presented ten-minute plays after a competition. Explosive laughter greeted "I Don't Care Much for Coffee" as Shelby (Tyrrell Woolbert) tries to read quietly in the library but finds she can hear the interior monologues of those around her. Woolbert's reactions are vastly entertaining, and playwright Alex Scott adds an amusing twist. Whether nonviolent theater has appeal is discussed by Melanie Burke and Bob Galley in "Ordinary Life" by John Meiners. A brilliant denouement answers the question for all time. "Playing the Game" by Steve Stewart explores the conflict between coach and academia when a high-scoring basketball player fails a course. As the professor, with a history of his own, Robert L. Jacobs Jr. is excellent. "Dog Gone" by Walter Boyd is brilliantly acted by Joseph Lockett and Lisa Britton with hilarious, exuberant, blue-collar authenticity. "The Megamart Megasale" by Marilyn Lewis contains subtle, delightful wit. 'Trombone Trash" by Rachel Dickson explores the problems in communication that arise when one partner speaks in "trombone" and the other in "oboe." "Power Breakfast" by Lauren Tunnell has a couple breakfasting after a one-nighter, as networking opportunities arise. "Death by Bloody Mary" by Nicholas Garelick explores the power of urban legends. "Sister Fred" by Joe Barnes has a young husband encamped under his bed, and a teaching nun is called in when a psychiatrist fails to budge him. "The Last Cats" by Fernando Dovalina delivers both humor and pathos, as human mortality is faced. There's a bonus of eight monologues performed during set changes. This is a professional-level evening of exciting, varied theatricality. Through July 20. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury Ln., 281-773-3642. — JJT

Sweeney Todd (Generations Theatre) Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street captured Broadway in 1979, garnering eight Tony awards, and Generations Theatre has mounted its own production of the macabre musical. Director George Brock sets the disturbingly dark morality tale in a 19th-century London asylum, with the inmates acting out the narrative. Sweeney Todd is the assumed name of a barber falsely accused and imprisoned for 15 years so the judge could ravish his beautiful wife. On his return to London, he searches for his daughter, Johanna, and seeks razor-sharp vengeance on the judge and on humanity. Todd is aided by Mrs. Lovett, who sells meat pies and has an entrepreneurial idea for disposing of bodies. Kristin Warren portrays Mrs. Lovett, and she is wonderful, with a bell-like voice and perfect diction — her vivacious energy anchors the play. Kregg Dailey plays Todd, but the part is underwritten — all menace and no nuance. Todd is a maniac with an obsessive thirst for revenge, but we instead see a man trapped in depression. Dailey as Andrew Jackson last year bestrode the stage like a Titan, but here he fails to create a compelling individual — there is no manic joy, no relish of evil, no triumphant glee. The supporting cast is superb, with standouts. Forrest Surles as the young sailor who loves Johanna captures the masculine need and an angelic naiveté. Stephanie Styles as Johanna brings beauty and sweetness to her role. Michael Bevan as the young Tobias provides an interesting intensity and involvement. Brock has created a tapestry of evil overwhelming in its brilliance, memorable in its power and hugely entertaining in its human vitality. Through July 28. Hamman Hall, Rice University, 6100 Main, 832-326-1045. — JJT

Sweeney Todd (Stage Door, Inc.) The Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street won eight Tony awards and ran for 557 performances in Broadway's largest theater. The tale is one of revenge, as a young barber is falsely imprisoned for 15 years so that the sentencing judge can ravish his beautiful wife. The barber returns to London; assumes the name Sweeney Todd; seeks his daughter, Joanna; and thirsts for revenge on the judge. He joins forces with Mrs. Lovett, owner of a pastry shop, portrayed by Heather Gabriel, who could not be better — she brings charm and chutzpah to the role. Colton Wright as Todd lets us see his torment and pain and permits Todd a sense of humor, making him a sympathetic character — no mean feat. The direction, by Stage Door's artistic director, Marc Anthony Glover, smacks of pure genius, re-creating 19th-century London with a set like a London mews. Gabriel and Wright sing beautifully and compellingly. There are eight other principals, all good, though Mike Ryan, the Beadle, might find more authority. Todd sings "Pretty Women" as he prepares to do in the judge, a fascinating irony. The wit and humor of "A Little Priest" humanizes both Todd and Mrs. Lovett. The ending is rich in raw emotional power, soaring toward the heavens and bringing us with it. This production understands the darkness of the human soul and the warmth and needs of our tattered hearts. A brilliant production hits the mark in this tale of a serial killer and fuses the powerful music with superb performances and inventive staging, creating the magic that theater at its best can be. Through July 28. 284 Pasadena Town Square Mall, Pasadena, 832-582-7606. — JJT


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