Capsule Stage Reviews: Gutenberg! The Musical!, La Bohème, Rounding Third, Underneath the Lintel, Young and Fertle

Gutenberg! The Musical! Pirate Queen, Dance of the Vampires and Kelly – these were rank bombs all, made legendary by their horridness. Billed as serious Broadway contenders, they should have been spoofs. Gutenberg! The Musical!, on the other hand, wants to be bad – and succeeds wildly. The little comic gem written by Anthony Brown and Scott King starts off at a backers' audition put on by the two incompetents, Doug and Bud, who have written the gaseous show. Lovable boobs with stars in their eyes, their idea of how to reach Broadway is a musical about "just the most important person in history," Johannes Gutenberg, 15th-century inventor of the printing press. Doug and Bud play all the parts — love interest Helvetica, anti-Semite flower girl, beef fat cutter and evil monk, as well as most of the scenery. "If you don't know the person next to you, he's probably a producer," they gush hopefully, proceeding to put on the lamest show you've ever seen. Brilliantly rendered by Josh Wright and Dylan Godwin, the duo has no shame and less talent; they'd better not quit their day jobs at Starbucks and the nursing home. Assisted at the piano by Steven Jones and smartly directed and choreographed by Linda Phenix, this little show that could is every big bad Broadway musical condensed into one little lump of — well, according to their own deathless lyrics — feces. Through April 19. Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — DLG

La Bohème It doesn't really matter that there's no passion or fire between Ana Maria Martinez and Garrett Sorenson in their roles as eternal lovers Mimi and Rodolfo, in this Houston Grand Opera production, because there's plenty in the orchestra to make do. Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème is usually called the world's most popular opera, and rightly so – it's a marvel of construction and orchestration, with a tight, bare libretto and soaring lines of unalloyed romance that heave and climax all over the place. The opera's six bohemian friends are instantly likable in their poverty, camaraderie and on again/off again love affairs. As with any classic, these archetypal characters speak to us on some unconscious level. If you're going to die, from love or anything else, you might as well go out with Puccini. No one, though, is helped by director James Robinson's wet-blanket production, which, during the lovers' most ardent duet, has them singing miles apart from each other on either side of the vast proscenium. The whole thing is glossed by Robinson's death fixation: The guys' walkup apartment is itself plopped inside a grimy industrial box, the toy vendor Parpignol is given a skeleton head, Act III's winter landscape is highlighted by stacks of coffins waiting to be loaded on the train and the original 1890s timeframe is moved to WWI, so we're sure to get the morbid connections. Maestro Patrick Summers goes morbid, too, slowing the tempi like a dirge. Martinez, with her burnished soprano, sings some amazing passages but dramatically phones in her performance. Only baritone Joshua Hopkins, as hot-headed Marcello, sings with conviction and is worth watching. Through May 3 (with alternate casts at the May 1 and May 3 matinee shows). Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-228-6737. — DLG

Rounding Third Stages Repertory Theatre is offering a great way to celebrate the arrival of spring. Richard Dresser's Rounding Third, directed by Kenn McLaughlin, tells the story of two Little League coaches trying to work together to win a championship. Michael (Justin Doran) is a tender novice to coaching, not to mention the game, while Don (Josh Morrison) is a seasoned winner. Don's big advice on day one is that winning is fun. Michael, or Mike, as Don calls him, really just wants the kids to have fun. Their very different coaching styles are the primary source of conflict in this charming comedy, and along the way, we learn a lot about their private lives. There are a few serious moments — every sports story needs that please-God-let-him-catch-the-ball slow-mo — but comedy reigns in this show. Doran makes a perfect clown. He lopes around the stage with his tucked-in shirts and spidery long legs, nervously watching the game. Morrison's Don barks out orders with a crusty veneer, all the while covering up that teddy bear heart. Even folks who don't love the game, or any game for that matter, will enjoy this production, which is really about the way men learn to win at the game of life. Through April 20. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — LW


Gutenberg! The Musical!

Underneath the Lintel John Tyson's Librarian, in the Alley Theatre's lovely production of Glen Berger's one-man show Underneath the Lintel, is just the sort of city worker most of us never, ever want to meet. He lives for late fines. Imagine his excitement when he discovers a book left in the night-drop-box that's more than 100 years overdue! With a handful of clues that include an old laundry ticket left in the late book, he sets out on a weeklong trip to find the cheeky culprit who's dared to keep a book out for so long. What he ends up with is a life-changing journey that takes him far, far from home. This small play that's shaped into a speech given by the Librarian to inform the public of his journey deals with such large ideas as how to live a life that actually matters. And it is surprisingly rich, especially as rendered by Tyson with the help of director Alex Harvey. Tyson's Librarian shows us that passions run deep in the quietest souls. When he holds up the library date-stamper he wears on a cotton string around his neck and declares that the date of everyone's death can be found in the little device, the moment resonates with a profound truth. And Tyson so thoroughly inhabits this misanthrope with his slightly turned-in toes and his awkward attempts at jokes that the character and his quest move from funny to outrageous and finally to deeply moving. Designer Kevin Rigdon's bleak, bare stage, which looks a bit like an auditorium about to be torn down, underscores the frail hope found in this tender play that anyone who's looking for a little bit of meaning in this world should not miss. Through April 20. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — LW

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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