Capsule Stage Reviews: Happily Ever at the Box, Life Could Be a Dream, Mr. Marmalade, Our Town, Tamarie Cooper's DOOMSDAY REVUE (the greatest musical ever)
Happily Ever at the Box Fairy-tale archetypes get a scrumptious musical makeover from our favorite cabaret troupe, The Music Box Theater. In the tradition of their former shows, Music Box interlaces a little plot — here a mélange of fairy-tale types: princess, prince, wicked queen, godmother, narrator — with a wide array of songs to augment the story or delve deeper into the sketch-like characters. It's silly and fun, and when they open their mouths to sing we're blown away, as usual, with the polish and precision that these fabulous pros happily supply to any song. They sail through jazz, pop, and rock and roll with equal finesse and an unfailing theatrical style that is one-of-a-kind. Since this is a group effort, everybody gets to shine. It's a rare, wonderful display of musical and dramatic talent. The best news about MBT's latest show is the arrival of the delectable Kristina Sullivan, who joins the ultra-talented quartet already in place (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel). A recent émigré from the duly lamented Masquerade Theatre, from where the founding Music Box four have hailed, she brings her radiant soprano, irrepressible comic chops and unalloyed stage presence to round out the mix. She's like the butter added into the béarnaise to give it sheen and body. All five actors are performers of the highest caliber, and it's difficult to beat their infectious camaraderie. Pulling it all together is the jazzy quartet led by music director Glenn Sharp, lead guitarist Mark McCain, bass guitarist Long Le and percussionist Donald Payne. These guys swing, too. From the musical sampler that includes such disparate works by Sara Bareilles ("Fairytale"), Queen ("Somebody to Love"), Dion ("Runaround Sue"), Disney ("Bibbidi Bobbity Boo"), The Rolling Stones ("You Can't Always Get What You Want") and the Beatles ("Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da"), the fab five at Music Box Theater weave a quilt whose quality is unparalleled. Wrap yourself up in it; you won't want to let go. Through October 13. 2623 Colquitt. 713-522-7722. — DLG
Life Could Be a Dream Another jukebox musical — the time is the '60s and the music is doo-wop — delivers nostalgia, charm and warm good feelings, but this time with a plot as well. The setting is a basement rec room where the slacker kids hang out, and, yes, "Get a Job" is amusingly staged, with the unseen mother chiming in on an intercom system. Denny (Adam Gibbs) is leader of the singing group, and he's the one with some show-business polish. Eugene (Mark Ivy) is a stereotypical nerd, and friend Wally (Dylan Godwin) drops in and joins the Denny and the Dreamers group; his trademark signature is enthusiasm. The group expands to include Skip (Cameron Bautsch), a mechanic from the wrong part of town; his trademark is to look hunky, which doesn't go unnoticed by Lois (Rebekah Stevens), whose uptight dad is a snob. The suspense is whether the group can get its act together to win a local contest being held the coming Saturday. Director and choreographer Mitchell Greco keeps the pace clipping along, and the voices are pleasant enough to carry the 20-plus songs, such as "A Sunday Kind of Love" and "Unchained Melody." Godwin has the greatest range, most intelligent rendition and impeccable phrasing. There are a lot of physical comedy and broad reactions, and these are appropriate and work well. The finale has a Chorus Line moment that lets us escape the basement and the irritating mother on the intercom. All this is created by Roger Bean, who wrote the long-running hit The Marvelous Wonderettes. This musical, intended for light summer fare, delivers on its promise, providing humor and nostalgia and letting us again relive the tuneful melodies of the '60s. Through October 14. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — JJT
Mr. Marmalade "How do I look?" asks goth babysitter Emily (Keshia Lovewell), salivating and pulling down her top in anticipation of her boyfriend's arrival. Her four-year-old charge Lucy (Monica Passley, in one hell of a performance) doesn't miss a beat. "Easy," she squeaks out with Borscht Belt precision. Watching Noah Haidle's R-rated comedy about precocious Lucy and how she copes with life through her imaginary friends, you think: Do kids really do this? Should kids do this? We don't know the exact origin of Lucy's vivid imagination, which can so easily conjure an adult playmate, Mr. Marmalade (Taylor Biltoft), who begins too good to be true, then turns dangerously sexual. Before the play is minutes old, Lucy suddenly blurts out in innocence, "How come you haven't touched me?...Is there someone else?" The question is practically obscene. What could very well be taken as child abuse or too painful for us to watch, Haidle turns inside out by having the children, Lucy and her real playmate, suicidal Larry (Louis Crespo Jr.), played by adult actors. The comedy can now be smart instead of snarky and objectionable — and still pitch-dark. Passley and Crespo do marvels with these roles, bringing wide-eyed wonder, deep-seated loneliness and bouncy playground charm to these children who see their world like adults but behave like tots, complete with tantrums, food fights, playing house and doctor, and manipulating obtuse Mom (Laura Chapman). When they eventually cast off their fantasy playmates, they find some kind of happiness with each other. The ensemble cast, under Scott McWhirter's sensitive direction, is foolproof. Biltoft is marvelously smarmy, suave when he's the husband from Heaven, enjoying a cup of Lucy's coffee and promising her a trip to Mexico; next, slovenly and abusive, lapping up cocaine from the living-room table and spilling out porn and sex toys from his briefcase. Danny Seibert plays Marmalade's secretary, Bradley, with exquisite aplomb, all prim and proper, except when he too is abused. Haidle's portrait of childhood revolves around desperately lonely kids who survive the world by creating a new one that is both funny and disturbing. The next time a youngster asks to play house, be on guard. Through August 25. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG
Our Town Thornton Wilder's great masterpiece about life in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, at the beginning of the 20th century glorifies the mundane: the scent of heliotropes in the moonlight, strawberry phosphates at the drug store, shelling green beans with a neighbor, the grief at a funeral. The town is life, and life, according to Wilder, is the mind of God. Daily life (Act I) leads into love and marriage (Act II), which skips right to the graveyard (Act III). The Stage Manager lays it all out, first, as tour guide to the town's undistinguished history; soon, he takes a part in the play as an annoyed lady on the street or the understanding drugstore owner; then he's back as omniscient narrator, showing us the layout of the high mountain cemetery before he guides Emily back into the past, where Wilder's darker themes hit home. The play is swept of clutter; Wilder banishes sets and most props, leaving the whole play to our imagination. Houston Family Arts Center gets a lot of Wilder right. Patrick Barton's Stage Manager is folksy yet brutally clear-eyed; Sarah McQueen's questioning Emily has an innocent laugh; Matt Hudson's Professor Willard proclaims his dry geology statistics with pomp; J. Blanchard's town drunk Simon Stimson doesn't play for comedy, but keeps his character sour and uncompromising; Whitney Zangarine's Mrs. Gibbs is no-nonsense but conveys the disappointment of dreams unfulfilled; and Rita Hughes's Mrs. Webb shows dignity in a marriage that has settled into rote. Most of the characters, though, aren't completely lived in, the actors still finding their way into their roles. Some of the minor ones seem to have been cast yesterday and are still catching up. Director Liza Garza keeps a steady pace throughout, and the minimal production is enhanced by an effective use of sound effects — the nostalgic glass clink of milk bottles zooms us to a time long past. But the idea to costume this period play in contemporary garb doesn't sit well. The intent, published in the playbill, was to keep these characters relevant to today's audience. Considering Wilder fills his play with milkmen, the first automobiles and such arcane tasks as chopping wood for the kitchen stove, how relevant is a tank top? Through September 9. Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Rd., 281-685-6374. — DLG
Tamarie Cooper's DOOMSDAY REVUE (the greatest musical ever) Tamarie Cooper, co-founder of The Catastrophic Theatre, brings her annual musical comedy revue to DiverseWorks in a colorful, splashy production. The set, designed by Kirk Markley, is a handsome, elegant skyline of skyscrapers, soon overtaken by bedlam as Cooper enters to start the merry antics — she not only holds the stage, she owns it with a vengeance and doesn't leave it for 90 minutes of uninterrupted frivolity. This revue is ostensibly about the end of the world but is really about energy and enthusiasm and irreverence for all the graven images of our culture. The witty costumes, by Kelly Switzer, are part of the unrelenting fun, especially The Dancing Cupcake and the multi-limbed giant roaches. Tamarie's plans for a blockbuster musical are interrupted by forecasts of imminent doom, and every doomsday prediction from the Mayan calendar to the Rapture comes in for skewering. There is an inspired sequence involving Barbie dolls, including Prostitute Barbie. A brilliant sequence nails the teenage angst of being the outsider; the wit here is incisive, gentle and sweet. And who knew there was so much humor in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Musical theater is there to rebuild the world, with zombies from Cabaret, Into the Woods, Phantom of the Opera, Annie, Hair and Fiddler on the Roof. All the very talented actors play multiple roles and sing and dance. Tamarie can do no wrong, and her skill and professionalism shape this motley bag of concepts into a cohesive whole. A large, triumphant cast brings to life a revue of great humor, considerable wit and inspired foolishness, guaranteeing an evening of delightful enjoyment. Through August 25. Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Fwy., 713-522-2723. — JJT
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