Capsule Stage Reviews: June 26, 2014

Disney's The Little Mermaid Disney's 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid was made into a Broadway musical, closing in August 2009, and was then reworked for a national tour. Children will be delighted, but this production is infused with intelligence and charm and has enormous appeal to adults. The good King Triton (Steve Blanchard), ruler of an underwater kingdom, has lapses in temperament, and the villainess Ursula (Liz McCartney), his deposed sister, has such a zest for evil that she becomes captivating. Ariel (Jessica Grove) is the youngest daughter of Triton, headstrong and rebellious, and fascinated by the forbidden mystery of the world above the sea. All three are excellent. McCartney dominates her scenes with a powerful authority, appearing with henchmen Flotsam (Scott Leiendecker) and Jetsam (Ben Roseberry), who move wonderfully. Eric Kunze plays Prince Eric with youthful good looks and nails his solo song "Her Voice." Dale Hensley plays Grimsby, court adviser to Eric, and captures his protective fondness for Eric. Alan Mingo Jr. portrays Sebastian, underwater court composer, with a vivid, over-the-top personality that adds enormously to the fun, and is exhilarating in the song "Under the Sea." Matt Allen plays Scuttle, a friend of Ariel, and leads the show-stopping song "Positoovity." Deadlines play an important part in the plot, but rest assured, true love finds a way. The production is enormous fun, and as directed by Glenn Casale has a unity of tone that is enchanting. The costumes by Amy Clark and Mark Moss are colorful and witty. The music is by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glen Staler, and book by Doug Wright. The choreography by John MacInnis is breathtakingly good. This is a production for the ages — all the ages. It is a must-see triumph. Through June 29. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525 or 713-558-8887. — JJT

Good People "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" asks Glinda, a very good witch. "Why, I'm not a witch at all," answers the girl recently arrived by tornado, "I'm Dorothy Gale from Kansas." Dorothy never answers Glinda's question. Of course, there's no doubt that she's very good indeed. But I wonder what Margie from Southie (i.e., south Boston's lower end) would answer. As played by Elizabeth Bunch in the Alley Theatre's thoroughly entertaining production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Tony-nominated Good People (2011), she's a little of both. At times, it seems she's a lot of bad. The good is buried under a hard shell, calcified through circumstances, economic woe, and partially due to her own bad decisions. She is stuck in south Boston and will probably never see Oz, although she comes as close as she can imagine it when she crashes a party in chic Chestnut Hill in Act II. She's desperate for a job, anything will do, having just been fired by manager friend Stevie (Dylan Godwin) from her cashier's position at the Dollar Store. It's not her fault, she pleads. The babysitter was late again. Adult daughter Joyce with her special needs requires 24/7 attention. Margie (pronounced with a hard "g") does the best she can. When this tactic doesn't sway Stevie, Margie turns up the heat, insinuating with neighborhood gossip or wheedling with forced kindness. A master manipulator, she knows just the right moment to lay on a guilt trip. She's one tough cookie. But this time her tactics misfire. She's out of a job. There's comfort of sorts at home, where crusty former high school pal Jean (Melissa Pritchett, blowsy and deliciously low-rent) and foul-mouthed landlady Dottie (Jennifer Harmon, as juicy and pungent as her memorable Violet in the Alley's August: Osage County) are a type of extended family. None of the three censor their thoughts, saying whatever's on their mind at the moment. It's in the ratty kitchen where Jean plants the idea for Margie's next move. She has run into Mike (Chris Hutchison), a former Southie who has made it big as a doctor. He once had a brief fling with Margie in high school. Ask him for a job, Jean states with brittle assurance. "He's good people." Good, bad, nice, mean, class, no class — they're all mixed up in Lindsay-Abaire's social dissection. Mike might be decent and successful, but has he really forgotten his roots, his old neighborhood buddies? "'I'm comfortable," he responds uneasily to Margie's prying when she goes to his office to ask for a job. "I'm uncomfortable," she parries, getting under his skin. She gropes even deeper when she tells him he's "lace-curtain Irish," apparently the worst slur one can hurl at a Southie. She picks up a family picture and slyly comments that his beautiful wife is younger than her daughter Joyce. Something happened that summer, although nothing is explicitly said. In an intriguing battle of wills, her passive-aggressive assault wears Mike down, and Hutchison, using that velvet rasp of a voice and shrewd physical movement, shows us his eventual acquiescence. Margie gets invited to the Saturday birthday party. Plenty of rich people there. One of them has got to have a job for her. She needs the rent money. The rich have problems, too. Although she mistakes Margie for the caterer, Mike's African-American wife, Kate (Krystel Lucas, making a lovely Alley debut), seethes underneath a calm, radiant exterior. Their marriage is in trouble. The party had been canceled, but Margie didn't believe Mike when he told her, thinking he was blowing her off. So it's only the three of them and a immense cheese tray. Squirming and uncomfortable, Mike wants Margie out of there, but Kate wants Margie to tell stories of Mike's days in Southie. Memories of slumming go awry, naturally, and their long-ago summer affair rips open old wounds. Privilege, luck, hard work — these trump choices. But Margie's emotional blackmail trumps everything. Through June 29. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

Xanadu Xanadu was a 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John that was savaged by critics. A stage version seemed unlikely, but gifted playwright Douglas Carter Beane updated the book and it opened on Broadway to acclaim and a 513-performance run. The plot? Demigods on Mount Olympus are forbidden to fall in love with mortals, but the muse Clio falls for Sonny Malone, an artist who draws chalk murals in Venice, California. Sonny is dissatisfied with his work and decides to commit suicide, but is dissuaded by Clio. Instead, he seeks to open a roller-skating rink as an art haven. Mitchell Greco directed and choreographed, brilliantly, keeping the pace moving vigorously and finding the laughs. Holland Vavra plays Clio with a luminous beauty, acting chops and a compelling way with a song, and could not be better. Cameron Bautsch plays Sonny, providing an endearing portrait of a likable nerd, but the sexual chemistry between the two is largely invisible. Beane added a plot twist, as muse Melpomene (Tamara Siler, great gospel voice) and muse Calliope (Julie Simpson Garcia, in harlequin glasses) plot against Clio. Both are hilarious and their bonding in evildoing delightful. Thomas Prior plays Danny Maguire, and is excellent as a businessman with a backstory of missed opportunities. The entire chorus is wonderful, but special mention must go to Mark Ivy, who is outstanding as the muse Thalia, and as the young Maguire in a flashback. The four-piece band is great and the production first-rate. Music and lyrics are by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. I especially liked "I'm Alive," "Evil Woman," "Don't Walk Away," "Fool" and "Have You Never Been Mellow." This is a triumphant lark of a musical, as light as a cloud and as joyous as a sunbeam, funny and endearing. See it for a rollicking good time. Extended through July 20. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — JJT

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