Capsule Stage Reviews: Menopause The Musical, Oscar in the Box, See Rock City & Other Destinations, The Tempest

Menopause The Musical Menopause The Musical turns angst into rollicking good humor as four disparate female strangers meet and bond over the sharing of common mid-life crises. The set is simple and handsome, and props are expeditiously added and subtracted without slowing the breakneck pace of this surprisingly entertaining vehicle. The humor is broad, some of the jokes obvious, some of the material thin, but the broad humor is delivered with glee, obvious jokes enhanced by first-rate mugging and thin material fleshed out by performances of such professional caliber that hilarity follows. "Earth Mother" (Sandy Rosenberg) has superb comic timing and an expressive face. She is a belter, and can sell a song. "Professional Woman" (Sandra Benton) has a thrilling voice that carries to the rafters. "Iowa Housewife" (Marsha Waterbury) is brilliant in contemplating a seductive outfit that would never fit. "Soap Star" (Cherie Price) enchants as she flirts with a male patron. Book and lyrics are by Jeanie Linders, and the lyrics are parodies of famous songs, but this is not a jukebox musical, in which the book bridges the songs. This book stands on its own, as an insightful critique into female angst, with the angst transformed into humor through the alchemy of intelligence and wisdom. The subject matter ranges from Indian food to gray hair, wrinkles, mothers, weight problems, forgetfulness, inattentive husbands and yes, hot flashes. The hero of the evening is the flawless tone, with the right mixture of insight, point-of-view and comic exaggeration to generate warm good feeling. No wonder this has played in 300 cities abroad, and 450 U.S. cities. A comedy musical seemingly geared toward women turns out to have universal appeal. Go see it – I laughed my male butt off! Through April 29. Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525. — JJT

Oscar in the Box If you want to go to the movies with five friends, who better to accompany you than the talented quintet at Music Box Theatre? This musical send-up of movie genres is a lively romp, filled with silly parodies yet heart-felt renditions of complementary songs that, while not always Oscar winners, are awarded with all the professional polish that this group so effortlessly possesses. Brad Scarborough, one of the talented five, gets accidentally whacked on the head by real-life wife Rebekah Dahl, and he spends the evening trapped in movie mayhem trying to get back home. There's a James Bond goof, radiantly offset by Colton Berry's rendition of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager's ballad from The Spy Who Loved Me, "Nobody Does It Better." Cay Taylor, all innocent but knowing, plaintively hugs Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home," while Luke Wrobel, playing godfather Don Cortisone (it's funnier in person, trust me), spins the classic Herman Hupfeld song from Casablanca, "As Time Goes By," and turns it into pure vocal butter. Dahl gets her golden chance with a muscular rock rendition of Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford's "Holding Out for a Hero," appropriated from Footloose, and then positively shines during the second act in Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin's "The Man That Got Away" from A Star is Born. Scarborough shows off his impeccable showmanship and silvery voice with his interpretation of Roy Orbison and Bill Dees's "Oh, Pretty Woman" and Alex North and Hy Zaret's poignant and haunting "Unchained Melody." Perfectly accompanied by the jazz quartet of Glenn Sharp, Mark McCain, Long Le and Donald Payne, all five talents comprise cabaret at its best. Oscars for everybody. Through April 28. Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

See Rock City & Other Destinations This pleasant pastiche of musical vignettes ambles its way onto the stage of Theatre LaB Houston, with Linda Phenix directing and choreographing the events. She keeps the pace and energy flowing, aided by actor Beth Lazarou, who swoops across the stage like a hummingbird and can make even a line like "I can see my house from here" sound riveting. Her personality adds significance to the slightest of material — and there is some of that in this medley of unrelated episodes taking place at famed locations. The music by Brad Alexander is sweet and serviceable, and the book by Adam Mathias delivers its share of humor but carries little bite. The lyrics, also by Mathias, are not memorable, though I can't seem to forget "You are my bitch." Scott Lupton plays a stranger who gives a waitress (Lazarou) a ride, and also, with Josef Anderson, one of two buddies on a trip to Coney Island – this section is vividly staged, and the writing shows nuance and invention. Anderson also portrays a guy watching for aliens, a running gag with little payoff. Lazarou is joined by Jessica Janes and Shondra Marie as sisters delivering the ashes of their Dad into Alaskan waters — all are good and the humor skillfully etches the three personalities. In other bits, Janes plays a bride at Niagara Falls having second thoughts, and Marie is good as a woman at the Alamo with her grandfather, played by Jimmy Phillips, whose musical recollection of memories is poignant and moving. John Dunn nails the role of a Niagara Falls tour guide with polish and sophisticated aplomb. See Rock City delivers some low-key charm and amiable humor, with the occasional foray into the unexpected. Through April 29. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — JJT

The Tempest Classical Theatre Company's foray into the thickets of William Shakespeare this season is The Tempest, one of the Bard's most popular plays. Shoehorned into the intimate Obsidian Art Space, the opening shipwreck is adroitly staged with strobe lights and thunderous music, and succeeds as drama. The leading role is Prospero (Philip Lehl), exiled Duke of Milan and sorcerer, whose brother Alonso usurped his rule and cast him adrift, to end up with his daughter Miranda on an unpopulated island. Twelve years have passed, and Prospero reveals to Miranda (Jacqui Grady, with a dazzling smile), now 15, her origin. Lehl and director John Johnston have steered Prospero toward sincerity, but I yearned for the glee of Machiavellian guile. The pace picks up when Blair Knowles enters as the sprite Ariel, whom Prospero has freed from enchantment. She is delightful, with soaring movements, vivacious stage presence and costume to match. Dylan Godwin is intoxicating as Stephano, whose antic energy and drunken joy sweep the stage like a whirlwind. Kregg Alan Dailey has the choice role of Caliban, monstrous son of a deceased sorceress, but fails to convey the requisite deformity; he thunders his lines and is awkward in movement — in short, a scene-killer. Meanwhile, the director apparently made the odd decision to have set designer Jodi Bobrovsky create a backdrop from plastic, bottles and broken chairs to echo the debris floating in our oceans. Much of the action is played on the floor, but unless you're seated in the first row, characters disappear from view, blocked by the audience, since the stage is not raised. And director Johnston has opted for the garish in set and costume, rather than for the shadowed mystery of magic. The mission of Classical Theatre Company is "boldly re-envisioning classical drama"; they have succeeded in that. Some brilliant performances and some inventive staging make The Tempest well worth a visit. Through April 29. 3522 White Oak, 713-963-9665. — JJT


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