Capsule Stage Reviews: The Elixir of Love, Little Shop of Horrors, Mary Poppins, The Rocky Horror Show

The Elixir of Love It takes over an hour and a half before the magic potion finally takes effect at Houston Grand Opera and Gaetano Donizetti's sparkling opera starts to fizz. We have to wait until nearly the end of the opera for director Annabel Arden to stop being obtrusive and allow the principal characters, Adina and Nemorino, to sing their two arias without distraction and unnecessary directorial comment. Pining away for Adina (soprano Ekaterina Siurina), who's been playing hard to get, Nemorino (tenor John Osborn) thinks he has a chance with her because he's seen a tiny tear fall from her eyes, as he plaintively sings in the world-famous tenor aria "Una Furtiva Lagrima." It's a lovely, singular moment, all too rare in this badly thought-out production. After Nemorino finishes his aria, Adina relents and sings of her heartfelt feelings for him. She has bought back his enlistment papers so he can stay in the village among those who love him. "Prendi," she says simply; "take back" the papers. The scene is the heart of the opera, and the work comes alive simply through the beautiful melody and its dulcet singing. But Arden doesn't trust the opera to sing for itself, and keeps intruding everywhere. She douses Felice Romani's soufflé-light plot under thick interpretive goo that takes the fun right out of it, even adding an unnecessary mime role. Arden allows this most sunny of operas to be played against a somber black wall where not even the sky can intrude; may she stay far away from HGO in the future. Through November 9. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. 713-228-6737. — DLG

Little Shop of Horrors Texas Repertory Theatre, the little theater that could, is showing that classic little show that could, Little Shop of Horrors. Nothing about this musical is ordinary. Have you ever seen a man-eating plant smile? Or watched it bop to a '60s tune while it tries to snap off a finger or two of the young man who holds it, nurtures it, feeds it with his own...blood? Well then, you'd better get to Texas Rep for your fix of the delicious little musical parody that ate NYC and practically every other theater venue in the last 27 years. Superbly crafted, amazingly clever and one hell of a good time, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 1982 work, adapted from Roger Corman's cheesy sci-fi flick from 1960, opened on Broadway without much hype or hope, and within days had ticket buyers lining up off-Broadway. The show ran for five years and kicked the writing duo into the waiting arms of Disney, for whom they penned Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and Aladdin, before Ashman's death in 1991. Little Shop is still their best work, and TRT lovingly produces it with all the theatrical know-how at its disposal. I don't think this show's ever looked, or sounded, so good. This is the way a musical's supposed to be: pepped up, slickly paced and gloriously acted, with all the little details thought out completely. Hats off to director Craig Miller, conductor Luke Kirkwood, actors Joshua Estrada, Blythe Kirkwood, Matthew Wade and Steven Fenley, and puppet creators Elliott Jordan, Joshua Clark and Daniel Roberts, who gave life to a really bad-ass blood sucker. Through October 31. 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — DLG


The Elixir of Love

Mary Poppins Long before spry chimney sweep Bert (a sprightly Gavin Lee) tap-dances upside down around the proscenium, we've been absolutely bewitched by this fantastically theatrical production from the Disney juggernaut (Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Shrek, Little Mermaid, Tarzan), presented by Broadway Across America. The world's most famous "practically perfect" nanny (a radiantly prim Ashley Brown) gets a show she can be bloody proud of. There is wizardry in spades on view, thanks to the amazingly fluid direction and choreographed staging by co-directors Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne, abetted by the dazzling animated sets and costumes by Bob Crowley. Even the songs newly added to the production, written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, sound as if they've recently been found in the trunk of movie composers the Sherman Brothers. They all have the right flair and English-music-hall tone. The audience wants to relive the Disney movie and, quite simply, will not be disappointed in this transfer to live action. To be fair, one might miss the original's dancing penguins and runaway carousel horses, but there's so much here that's clever and spellbinding on its own terms that a lack of a few cinematic special effects will not dampen anyone's enthusiasm. In all likelihood, you'll be thoroughly amazed at how much of the movie's flavor comes across. I don't think Miss Poppins would object to a healthy pruning, though. We know how much she likes things "spick and span," and a few of the littlest audience members might still be awake at the end if some of "Daddy's banking problems" were trimmed. But by all means, everyone should stay awake for Mary's spectacular goodbye — a jaw-dropping finale like none other. This is a jolly good show. Through November 8. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 800-982-2787. — DLG

The Rocky Horror Show Calling all vamps, tramps, sluts and assholes — The Rocky Horror Show is getting down and dirty at the University of Houston. And the silly, sexy send-up is just in time for Halloween. Richard O'Brien's wacky musical about a transsexual from outer space and the two seemingly innocent earthlings who learn a thing or two about doing the nasty has become a cult favorite since it first opened in London in 1973. Since then, the film version has become a midnight movie fave. But the funny version coming from the talented young cast of UH students under the direction of Paul Hope outdoes any night at the multiplex. Full of half-naked bodies and high-heeled boots (not to mention the rest of the wild costumes from Clair Hummel), the show follows Brad (Kelly Burnett) and Janet (Jacklyn Collier) after their car breaks down in the middle of one dark and stormy night. On their way to look for a phone, they find a castle. The fun really flies once they step inside the naughty domain of Frank (Bobby Labartino), a sort of Liza Minnelli-on-steroids who wears a bustier and red heels, along with some very nasty makeup. He's got a whole host of underlings, including a spidery fellow named Riff-Raff (Chris Egging) and a dominatrix named Magenta (CJ Dockery). Over the course of the long night, both boring Brad and vanilla-pudding Janet come out of some sort of closet while singing and dancing the Time Warp. The audience is invited to participate by the Narrator (Matt Lusk). This show marks the first time UH has done a full-scale musical in 20 years, and the whole thing is a hoot. Through November 1. Wortham Theatre, University of Houston Park, 4800 Calhoun, 713-743-2929. — LW


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