Stage Capsule Reviews

Always...Patsy Cline Ted Swindley, former founding director of Houston's Stages Repertory Theatre, created this ultimate country-fried jukebox musical in 1988 as a tribute to the late, great Patsy Cline. Even with its meager story line pegged to Louise (Lyndsay Sweeney), a Cline groupie who meets her favorite star for one night, the show's been Angus prime beef ever since, drawing in appreciative audiences who revel in the 27 Cline classics, like "Back in Baby's Arms," "I Fall to Pieces," "Crazy" and "Sweet Dreams." This singularly unimaginative premise — it's really a staged concert — wouldn't work at all without a singer who's able to channel Cline's star power, girl-next-door persona, pipes of platinum and unmistakable vocal mannerisms. As the old movie advertisements used to proclaim, Julia Kay Laskowski is Patsy Cline. She has the voice, the styling and the very moves of this most distinctive, beloved country/pop singer. Her uncanny impersonation goes way beyond mere mimicry: This is acting of the highest order. Even though she barely says more than a few lines of dialogue — unfortunately, Louise never shuts up — Laskowski is splendidly phenomenal. If you love the songs and sound of Patsy Cline, this mega-concert must not be missed. Through July 29. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573. — DLG

Death on the Nile The Alley Theatre's elegant production of this Agatha Christie classic is filled with memorable characters and artful red herrings. The entire story takes place in the sunny saloon of a steamer ship floating along the Nile during the early years of the 20th century. Newlyweds Simon (Chris Hutchison) and Kay Mostyn (Christian Corp) would be deliriously happy were it not for the fact that they are being chased by Simon's ex, Jacqueline De Severac (Elizabeth Bunch). It would appear Jacqueline hasn't gotten over the fact that Simon dumped her for Kay, a very wealthy heiress — and the scorned lady has been relentlessly following the newlyweds throughout their honeymoon, wanting only to make them as miserable as she is. Trying to throw Jacqueline off their tracks, the lovers have jumped on board the little paddle steamer. Of course, when Jacqueline does show up at the last minute, the stage is set for at least one homicide, if not more. The story also features a handful of quintessential Christie eccentrics — the travelers and workers sit at the elbows of the beautiful people at the center of Christie's tale. It's great fun to watch these characters move through this dreamy world of beautiful things. All decked out with the Victorian glamour of inlaid paneling, dark floral carpeting and a wall full of mahogany windows framed by crisp, creamy curtains, the set by Kevin Rigdon is absolutely breathtaking. Through July 29. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421. — LW

The Music Man There is no musical more American than this classic from Meredith Willson (1957). With its ragtime-infused score, Iowan homegrown wit, barbershop quartet and all-American bad-boy hero, it could only have been written in the good ol' USA. You know the plot: Conman Harold Hill scams innocent townsfolk into supporting a boys' band that will keep the kids out of trouble at the pool hall. ("Trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for pool," he croons seductively.) When they order instruments and uniforms, he absconds with the money. He's redeemed when he falls in love with prim, but wise, town librarian Marian. The show is amazingly clever and tune-filled (the first number is music-less, with traveling salesmen mimicking the rhythms and sounds of the train they're riding as they debate the inevitable changes in the modern world). This quirky musical is one of a kind and not seen often enough onstage. Country Playhouse does fairly well with it, except for its overpowering small orchestra, which drowns out almost every singer, and the overbearing dancing townsfolk — and I mean the entire town — clumping around en masse onstage. The cast is enormous, which means at least 100 feet are pounding out the dance routines. Do you know how loud that is? Roy Johnson (The Music Man) lacks the innate pizzazz this ultimate conman must have, and there's not much chemistry with Marian (Deborah Tushnet), who has a lovely soprano when not drowned out by the aforementioned music makers. But the barbershop quartet, the staging of the library scene and the quintessential gossipy "Pickalittle Talkalittle" ladies are all very fine indeed. Through July 28. 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497. — DLG


Always...Patsy Cline/i>, Death on the Nile, The Music Man and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie What exactly is the point in casting two leading men who can't sing in a musical? Maybe there's better luck with the alternate cast, but that's the big problem here — a musical this big needs one solid cast, not two semi-rehearsed ones. (Although all the time in the world wouldn't make the two guys I heard, Stephen Heck and Eric Oneacre, carry a tune.) Based upon the 1967 Julie Andrews movie musical parody of the Roaring Twenties, the Broadway show (2002) is delightfully silly and absolutely adorable. It is blessed with a sparkling Jazz Age pastiche of a score by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change; Shrek III) and surprisingly fun tap routines, especially the show-stopping "Forget About the Boy," here choreographed by Tina Dennison and Dinah Mahlman, which Playhouse 1960 did rehearse and perform gloriously. It was a revelation, to be frank, and utterly unexpected. Caitlin Reader made a spunky "modern" Millie with voice to match, and Sarah McQueen refreshingly spun white slaver Mrs. Meers, a failed actress who, pretending to be Chinese, kidnaps wayward orphan women at her boarding house. So deliciously different from the other cardboard actors, she stole the show without breaking a sweat. The backstage hands still have not learned how to light a show atmospherically without turning on all the lights like a cheap supermarket, and the orchestra was stuck in a room off the side wing, horribly muffling the sound. This was a blessing, as they couldn't play the jazzy syncopations any better than the two male leads could sing it. But the audience was forgiving to a fault, blasting the guys with a standing ovation. Through July 29. 6814 Gant, 281-587-8243. — DLG


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