Stage Capsule Reviews

Fiddler on the Roof In 1964, Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Joseph Stein (book) created this brilliant Broadway show starring the irrepressible Zero Mostel as poor milkman Tevye, who's struggling to hold his family together with "tradition" in the face of inevitable change. But it was director/choreographer Jerome Robbins who made it a beloved classic. There's no good way to stage this musical play without a healthy dose of Robbins's staging — it's such an integral part of the show's universal appeal that his work should be copyrighted. Playhouse 1960's production, under Manny and Tina Cafeo's direction and staging, hints at past glories, but a few more rehearsals would greatly sand down the roughness and give the chorus time to become acclimated to being onstage and remaining in character. Larry Ransberger makes a very sweet Tevye, chock full of humanity and earthy humor; Cindy Tippens is a formidable Golde; Leona Hoegsberg brings chattering matchmaker Yente to mischievous life; and Louis Crespo, Jr., embodies fiery revolutionary Perchik. The night I was there, Tevye's lovely daughters were plagued by microphone amplification problems, their voices cutting in and out, but the half that was clearly heard was very nice. (I assume these annoyances will be fixed for the remainder of the run.) Though the great musical set piece "The Dream," wherein Tevye convinces Golde that eldest daughter Tzeitel should marry the poor tailor she loves instead of the suitor chosen for her, was sloppy and unfocused, the show's overwhelming compassion and great heart always shined through. No matter what problems, the show ultimately survives — Fiddler's very theme. Through June 24. 6814 Gant, 281-587-8243. — DLG

Hooters It's nice to know that not much has changed since the days of Frankie and Annette — or Samson and Delilah, either. Ted Tally's surf-and-sand romantic comedy, presented by Pendulum Theatre, is a four-character battle of the sexes set during a 1978 summer weekend on Cape Cod. Long before Tally won his screenplay-adaptation Oscar for Silence of the Lambs, he wrote this play about two young guys (Michael Shukis and Houston Hayes) who want sex as soon as possible and the slightly older gals (Beth DeLozier and Lauren Bigelow) who string them along or can't be bothered. Feminism and N.O.W. are in full swing, and the wiser women know just how to dance that dance to their advantage — if anyone's going to get hurt, rest assured it won't be Cheryl or Ronda, certainly not by some guy and his blustery sense of entitlement. Cheryl abandons mousy, abrasive Ronda to have sex with innocent Clint, leaving Ronda on the beach all night with gruff, blunt Ricky. But in the end, the females are on the same team; it's the pros vs. the amateurs. Once the macho posturing is stripped from the males, they're really sensitive little boys at heart, don't you know. Tally cuts away from scenes just as they begin to darken too seriously, thankfully keeping the tone on the light side. As a raunchy take on all those "beach blanket" genre movies, such as How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and Beach Party, Tally's romance cleverly twists the cinematic conventions while keeping them center stage. The play's full head of steam never abates, thanks to the all-out assault on the characters by the talented young acting quartet. Director Holly Vogt Wilkison neatly keeps the comedy's tanned momentum well oiled. You might call this production a lovely day at the beach. Through June 23. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch, 832-746-7347. — DLG

Parker Family Circus Tommy Parker's got problems. Big ones. Bounced from school for stripping naked, peeing all over the place and recklessly propositioning schoolmates, "slow" Tommy (Cory Grabenstein) finds sanctuary with Mamaw (Skip Blakely), widow of Tommy's idolized grandfather. Grandpa had been Tommy's only friend and confidant, a lifeline for his rootless existence. "What's to become of me?" Tommy wails. His parents (Helen Hurn and Revis Bell) are too busy with their careers and can't be bothered, his sassy sister (Melina Twyman) is thoroughly embarrassed by his very presence and valley girl Vesta (Laura Leigh Pavlica) is nice to him only to get her hands on his rare collection of comic books. He can have sex with her only one time in exchange for the comics. But Tommy only wants sex from Mamaw. Needless to say, this jaw-dropping revelation throws everyone into a gigantic tailspin. Jan Buttram's 2001 family comedy/drama has enough themes for several plays; unfortunately, they collide more than flow and ebb, making the play choppy and hesitant. The actors embody this problem subconsciously, and they dawdle and wait for cues instead of plunging ahead. Grabenstein handles this problem best, and his intensity overshadows the others — he's vividly alive and weird. That his emotional crack-up, so easily solved with a few family hugs, works as well as it does is testament to Grabenstein's striking presence. Would that the others followed his lead. Through June 30. Theatre Suburbia, 1410 W. 43rd St., 713-682-3525. — DLG


Fiddler on the Roof, Hooters, Parker Family Circus and Private Lives

Private Lives "To hell with love," the formerly married Elyot and Amanda toast with Art Deco disdain, and then proceed to fall into each other's arms and run off to Paris, leaving their befuddled honeymoon spouses behind to sort out the mess. Nol Coward's classic 1930 comedy of bad manners is awhirl with ultra-refined sophistication and frivolous play. "Let's be superficial" is its motto, keeping the depressing modern world at bay with the pretense that nothing matters — except its own rules for living — society and convention be damned. Elyot and Amanda sin with classy grace and abundant charm. Their dialogue drips with sparkling bons mots and wicked put-downs, all while they chug brandies, throw things and slap each other around. In this lost world of silk dressing gowns, potted palms and smart cocktails, sex is everywhere — it sneaks up in the layered conversation, in the soign poses, in the languid waltz of Coward's own "Someday I'll Find You" that Elyot sings to Amanda. Subversive and pervasive, a heady, sensual perfume wafts throughout the comedy. Unlike any other, it's Coward's beguiling trademark — and the implied sexiness caused a real sensation when it premiered. It still can, and very nearly does in Theatre Southwest's production. Andrew Adams (Elyot) might as well model for Coward; exuding caf-society insouciance and poise, he's as close to an ideal Elyot — a charming bounder absolutely in love with his former wife, when not wrestling her to the ground — as you're likely to find. Although Stacy Ann Spaeth (Amanda) lacks the high-gloss glamour that's intrinsic to Amanda's natural armor, her high-octane comic timing compensates beautifully. Her physical sparring with Adams is 100-proof Coward. As bubble-headed, sniveling Sibyl and pompous, "normal" Victor, Jessica Knapp and Steve Carpentier deliver pitch-perfect performances as the clueless spouses left in Elyot and Amanda's dust. Director Penelope Corden allows Coward's stylish world to envelop us without being smothering. Like Sir No‘l, she pours a very dry, bracing martini. Tasty, my dear, very tasty, indeed. Through June 23. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG


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