The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: A '60s Spin on Figaro & More

In Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Count Almaviva has married his Rosina, now the Countess (Ailyn Pérez), but instead of a first love/true love story arc (from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville), it seems the Count has strayed repeatedly in his wedding vows. “Their love has fallen away. She has remained faithful, but he’s messed around with all sorts of women. He’s created illegitimate sons and daughters,” says Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins, who plays the Count. Figaro (Adam Plachetka) is Count Almaviva’s valet and is finally getting ready to marry the love of his life, Susanna (Heidi Stober). Ah, but the Count has set his sights on Susanna himself. In the traditional opera, the Count had regrets about renouncing the droit du seigneur, a feudal custom giving the lord first rights to bed the bride of any of his subjects. In this updated account, set in 1969 Spain, it’s an argument about free love, Hopkins says. It’s love, lust, betrayal and fidelity all wrapped up in a brilliant musical score in this co-production by Houston Grand Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera, which we think is both cultured and cool for this Friday night.

“Susanna and Figaro try to foil the Count at every turn,” says Hopkins. The revolving set enables quick but definite changes between one act and the next, Hopkins says, and allows him to make a grand entrance driving a car. “There’s a really cool car that I get to arrive in during the overture, which is the arrival of the Count and Countess to their summer home. It’s this Austin-Healey car, which was specifically designed for this show with a golf cart motor in it. I do actually drive it.” As for his character: “He’s in the position of ultimate power, which is so much fun to play,” Hopkins says. “He has the ability to manipulate whoever he wants who is under his employ. So if he’s angered by something, he always finds someone else to blame; it’s never the Count who’s to blame. He’s also extremely horny all the time.” The countermeasures employed by Figaro and Susanna, with the aid of the Countess, do finally achieve some success — goodness triumphs in the end — and the Count gets down on his knees and begs pardon, as well he should.

7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturday and Wednesday; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through February 7. Wortham Center, 501 Texas. Sung in Italian with projected-English translation. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15-$338. 

The second annual Bayou City Burlesque & Circus Arts Festival, our other pick for this Friday night, features more than 40 burlesque and circus acts. The result is a show that’s funny, naughty and a bit scary — one act features the nail-in-the-nose trick.

“[Performers] put so much time, energy and money — everything — into that three to five minutes to make it the best, most amazing five minutes they can,” says KiKi Maroon, the festival’s producer.

The performers are an entire theatrical crew rolled into one (sometimes two). They design costumes, lighting and props, and take care of their own tech. “Every act is like a miniature play that the performer wrote,” says Maroon.

Maroon handpicked the headliners over the course of the past year. After last year’s festival, she traveled around the globe, even as far as Italy, in her search for talented and unique performers. She met New York-based acrobat double act Tansy and “her ferocious lion, Leeon Sugar,” at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. “When I saw their act, I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s it. We need them. They have to be in the Houston festival.’”

Leggy Lass Greenleaf, a contortionist burlesque dancer from Los Angeles; Matt Finish, a classically trained ballet dancer and the reigning king of boylesque; and Smolderin’ Scully & Miss Malacious: The Sexy Trapeze Duo round out the festival.

Maroon found additional acts through an open call. She received more than 100 video submissions from 11 different states. The result is a diverse festival featuring both classic burlesque of the Dita Von Teese variety and neo-burlesque styles.

Burlesque performer Maggie Motorboat is in the latter category. She takes the stage in a full chicken costume and dances her striptease to classic jazz. Maroon laughs. “It is the most hilarious, sexy chicken dance you have ever seen.”

This interest is a far cry from the days Maroon couldn’t book her shows at venues because burlesque was seen as too racy. (Last year’s festival drew a crowd of 900.) “It’s exponential. The more shows happen, the more people want to perform and get involved. It’s been really exciting to see that happen.”

Friday and Saturday. Warehouse Live, 813 Saint Emanuel. For information, call 713- 225-5483 or visit bcbcfestival.com. $20-$75.

Artistic Director Natalie Lerner’s The Mosaic Hub — which she founded in 2010 — came about because she wanted to bring back the old-time variety show style of entertainment — kind of like The Ed Sullivan Show “meets America’s Got Talent, except it’s not a competition.”

“We do [variety shows] once a month, feature local talent in various genres. In one night you might see a musician, an actor, a singer, a dancer, a band,” says Lerner. “And the next night, an aerial artist, a storyteller. It’s a really neat way to bring artists from various genres into the same room together, and also open their network in that way. It’s a fun show; there’s a lot of audience interaction.”

Southern Twang — A Variety Show will be the first variety show the group has held at The MATCH, and it's one of our recommendations for this Saturday night. The Mosaic Hub held a fundraiser there last December, and finds the venue conducive to its nightclub style of evening, with tables and chairs and a cash bar. “People like their drinks, don’t they?” says Lerner.

“We have Robert Berry, he’s a magician, and he’ll bring in the country aspect,” says Lerner. “The magic of country, how about that.”

The group has also booked vocalist and rising country artist Erica Honore, a 2012 Junior Division Rodeo Rockstar winner. “[We have] the improv duo Ophelia’s Rope, and they’ll do some sort of country skit, I’m sure,” says Lerner about the creative partnership of Autumn Clack and Ruth S McCleskey. The evening also includes Tejano and show tune vocalist Cristina Amaro — “she’ll do a country show tune” — and folklore entertainer Sheila Phillips.

“The evening will close out with the band Quiet Morning & the Calamity,” featuring Sean Ramos, Shane Lauder and Ryan Mohrman.

A portion of proceeds from Lerner’s events benefit local charities; Southern Twang will benefit Plant-It-Forward, which helps local refugees grow their own urban farm businesses.

7:30 p.m. Saturday. 3400 Main. For information, call 281-300-9656 or visit mosaic-hub.com. $30.

Los Angeles has always been known for its congestion, and one L.A. dance group — recognized for its dynamic theatricality and contemporary approach — has developed a creative twist on the concept, incorporating it into its name. BODYTRAFFIC, presented by the Society for the Performing Arts, premieres in Houston this weekend, which we think is a great way to spend Saturday night. The troupe is on a quick three-stop tour through Texas and Arizona.

“Our passion is infectious, so it is rewarding to go on tour, to meet new communities and share our love of dance with them,” says co-director Lillian Rose Barbeito, who founded the dance troupe in 2007 along with Tina Finkelman Berkett.

Barbeito describes the 70-minute program as “exhilarating,” adding that it is “fast-paced, confronting and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny.” The evening includes works by Barak Marshall, Hofesh Shechter and Richard Siegal.

Israeli choreographer Marshall’s piece, And at midnight the green bride floated through the village square…, explores rage, jealousy and loneliness within a family of nine children, danced to Jewish love songs and hymns from the Yiddish, Ladino and Yemenite traditions. Shechter, who hails from the United Kingdom, takes a dark look at the powers that steer today’s society in Dust, performed by three women and three men. One of BODYTRAFFIC’s signature works, o2Joy by American dancer and choreographer Siegal, is an homage to American jazz standards, including selections from Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.

“It is an expression of sheer joy through music and movement,” says Barbeito.

8 p.m. Saturday. Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit spahouston.org. $23 to $78. 

Expect lots of casualties this Sunday afternoon, and not just the 3,000 cars, vans, buses, ambulances and even airplanes that are crushed each year at Monster Jam® events, but also the supercharged and methanol-injected mega trucks themselves. Veteran driver Carl Van Horn knows, even before he straps himself into the 10,000-pound behemoth known as Grave Digger, that its hand-painted graveyard-themed body is doomed.

“Each body is $11,000 to produce, and we’ll destroy the thing in two minutes for the fans,” says Van Horn, though the chassis will live to see another day. “[We get] new bodies with each show. Sometimes we can get a body to last two weekends or three weekends.”

The inevitable destruction is the main reason that fans should attend the Party in the Pits beforehand, when the trucks are still “shiny and new.” The sheer scale becomes apparent when a pint-size kid stands next to a 66-inch-tall tire supporting a 12-foot-tall truck.

“[We’ll be] taking photographs, signing autographs. The kids look up to us,” says Van Horn. “It’s bigger than life to them, and you can see it on their faces at the pit party.

“There’s a big rivalry with Grave Diggers [there are nine in all] and other trucks, because we’ve been the most popular truck for so many years; everybody’s trying to take us down.

“Most of the time Grave Digger goes out last, and I see all the other trucks go out, and when I see something really cool or death-defying, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to top it,” Van Horn says about the moments before he enters the stadium. “It may be hitting the obstacle at another angle, or faster, to make it more spectacular, and hope for the best and rely on driver instinct to pull it off.”

Party in the Pits is at noon Sunday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday, January 23 and February 6. Monster Jam is 4 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Saturday, January 23 and February 6. NRG Stadium, 1 NRG Park. For information, call 800-745-3000 or visit monsterjam.com. $10 to $100.

Ashley Clos, Margaret Downing and Katricia Lang contributed to this post.

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney