The set-up: Five veteran performers from Masquerade Theatre, Houston's repertory company of Broadway musicals, have left that company to form their own: Music Box Theater. This is the company's first show. The five artists (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Cay Taylor, Colton Berry) use the cabaret format to showcase their formidable talents, and plan to produce four different shows a year. The music is an ecumenical assortment from Broadway, the great American songbook, Hollywood, and contemporary pop and rock.
The execution: As musical performers, this quintet is unimpeachable. Since they no longer have fictional characters to play, the five play themselves, or some version of the persona they want us to believe they are. Inevitably they overplay. Even solo cabaret acts get bogged down in personal patter, but since this is the troupe's first original show, and details must be worked out, they are forgiven -- this time. More singing, less talk.
Miss Dahl, a Houston treasure and definitive Broadway baby, is as comfortable on stage as breathing is to everyone else. Happily she satisfies our Broadway craving when Valkyrie-like, she rides joyously through Wicked's powerhouse anthem "Defying Gravity." Easy-going with charm to spare, Mr. Scarborough proves it with his crooner's smooth rendition of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby." He's a comic foil for dramatically dark Mr. Wrobel, who oozes intensity. Wrobel's idiosyncratic take on "Over the Rainbow" is reason enough to see this show. Miss Taylor belies her stature with a ringing, rich soprano and piquant humor. Mr. Berry has a hipster's presence and a knockout wail of a voice, used to superb effect on Aerosmith's "Dream On." Using rich, colorful arrangements, the musical direction under Glenn Sharp is cool, jazzy, and an earful. The verdict: As a first romp without the spine of a book musical to buoy them, Music Box Theater delivers the vocal goods with inspiring results. Keep the intros short, the songbook as varied, and the future, as Momma Rose belts in Gypsy, will be comin' up roses.
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8 pm Fridays; 8 and 10:30 pm Saturdays; 2 pm Sundays, through August 7. Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. 713-522-7722.