Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The white rhinestone-studded jumpsuit never looked better on Elvis himself. His throaty version of "Love Me Tender" is a seductive swooner. And what 26-year-old "Elvis" John Newinn began for fun seven years ago as an Elvis impersonator has taken him to performances in different U.S. cities (including Memphis, of course, twice a year -- in January for the King's birthday, and in August for the anniversary of his death), Canada and Vietnam. Parents Henry and Tania fled Saigon with their infant son when the embattled city fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. When they came to Houston, they embraced Elvis as the epitome of the American dream, and played his music in their home. And they encouraged their then-shy son to step up to the microphone (yes, they had one for home use) and sing along. The result is perfect renditions of the King's repertoire, complete with shaking hips and pouty lips. The junior in computer information systems at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches performs on request, but has had to curtail most weeknight appearances for his studies. But he doesn't plan to hang up his jumpsuit, he says, as long as he can shake a leg.
Stages set the pace for the entire theatrical season with its boisterous production of Jane Martin's Anton in Show Business. After that, artistic director Rob Bundy never looked back. Some of the best productions included the strange and disturbing comedy about a group of suits from corporate America in Laura Hembree's Car Pool. The holiday season brought the requisite musical; this year Bundy produced the understated and beautifully ironic Company, by Stephen Sondheim. Old Wicked Songs, by Jon Maran, focused on anti-Semitism and the power of music to heal; it was perhaps the most moving production of the year. Ex-Oiler Bo Eason pulled in full houses for his smart if sentimental script, Runt of the Litter, about the gory guts of professional football. And of course Stages couldn't complete a season without one totally off-the-wall script, which bounced across the stage in the shape of Betty's Summer Vacation, an absolutely bizarre tale of serial killers, mommy-hatred and raincoat-clad flashers. We can only hope that next season will be as provocative.
Giselle is one of very few stories that is best told in the language of ballet. It's based on the legend of the Wilis, the ghosts of young maidens who were jilted by men and died before they could marry. These mysterious creatures haunt the shadowy forests at night, looking for young men whom they will dance to death in their vengeance. In last season's production of the classic, dancers of the corps de Houston Ballet hopped across the stage slowly, their faces shrouded in white tulle, their legs all aloft in perfect arabesques. They were icy and ethereal, robotic and romantic. It was enough to give you the willies.
The Tejano scene in Houston is as unpredictable as the Gulf Coast weather. One day a club is hot; the next day it's shuttered and silent. Hallabaloo's is the exception. Set in a gritty southeast neighborhood, the club has kept the Tejano fires burning in Houston for nearly ten years. Wednesday night is live Tejano night. Top acts like Bobby Pulido, Los Chamacos and Joe Lopez set couples twirling with their festive sounds. Tuck in your shirt and head inside to a world of starched jeans and heartfelt gritos emanating from under white Stetsons.
So Gabrielle Hale's Winedale Publishing isn't exactly new (she founded the press in 1996). But at the beginning, it looked like Winedale might be little more than an excuse to bring back into print the scattered remains of husband and Houston Chronicle columnist Leon Hale's oeuvre (some of which surely was penned at Hale's "old place" in Winedale, Texas). But as the years pass and Windedale's list grows, it becomes increasingly clear that Hale has larger ambitions for her small house. Yes, Leon's older work is happily back in print, alongside a new remembrance of foods past by the inventor, for better or worse, of the shopworn "Soupwich." But Winedale's list also now includes the novel Gabriel's Eye by SMU eminence C.W. Smith, and four fiction titles, including the new Drinking with the Cook, by the well-reviewed Laura Furman. Look for forthcoming titles by first-time Texas novelists Lynn Miller and former Press staff David Theis.
When All D. Freemon was looking for a venue to replace the vacuum in black comedy that followed the demise of the Jus' Jokin' club, he turned to the former BYOB discotheque founded by Houston NewsPages publisher Francis Page Sr. in '71. Though primarily an open mike for comedians of all stripes and colors, the Thunder Thursdays showcase has already landed such talent as blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray Moore (a.k.a. Dolemite) and Renaldo Ray of BET's Comicview to kick off the evening. Here's to keeping diversity in the local comedy scene.
Mary Benton stands out in the KPRC-TV crowd as a tough, capable, "no frills just the story" reporter. She was omnipresent during the aftermath of the June 9 flood, holding court in knee-deep water clad in galoshes and wielding a cordless mike. A native of Harlingen, Benton earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas while specializing in government and political science. She started her professional TV career in the Central Texas market at KCEN-TV and later moved to KTBC-TV in Austin as education reporter. Since joining KPRC in 1994 she has provided a welcome face of professionalism at a station engulfed by Buzz Ladies, traffic reporters-turned-news anchors and flash-trash graphics. Benton is not the only member of her family to have a high profile in Houston. Her brother, Levi Benton, is a Republican district judge appointed by then-governor George W. Bush.