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Best Bets: Pirates of Penzance, House Party and Cirque de la Symphonie

Dennis Arrowsmith as the Pirate King in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston’s 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance.
Dennis Arrowsmith as the Pirate King in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston’s 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance. Photo by Steve Feinberg
It’s National Fortune Cookie Day, and the fortune cookie we cracked open says that an exciting opportunity lies ahead. We can only assume that applies to this week’s best bets, which include a 30-year-old teen classic, a 140-year-old operetta, and the circus at the symphony. Keep reading for these and more best bets.

Though they may not have been “required to bring their officer 100 scalps or to crush German officers’ skulls with baseball bats” like a certain group of “Basterds,” there was a group of American soldiers – thousands of which “were Jewish refugees who had immigrated to the United States from Europe to escape Nazi persecution” – responsible for “demoralizing the German army” and “breaking German resistance.” The “Ritchie Boys,” named for Camp Ritchie where they were trained, are the subject of the documentary The Ritchie Boys, which will be screened at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 20, in the Menil Drawing Institute. The free screening is presented in conjunction with their current exhibit, “Si Lewen: The Parade,” which features a series of drawings from the artist who himself was a “Ritchie Boy” and is interviewed in the documentary.

History comes to life – with a twist – at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 20, when Theatre Under the Stars presents 1776 to Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Liz Mikel, who plays the role of Ben Franklin, recently told the Houston Press that the cast of 1776are all female-identifying, non-binary and trans and non-gender-conforming artists,” adding that Diane Paulus (co-director along with Jeffrey L. Page) who “wanted to do a reimagining of the Founding Fathers and to make the Founding Fathers look like America today and really hone in on the fact that people who looked like the people she cast on the show would not have been even considered in the room when the Declaration was signed or when those decisions were made in Continental Congress.” Performances will continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday through July 22. Tickets can be purchased here for $40 to $135.
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Cirque de la Symphonie returns to join the Houston Symphony this weekend.
Photo by Richard Calmes, Courtesy of Cirque de la Symphonie
The circus is coming to The Woodlands, or at least, Cirque de la Symphonie is. On Thursday, July 20, at 8 p.m. the Georgia-based company will bring their performers – aerialists, jugglers, acrobats, balancers and more – to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion to accompany a performance by the Houston Symphony. The president and managing director of Cirque de la Symphonie, Alexander Streltsov, has said in the past that not only are they “doing something more than just a unique concert for the symphony,” but by “adding the cirque element” makes “it twice as entertaining and interesting. It’s a very successful combination.” Orchestra level seating is available here for $25, while lawn and mezzanine seating is free with no ticket or preregistration required.

Baseball and artificial intelligence make an appearance in NobleMotion Dance’s PowerPlay, the company’s latest program of dance set to kick off their 15th season at The MATCH on Friday, July 21, at 8 p.m. Co-artistic director and choreographer Andy Noble recently told the Houston Press that the program’s largest piece, titled Sidelined, uses the figure of the umpire in baseball to explore power dynamics and how people treat each other, saying that “a lot of my fondness for the sport are inside of this dance, so the first 15 minutes are pure joy and fun, and then it starts to go absurd and then it gets dark and then it asks some really tough questions.” Performances are also scheduled for 8 p.m. on July 22, 28 and 29, and 4 p.m. on July 30. Tickets can be purchased here for $20 to $30.

In W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, a young man is young and in love and anxiously waiting for his 21st birthday to end his pirate apprenticeship. The problem? He’s a leap year baby. That’s where the shenanigans start in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston’s new production of The Pirates of Penzance, opening at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 22, at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The production’s music director, Eiki Isomura, told Houston Life that the operetta is “the best of both worlds,” because “it fits right into the sweet spot between opera and musical theater, so it has the soaring voices and the orchestra, and then all the funny comedic bits and the dancing from musical theater.” Performances are also scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, July 29, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 23, and Sunday, July 30. Tickets can be purchased here for $39 to $84.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Reginald Hudlin’s 1990 film House Party, which the Library of Congress named to the National Film Registry last year. It “isn’t just one of the most important black films ever made—it’s one of the most important films of the late 20th century, a movie that showed Hollywood the breadth of the black experience, and the immense interest in it.” The Kid ‘n Play-led film brought New Jack swing culture and hip-hop music “directly into the American cultural mainstream,” which is why you can catch the film on Sunday, July 23, at 7:30 p.m. when it is screened as part of the Houston Museum of African American Culture’s Beats on Screen Film Series. You can register for the free showing here. Since seating will be limited, don’t forget to bring a foldable chair to enjoy the film and a pre-show set by DJ Flash Gordon Parks.

Learn more about the complex history of the Buffalo soldiers on Monday, July 24, at 6:30 p.m. when the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum screens Buffalo Soldiers: Fighting on Two Fronts. Filmmaker Dru Holley’s documentary “embraces the tall task of chronicling a century of overlooked military history, exploring the personal and political conflicts that arose when Black Americans found then-unparalleled opportunities within the armed forces while forced to fight in imperialist wars.” Holley has noted that “our history is more than what is presented to us,” adding that in his “community specifically, we’re taught we only have this slavery background. And there is that, but we were also badass cowboys and warriors.” Admission to the screening is free, and you can register here.

You can find your “Summer Chills” on Wednesday, July 26, at 7:30 p.m. when the Alley Theatre officially opens their world premiere adaption (by Mark Shanahan) of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – and the timing couldn’t be better. We’re in the midst of a little Agatha Christie resurgence, and Christie’s third Hercule Poirot book is arguably “the best whodunit novel ever written.” The production’s Poirot, David Sinaiko, told the Houston Press that by setting the tale in “the classic English countryside, big strange manor house where there are a lot of secrets,” Christie “was critical in inventing a genre that has become like comfort food to us." Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through August 27. Tickets are available here for $27 to $102.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.