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Best Virtual Bets: CineSpace, Humperdinck, and Big Dreams

Raven McMillon, Richard Trey Smagur, and Sun-Ly Pierce in Hansel and Gretel.
Raven McMillon, Richard Trey Smagur, and Sun-Ly Pierce in Hansel and Gretel.
Screenshot by Houston Grand Opera
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Monday is Memorial Day, and if staring at a three-day weekend and unsure what to do, let us make some suggestions to keep you entertained and busy. There’s dance, opera, film, theater, visual art – if you want it, we probably got it. Keep reading for a list of this week’s best bets.

Houston Grand Opera will present a new digital take on Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel on Friday, May 28, at 7:30 p.m. Directed by Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Lileana Blain-Cruz, this new version of Humperdinck’s classic, created specifically for HGO Digital, stars current HGO Studio artists and alums, and blends live performance with original animated set designs by visual artist Hannah Wasileski. In an interview with the Houston Press, first-year HGO Studio artist and soprano Raven McMillon, who sings the role of Gretel, says she believes “it’s a fun show for everybody” with music that is “very catchy, very tuneful and then at some other points very profound.” You can stream the production free through HGO Digital or Marquee TV for one month following its release.

You may not realize it, but Stages Studio Sessions, which concluded their second season of programs created by local artists back in April, didn’t quite finish. Bad weather forced the last three outdoor screenings to be postponed, but Stages will try again starting his Friday, May 28, at 8 p.m. with a screening of Carolyn Johnson’s program on The Brown Foundation Lawn. You can reserve socially distanced seating at $25 per person here. John Ryan Del Bosque and Anna Maria Morris will finally finish out the series on June 4 and June 11, respectively.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston opens two films on Friday, May 28, as part of their Virtual Cinema schedule: a radical revision of the biopic, 1991’s Center Stage, and “the audience-pleasing, humanist dramaThe County. Center Stage, directed by Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan, is “a maze of meta-mirrors,” a “self-aware drama” that “moves at the hypnotic pace of an elusive dream” about the gossip-plagued Chinese silent film star Ruan Lingyu. And The County, from Icelandic director Grimur Hakonarson, considers the “tension between smallness as intimacy and smallness as suffocation” as a dairy farmer takes on her exploitative co-op in a film The Guardian says shows “the spirit of Elia Kazan lives on.Center Stage will be available through June 6 and you can purchase a three-day pass to view the film for $10, or you can pick up a ticket to view The County here.

If you don’t know, there’s an on-going mural-painting festival called Big Walls, Big Dreams happening now in Houston. Produced and curated by UP Art Studio, the festival, which features the creation of more than 20 murals around the city, will culminates on Saturday, May 29, with Dream Big Downtown: The Main Event. From noon to 8 p.m. the 900 block of Preston, and 300 and 400 blocks of Main Street will be closed while muralists and chalk artists gather in Historic Market Square Park for live painting, music, art activations and more. All works are scheduled to be completed on May 30, so if you want to explore the works as artists are putting the finishing touches on them around the city, you can also find self-guided tour maps here. Now let’s just hope that the weather holds.

Get lost in all things space-related on Saturday, May 29, during CineSpace Short Films at Buffalo Bayou. The free and family-friendly outdoor screening, presented by Houston Cinema Arts Society and Buffalo Bayou Partnership, will feature music from DJ Flash Gordon Parks at 7 p.m. before exhibiting about 10 shorts from previous years of the CineSpace film competition at 8:30 p.m. The selected films, all inspired by NASA archival footage, include the story of Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to go to space; a campy, VHS-era “lost” recruitment film for NASA; and the premiere of Alien Abduction, written by Candice D’Meza and directed by Nate Edwards. The work is part of their Catastrophic Theatre-produced microfilm series, 30 Ways To Get Free, which is set to premiere in June. You can get tickets to CineSpace Short Films here.

Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke will be joined by Santino and Jessica Fontana for Find Your Dream: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke will be joined by Santino and Jessica Fontana for Find Your Dream: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Photo by Bertuzzi Photography

The Houston Symphony will conclude its 2020-21 Bank of America POPS season this weekend with Find Your Dream: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The concert, led by Principal POPS conductor Steven Reineke, will feature guest vocalists Santino and Jessica Fontana, who last joined the Symphony for their Very Merry POPS program in 2016. The couple told the Houston Press that these shows mark their first performance for an in-person crowd since the start of the pandemic, with Santino adding that listeners can expect a Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II set list that “includes their greatest hits along with great orchestrations and arrangements, most of which are from the Broadway productions.” You can purchase in-hall tickets here for any one of this weekend’s three shows or pick up a $20 ticket to view the livestream on Saturday, May 29, at 8 p.m.

Jennifer Wang as Len and Mariam Albishah as Ru in The Book of Magdalene.
Jennifer Wang as Len and Mariam Albishah as Ru in The Book of Magdalene.
Photo by RicOrnelProductions

Who doesn’t love a second chance? That’s exactly what we got when Main Street Theater’s virtual production of The Book of Magdalene was chosen for The Theatre Times 2021 International Online Theatre Festival. Playwright Caridad Svich’s “pandemic-themed updating of the biblical story,” or “jazzy riff on Mary's sullied reputation and journey into repentance,” sees the tale reimagined with a phone sex worker in a world where people cannot touch each other. Among the many reasons to watch the Amelia Rico-directed play, especially if you missed it before, are the “good cast, good costumes, and a giant insect puppet whose unexpected appearance (in both senses of the word) will startle you.The Book of Magdalene is one of 33 productions from around the world that are available free to stream until June 4.

From a second chance to a last chance, this coming Monday, May 31, is the last day to experience All the Devils Are Here: A Tempest in the Galapagos. Co-presented by Open Dance Project and DiverseWorks, the immersive dance theater production blends an unsolved murder mystery on Floreana Island with a “post-colonial read” of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The hour-long work, choreographed by Open Dance Project Artistic Director Annie Arnoult (in collaboration with ODP performers) with music from Kirk Suddreath, tells a story “riddled with intrigue and critical messages on power, morality, and climate change.” If you missed the livestream premiere, you can still catch the performance on-demand here. Tickets range in price from $15 to $35.

After COVID forced the cancellation of the Metzler New Works Festival, the A.D. Players pivoted to a virtual format that started with the release of Apollo 8 earlier this month. The festival, which spotlights new plays and musicals that blend storytelling and faith, continues on Monday, May 31, with the release of No One Owns Me by Pia Wilson and Chris Cragin-Day. The play addresses the sensitive issue of human trafficking through the character of Maya, a singer-songwriter who is trafficked, and the counselor who tries to help her. The virtual play reading, directed by Stori Ayers, will be available to stream free through June 13. You can register for a ticket here.

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