Capsule Reviews

Barbra's Wedding Anyone who's seen Home Alone will recognize Daniel Stern, who's best known as an actor. But now the thin, curly-haired Stern has ventured into scriptwriting, and his first play is a lot like the comedies he's known for. The mildly amusing Barbra's Wedding imagines what it must have been like for a pair of Barbra Streisand's uninvited neighbors on the afternoon she married James Brolin in Malibu. For Jerry (Josh Morrison) and his wife Molly (Lisa Thomas Morrison), the noisy afternoon is a disaster of life-changing proportions. Jerry is a washed-up actor who's angry he wasn't invited. His wife is trying to make the best of things. All Jerry can think of is his lousy career. Molly, reasonably enough, gets fed up with his self-involved whining. The conflict comes to a head when Robert Redford shows up and gives Jerry "the signal," or at least that's what the pathetic man imagines when he catches "Bob" waving in the direction of the house. Jerry thinks Redford has invited him to the wedding. As in all lightweight comedies, everything ends well. But the show is too long for the story. Director Susan Koozin and her bright cast work hard to make a mountain out of a molehill of material. Jerry and Molly's bickering gets old quickly. It all begins to feel like the fights of most married people -- something that ought to happen in private. Through December 9. Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

Godspell In the '70s, God was a popular subject in musicals (both on and off the Great White Way). Among the Bible-inspired shows were Jesus Christ Superstar, Two By Two, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Your Arms Too Short To Box With God and the deceptively moving little show called Godspell. It must be true that the meek shall inherit the earth; Stephen Schwartz's Godspell refuses to go away. Masquerade Theatre assayed it last season, and this time, it's Company OnStage's turn. In the show, the actors play at being innocent flower children, performing impromptu, whimsical versions of Christ's teachings, as if they're at a Haight-Ashbury hootenanny or a real bad communal acting class. Jesus himself is played as the world's first hippie, and he appears in sweatpants, red Keds and a T-shirt with a Superman S. Thank God this character's hideous clown makeup from the 1971 premiere was jettisoned many revivals ago; he's now usually portrayed freshly scrubbed, preferably with gleaming Breck hair. James Wetuski has the hair for Jesus and the sweet temperament of a man of peace, but he could use some "old time religion" to give him weight and authority. He doesn't turn over the moneylenders' tables in a fury in this musical, but he does get angry at the Pharisees and scolds them in "Alas for You," and here Wetuski could use a healthy dose of fire and brimstone. The cast works effortlessly to make the show's quaintness (which weighs a ton) palatable, and the inevitable ending, which features a reprise of the hit number " Day By Day" and then the haunting "On the Willows," is terribly moving, no matter what faith you may be. Through December 16. 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219.

Hello, Dolly! Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart's Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker is what you might call the perfect musical comedy. Fast and witty, it doesn't dawdle -- in fact, it practically moves to the next scene while the current one is still playing. Setting character with ease, Herman's extremely tuneful, infectious music gets the audience tapping its feet and humming along. The work's legendary title role was created and indelibly enshrined by Carol Channing; later, it was embodied by such diverse luminaries as Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand. Masquerade Theatre's more intimate staging gives us Stephanie Bradow as Wilder's Dolly, the ultimate meddler who "arranges things, for the pleasure and the profit it derives." She really wants to match-make for herself, especially if the pigeon is Yonkers's "half a millionaire," Horace Vandergelder (John Gremillion in a comic cameo of exasperation). Bradow has an appealing, sly twinkle under her grande-dame guise which gives her line readings a shimmy that recalls Sophie Tucker, and when her gleaming contralto hits its stride in Act I's rousing closer, "Before the Parade Passes By," there's no doubt she'll get her man. Although the entire cast makes the most of this classic tuner (and the quartet of young lovers, Luther Chakurian, Braden Hunt, Kristin Hanka and Beth Hempen, is especially game), there's way too much complicated ballet choreography for the chorus, which slows the musical's internal bounce. Even so, the athletic, sprightly "Waiters' Galop," staged before Dolly's star-turn entrance at Harmonia Gardens, soars. Through November 26. Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525.

A Year with Frog and Toad Just a few adjectives to describe Main Street Youth Theater's production of Robert and Willie Reale's Tony Award-nominated musical: bright, snappy, breezy, adorable, clever, tuneful, heartfelt, childlike, witty. It's no surprise that, after a word-of-mouth blitzkrieg, the New York premiere show was sold out -- or that the majority of audiences were not children but young adults. This innocent show about the joys of friendship is the perfect way to show your date what a sensitive soul you are, that you still possess a child's wonder. Freely adapted from the beloved children's series by Arnold Lobel, the simple musical has no great character conflict, no driving sturm und drang to its dramaturgy, no world-shaking moral core. This is about two amphibians, don't forget, not Hamlet. But what this uncomplicated show has is heart -- heart for days, with a lilting, sunny personality that any Muppet would be proud to have. Eternal friends Frog and Toad (Ilich Guardiola and Kregg Alan Dailey, who are so perfect it's scary) spend a year with each other baking cookies, waiting for mail, swimming at the swamp, tobogganing in the winter before hibernation, or just hanging out drinking tea. They're joined now and then by squirrels in berets who speak French, a snail mailman with a backpack that doubles as his shell, a 1940s radio trio of harmonizing birds, and glasses-wearing moles (Kyle Greer, Katherine Randolph, Laura Kaldis). Nothing much happens as little life lessons about sharing, commitment and responsibility flit into view and waft away on the lightest of breezes. And that's just how you'll feel after you see this -- buoyed and contented. Why let kids have all the fun? Through December 16. 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover
Lee Williams