Capsule Reviews

Align The holidays usually bring frothy good fun to the theater. But A.D. Players, Houston's Christian theater group, have a whole new take on the season. Their Christmas production of Jeannette Clift George's Align is a dour little show about a family of sad sacks who learn to be thankful when Mary of Magdala comes calling one Christmas Eve. The story starts out with a group of siblings coming home to an empty family home (the parents are dead now). When a strange woman (Andrea Lynn), dressed in full biblical garb, taps on their French doors, they have to let her in. After all, it's crazy cold outside. The woman then proceeds to identify herself as the same Mary who sat at Christ's tomb. And she's come from heaven to teach this morose group of siblings a thing or two about finding the meaning of life in God's plan. Many Christians might appreciate this stern Sunday school lesson. But this sour production, directed with plodding earnestness by Sissy Pulley, is anything but a happy celebration of the season. Through December 31, at the Grace Theater, 2710 W. Alabama, 712-526-2721.

Baby: A Musical Stages Repertory Theatre has put together a production of Sybille Pearson, David Shire and Richard Maltby's charming Baby: A Musical, a rich little work about three couples who must deal with the ups and downs of pregnancy in our modern world. The story takes place in a small college town where life ought to be easygoing. But babies have a way of changing everything, even if you're as young and fiercely independent as Lizzie and Danny (Ivy Castle and Doug Thompson). Undergrads, they live together in youthful bliss until Lizzie finds out she's pregnant; then their world starts to shift. Older and wiser college coaches Nick and Pam (Illich Guardiola and Joanne Bonasso) are more than ready to make some sacrifices for parenthood. But their story takes on a dark tone when Nick learns that he's "shooting duds." Perhaps the most original story belongs to Alan and Arlene (Jimmy Phillips and Chesley Santoro). Well into their forties, they've just sent their third daughter off to college. When Arlene suddenly turns up pregnant, she's not certain she wants the fourth child. As lovely as this show is, director Roy Hamlin has made it harder to like than it should be. One of his oddest choices has to do with all the unnecessary choreography. And the technical aspects of this production generally do it more harm than good. Tom Boyd's set is a clumsy collection of pieces that simply take too long to move about, and Claremarie Verheyen's costumes are most notable for how completely unflattering they are. Still, the musical offers such compelling stories that even a troubled production is worth the effort. Through January 15. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0220.

A Pure Gospel Christmas: Coming Home Now running at the Ensemble Theatre, A Pure Gospel Christmas: Coming Home is a frenetic burst of energetic song celebrating the holiday season. Conceived and directed by David A. Tobin and Leslie Dockery, the show is built around a thin little story (written by Tobin) about a choir full of cartoonlike characters who fuss and fight as they learn to appreciate how important they are to one another. The denizens of this world include an old woman who cooks sky-high pineapple upside-down cakes, an old man who pulls out his flask at inappropriate times, and a hip-hop-loving youngster who spouts off to his elders whenever he can get away with it. There is absolutely nothing new here. And at times, one can't help wishing the creators would just do away with the story, as it's really nothing more than a lame excuse to get to the music. Happily, when the performers (led by a terrifically appealing Anthony "Boggess" Glover) are busy singing and dancing, the frenzy of energy that spins across the stage keeps the two-and-a-half-hour production moving quickly. And by the show's end, when everyone in the audience is clapping and nodding along with the singers, only a Scrooge wouldn't find himself in good cheer. Through December 31. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055.

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Lee Williams