Capsule Reviews

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 Fertle Holiday Radio Music Theatre's delicious, devilish trio of ultra-talented actors comes together again for another installment of Steve Farrell's epic, 14-play comic saga of the singing Fertle family from Dumpster, Texas. A Fertle Holiday, the first in the series, is as much a Houston Christmas tradition as the Alley's Christmas Carol, the Symphony's Messiah and Houston Ballet's Nutcracker. Only it's funnier and more wicked and low-rent. As the play begins, Fertle daughter Justicena (Rich Mills), her milquetoast husband, Pete DePugh (Steve Farrell), and their spawn from hell, Damien (Vicki Farrell), set out to visit their relatives. The family members are dysfunctional -- Justicena steals soap, a towel and even a Bible from a Motel 6 for her family for Christmas -- but of course they're just the tip of the Fertle iceberg. With blurred speed, a wig is removed, a cigar is inserted in a mouth, and a door slams. Now standing in front of us are three different characters, and the wacky tale continues to spin merrily without skipping a beat. There's Uncle Al (Mills, with bushy eyebrows pasted to the outside of his glasses), who always plays Santa Claus for the clan but is horribly depressed, Mildred (Vicki Farrell), the matriarch who never gets it right, and loser son Lou (Steve Farrell). Next up: Lou's sister Carol (Vicki Farrell), her husband, Roger (Rich Mills), and their gay-in-training son, Curtis (Steve Farrell). Family tension abounds. Justicena hates Lou's wife, the trampy Bridgett, and accuses her of stealing her high school boyfriend. Prissy Curtis, who has to sleep on the foldout table, spars with Damien. "You're going to hell," he yells. "I am in hell," Damien coolly responds. Ned (Steve Farrell) and Lou fall deathly ill from Bridgett's "pretty damn green" corn pudding, which brings on, for Act II's opener, the show-stopping Doc Moore (Steve Farrell in funhouse-mirror glasses). What better way to start the New Year -- laughing all the way. Through January 14. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722.

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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