Capsule Reviews

The Music Man Meredith Willson's Music Man features some of Broadway's most memorable tunes, including "Seventy-six Trombones," "Till There Was You" and "Wells Fargo Wagon." But solid as the music is in Theatre Under the Stars' likable and absolutely free production at Miller Outdoor Theatre, the dancing, choreographed by director Norb Joerder, is actually the best reason of all to see this show. The story follows one Harold Hill (Burke Moses), a flimflam traveling salesman who chugs into River City, Iowa, on a rail car. Once he arrives in the Midwestern town, he learns that love is better than a pocket full of dough any day. But before he comes to this lightning-bolt moment, he and the rest of the young and muscular cast dance the night away. "Shipoopi" has the town kids bounding across the floor. The girls fly along with their big Victorian skirts swishing across the stage, and the boys, led by the immensely charismatic Brandon Espinoza as Tommy, keep their ladies swinging through the air. The best dance takes place in the town library, where Harold tries hard to seduce his reticent leading lady, Marian (Teri Dale Hansen). They alternate between soft-shoe and all-out anarchy, breaking all the library rules. Other treats in this production include an impressive barbershop quartet featuring Mike Harrington, Chris Gregory, David Harrington and Doug Harrington. And there's lots of kitschy old-fashioned comedy to keep the summer night breezy. Considering the ticket price, Harold Hill and his gang of good-hearted citizens make the best entertainment bargain of the summer. Through July 23. 100 Concert Drive (in Hermann Park).

The Phantom of the Opera This British import has been savaged, accused of contributing to the demise of Broadway with its empty spectacle and phenomenal success. But the touring rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1988 Tony Award-winning superproduction should put that canard to rest once and for all. In fact, it's just the type of show Broadway needs. Melodious, clever and opulent beyond belief, it's a wonderful blend of the spangly showmanship of Flo Ziegfeld with the visual panache of Cecil B. DeMille. The dark romance, based upon the B-grade 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux, is a variant of Beauty and the Beast, with Beauty being the aspiring opera singer Christine, who falls under the erotic spell of the Beast, here the psychotic yet talented Phantom, who lives in the subterranean caverns beneath the opera house he haunts. When he doesn't get what he wants (i.e., Christine), he goes batty and starts killing stagehands and dropping chandeliers. In production designer Maria Bjornson's rich settings and lavish costumes, there are massive swags with equally massive tassels, a fireball-spitting staff, fields of candles that rise from the dank mists, an elephant, a corps of ballerinas right out of Degas, an ornate pump organ, a gilt- and cherub-encrusted proscenium arch, blinding sparks and, of course, that naughty chandelier that goes bump in irritating slo-mo. The cast for this Broadway in Houston production features many veterans of former runs, so we're in capable, musically sound hands; these vets know which way to run when the complicated stage pictures of master showbiz magician/director Harold Prince start rising, falling or moving sideways. Sir Webber's lush, Puccini-inspired score is lyrically evergreen in this hearing, thanks to Gary Mauer's dangerous, sexy Phantom; Elizabeth Southard's inquisitive, not-too-innocent Christine (Southard alternates in the role with Marie Danvers); Michael Shawn Lewis's robust male ingénue; Patti Davidson-Gorbea's mysterious all-in-black ballet mistress who knows where the skeletons are buried; and Kim Stengel's pompous opera diva. Phantom is a classic musical, and all its glories are on eye-popping display this month. Go see for yourself what all the shouting's been about. Through July 31. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 801 Bagby, 713-629-3700.

The Tale of the Allergist's Wife Consider Theater LaB's sparkling rendition of Charles Busch's Tale of the Allergist's Wife an early Christmas present. You'll kick yourself if you miss it. This literate, witty and sexy comedy has playwright Busch going mainstream, after decades of gay camp classics including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommy, Die. If you're familiar with Busch's work as both writer and drag actor, you weren't surprised by all the breathless acclaim he's gotten lately -- or his Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 2001. Marjorie (Terri Carter), married for more than 30 years, is in a midlife rut. Hell, she's in a chasm. Depressed and taking out her frustrations on the Disney megastore by smashing pricey figurines, she's "curious, yes; profound, no!" Marjorie is hungry for life's meaning but thinks she's of limited intellect. Her loving husband (Mike Lovell), an allergist, is worried, but more concerned with his exalted position among his devoted students. Marjorie's Jewish yenta mom, Frieda (Dorothy Edwards), whose primary concern is undergoing yet another colonoscopy -- her third in six months -- just wants her to buck up. "Go, do volunteer work, make yourself useful," she crows while apotheosizing her bowel movements. Marjorie is pushed out of her lethargy -- they all are -- by the magical appearance of her childhood friend Lee (Josephine John), whose sophisticated yet sinister fairy godmother changes everything. The laughs are nonstop, even when the conversation turns to Marjorie's beloved German novelist, Hermann Hesse, and the deeper significance of Siddhartha. Sex, of course, is the great liberator, bringing morning-after guilt along with wonderful repercussions. Carter is splendid as out-of-sorts Marjorie, as is Edwards as Frieda, but it's John who centers the show with her sleek elegance and name-dropping and her panther sultriness. Lee is the great enigma, the girl who's both good and bad, seductive and creepy -- and John portrays her magnificently. Through July 30. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516.

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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