Capsule Reviews

Doo Wop II the Sequel According to Big Mama in the Great Caruso's latest musical revue, doo wop was an incantatory musical potion created from "gospel, jazz and four-part harmony." Of course, as Big Mama (a smooth Samantha Coombs) adds, the biggest influence was the blues. Happily, all those head-bopping musical styles come together to make a surprisingly potent revue, Doo Wop II the Sequel. The first Doo Wop revue ran successfully for several months in 2002. The second is every bit as snappy. The show manages to stretch far and wide across the musical eras of the '50s and '60s and includes tunes as diverse as Debbie Reynolds's "Tammy," the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" (sung with fabulous attitude by Cynthia Williams) and Ray Charles's "Georgia." Little Richard makes a fiery and funny appearance (featuring Eric Mota all done up in a towering wig), as does Elvis (Charles Swan). Coombs oversees the whole affair, acting as a sort of narrator who explains some of the history behind the music. For example, there's a whole collage of tunes the program calls "Doo Wop Dances," including "Harlem Shuffle" and "Peppermint Twist." John Cornelius II's arrangements are often both informative and entertaining. We get to hear the original slowed-down and sexy "Hound Dog" before we listen to the well-known Elvis version. Directed by Michael Tapley, the show is an entertaining diversion, a jump back to a time when music only wanted to move our hearts -- and make us move our hips. Doo Wop II has an open-ended run at the Great Caruso Dinner Theater, 10001 Westheimer, 713-780-4900.

The Eighth Order With his wild, wide eyes, cantilevered eyebrows, unruly straw mane of hair and medieval saint's bony build, Cory Grabenstein's otherworldly Philip Steele catches the light like a burnished Russian icon, throwing sparks that illuminate Nancy Kiefer's somewhat dim The Eighth Order. He's an angel, you see, a genuine supernatural being -- or soon to become one, we're not really sure, because Kiefer keeps stamping out her play's sparks just when they're about to ignite. She does this with a professional firefighter's ardor. There's always either too much exposition or not enough, making all the religious, metaphysical chunks seem as heavy as doom. Kiefer blithely places her characters in such unbelievably mystical circumstances that no one's given a chance to behave as a normal person. Philip is not of this earth; he's much too sweet and compassionate for the depression-era hardscrabble small town. The gossips think he's "different" and "queer" because of his flower-loving ways. Mom Steele (Suzanne King) may call him nuts, but she's well aware what's in his genes and dreads what the future holds. When Philip heals a sickly cat and has an angelic close encounter, and then later raises the dead neighbor's child, his fate is sealed. Unfortunately, the resolution to all these weird occurrences is sadly unsatisfactory. Philip voluntarily whisks himself off to a secluded, secretive monastery. What? This miracle worker, this second-coming incarnate, packs his bags to forever shun the world? This at the time of such successful evangelical tent-revivalist rousers such as Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple MacPherson? It just doesn't make sense; nor does Kiefer supply the grandeur or even the simple religious fervor of, say, The Song of Bernadette, to make us believe in miracles. Unlike Philip, the play never takes wing. Through February 5 at Theatre Suburbia, 1410 West 43rd, 713-682-3525.

Promises, Promises Burt Bacharach will forever be associated with the '60s. Tunes like "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," made famous by the velvet-voiced Dionne Warwick, defined urbane cool. So it might come as a surprise to learn that the master of easy-listening pop also ventured into a genre no one would ever call, umm, cool. In 1968, Bacharach, Hal David and Neil Simon opened Promises, Promises on Broadway, where it ran for 1,281 performances. But Promises, Promises is not a musical that travels easily across the years. The story treats women like objects; married men are almost always horny philanderers who openly harass their secretaries; and heavy drinking is de rigueur at office parties. More important, much of Bacharach's Broadway music, aside from a few fabulously familiar hits, is surprisingly silly. So it's nothing short of a wonder that Main Street Theater has conjured such a likable production from this dated script and music. Rob Babbitt's lively direction manages to make us believe once again in the highball charm of the office world of the '60s, despite the rampant sexual harassment. Most of the credit for this production goes to Joel Sandel, a Main Street favorite who plays the central character, C.C. Baxter, with an endearingly crumpled half-smile that ought to make any audience fall head over heels. It's Sandel who turns this otherwise tired story into a surprisingly winning night of theater. He's helped along by four stoogelike executives, played by David R. Wald, Mike Lovell, Robert Leeds and Terry Jones. Besides making Baxter's working life miserable, they also make a pack of ridiculously funny foils for Sandel. Like Bacharach's name, this is a musical inextricably tied to the smooth hope of the American '60s, when corporate America seemed like a cool place to be. Most of us now know it's a snake pit at best, but Sandel's performance gives us reason to dream. Through January 22. 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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