Capsule Reviews

I Remember Mama Theater icon and composer Richard Rodgers's last musical, I Remember Mama (1979), is just as tuneful and graceful in melody as any show he ever wrote. Based on John Van Druten's 1944 play, this gentle, sweet work chronicles a year in the life of a poor Norwegian immigrant family living in San Francisco circa 1910. It's very much a Sound of Music clone -- without those evil Nazis and, unfortunately, without his fabled collaborator, Oscar Hammerstein II. Here, the lyrics and book are by Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan, the team responsible for the 1978 Broadway blockbuster Annie. The lyrics are capable but never soaring, and they tend to repeat. Episodic and family-oriented, the original closed quickly (this was at the same time as Stephen Sondheim's dark and gothic Sweeney Todd and Andrew Lloyd Webber's idiosyncratic Evita), and Rodgers died three months after the final curtain. The show didn't deserve such a fate. Fortunately, Masquerade Theatre has mounted a splendid revival that revels in this musical and shows it off in all its simple glories, thanks to the clever direction and choreography of Phillip Duggins. As loving matriarch Mama, Stephanie Bradow is well-nigh ideal. Mama is good, kind, resourceful and very much the embodiment of the American dream, and Bradow, with her crystal-clear singing voice and braided hair, is picture-perfect. As maturing eldest daughter Katrin, who narrates the plot, Monica Passley matches Bradow note for note. The pair makes a lovely duo, and when augmented by the family's other four adorable children, the beauties in the score shine like Christmas ornaments. The musical's low comedy is suitably handled by Mama's three sisters (Laura Gray, Rebekah Dahl and Kristina Sullivan) and irascible Uncle Chris (Russell Freeman). Papa (Ilich Guardiola) disappears for much of Act II, but his return gives him the opportunity to reprise the lyrical "You Could Not Please Me More." This could be said for Masquerade's entire show. Through December 19 at the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby, 713-225-6729.

The Little Prince It makes perfect sense for Houston Grand Opera to revive its 2003 world premiere, The Little Prince, for the holiday season. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's beloved 1943 children's book is a perfect subject for an opera, especially a child's first one. The story of the Rachel Portman/Nicholas Wright opera is kid-friendly, though it's more philosophy than plot. The Little Prince is from a tiny planet called Asteroid B-612. He embarks on a voyage through the universe, stopping for one aria each with the King, the Vain Man, the Drunkard, the Lamplighter, the Businessman and the Geographer. All are too busy with their "serious" work -- even the Drunkard is serious about drinking -- to pay any attention to the world around them and see what they might be missing. On Earth, the Little Prince meets the Pilot (Joshua Hopkins), who has crashed in the Sahara, and a host of other chraracters. The story is imbued with misty poetic ruminations on the wonders of life and a distrust of grown-ups who don't take time to smell the roses. Its simple, gentle message -- "trust your heart" -- is the moral that both the extraterrestrial Little Prince and the Pilot learn by final curtain. With the exception of Harrison Gerald Moore as the Businessman, the cast is drawn from HGO's Opera Studio program, and these young singers are exemplary. Francesca Zambello's magical production is another plus, assisted wonderfully by Maria Bjørnson's storybook and her minimal sets and fanciful costumes, as well as Rick Fisher's ravishingly colorful lighting. But whether Portman's somewhat subdued musical setting of this classic tale will equally win over the little tykes is up for debate. The Little Prince is a sweet, tender tale, but Portman's atmospheric score is a little too sweet and tender. Through December 19 at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas, 713-228-6737.

Sadomasochistic Xmas If you're thinking about getting a dog for Christmas, there's a sick little pup at dos chicas theater commune you might consider. This nasty thing already comes wrapped in shiny black leather. You won't have to feed it much, either, because all it does is snarl and snap, when it's not licking your face. But it's cute as a button, as long as that button controls electric shock therapy. In Sadomasochistic Xmas, resident dos chicas playwright Bob Morgan takes what is considered abnormal and perverted in polite society and twists it neatly topsy-turvy, so that the play's greasy premise becomes matter-of-fact. It's a primer on S&M conduct, an apotheosis of nipple clamps, torture, flagellation, revenge incest, paternal cross-dressing and more. Happily married Steve and Susan (Bob Morgan and Anne Zimmerman) have a liberal sex life that the Marquis de Sade would weep over. But they're unsatisfied. They want others to share the bliss -- along with the pain -- of their natural, debauched intimacy. So each Christmas, they pick an unsuspecting "normal" couple whose sex life is off-track and do a little marriage counseling on them. Beth and Bill (Jennifer Decker and Paul Drake) go through a crash course of Steve and Susan's aversion therapy, which includes everything you always wanted to know about the dark side but were afraid to ask. Fear not, all your questions will be answered, whether you want that or not. The comedy is X-rated with a vengeance, but it's told by the happy couple with such wide-eyed enthusiasm that they make the story sound as homey as apple pie (okay, apple pie with the worms baked in). Don't take your mother, unless, of course, you know for certain where and how she spends her afternoons. Through December 18 at Helios, 411 Westheimer, 832-283-0858.

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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